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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 21 June

Today's questions of the day concerned: Dirty Diesel – SOEs And Politics – Housing Tax – DHB CEO Salaries – Gender Bias In Crimes Act – Yelashgate – US WTO Lamb Dispute – Auckland Rail Corridor - Christine Rankin And Social Services Merger – Employment Relations Act And NZ Herald – Telecommunications Commissioner – Fire Safety In High Rises

Questions Of The Day - Thursday, 21 June 2001

The following are paraphrases of today's questions for oral answer. They are not complete or official, the official record of Parliamentary proceedings is Hansard, which is not finalised till some days after the event.


Question 1.

SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Associate Minister of Energy Paul Swain:

Q: As New Zealand's "dirty diesel" has sulphur levels 60 times higher than some European countries, will the Government urgently amend the petroleum products specifications regulations to lower permitted levels of sulphur in diesel to European levels; if not, why not?

A: The government shares concerns about sulphur levels. We intend to make changes early next year. We anticipate a plan to lower levels over five years to acceptable levels of 50 parts per million.

Q: Will he fast-track the review?

A: We have shown fabulous leadership in this area. I agree that it would be unacceptable for NZers for levels to be lowered in Auckland and raised through the rest of the country.

Q: Why doesn’t the government act now?

A: If it was a simple thing to do, and could be done overnight, then we would do something. But we have to consider the impact on safety, engine wear and on the cost to consumers.

Q: Is he aware that two major motor manufacturers have declined to release new technology vehicles because of high sulphur levels?

A: No I am not. This is a review that is long overdue.

Q: Is he aware of a sulphur tax being an efficient method of reducing levels of sulphur?

A: The review will consider ways to lower sulphur levels. All the issues of tax are part of the broad tax review. Early next year we will introduce a target of 50 parts per million, in line with targets elsewhere in the world.

Question 2.

Rt Hon JENNY SHIPLEY (National) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises Mark Burton:

Q: Will he direct State-owned enterprises, under the State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986, that they shall not get involved in activities which endorse the viewpoint of any particular politician or political party?

A: SOEs have already been made aware that such behaviour would be inappropriate and I will be writing to boards to reinforce the point?

Q: Is it appropriate for a member of Parliament to have asked an SOE to pay commission payments to a trust that he chairs?

A: Mr Barnett is in fact not an SOE. It is my understanding that no such agreement has been entered into.

Q: Is he satisfied with Meridian’s and CCMAU’s handling of this issue?

A: As I said yesterday staff were naive in their conduct relating to this issue, and they are now being dealt with.

(Winston Peters – I would like a translation of Mr Tamihere’s mihi.

Speaker – I invite the member to translate first.

Ron Mark – I think it would be better for the interpreter to interpret first.

Speaker – I am in charge of the interpreter.

John Tamihere – I paid a compliment to the speaker and then a compliment to school children in the gallery.

Wyatt Creech – When is it appropriate to greet people in the gallery.

Speaker – It is up to me to decide that.

Rodney Hide – I suggest this. That you provide a ruling on when a greeting may be made.

Speaker – I will consider this further.

Winston Peters – At the time Mr Tamihere gave an explanation, when should the interpreter then provide his view? I want the rules followed on this.

Speaker – I will consider this further too.

Ron Mark – Members are told to get to the question quickly. Even if ministers are incorrectly addressed at the beginning of questions, members are sometimes brought up.

Speaker – Ordinarily the member would be right. In this case I was asked for permission.

Ken Shirley – Judy Keall and Tariana Turia made out of order interjections.

Speaker – yes they did.)

Q: Ken Shirley (ACT): Is it the intention of Government to make SOEs available for government MPs promotion purposes?

A: No. A staff member acted in a naïve fashion. He made a poor error in judgment. The CEO of Meridian has acknowledged that. I will bring to the house next week details of what has been done about it. I think a small technical mistake made by a relatively junior member of staff simply points to the fact that all people are capable of making a mistake.

Question 3.

MARK PECK (Labour) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: Is it Government policy to introduce a new tax on owner occupier housing?

A: No. The issue was raised by the independent review on taxation. As long as I am the Minister of Revenue such a tax will not be introduced. The idea was suggested by the OECD some time ago. I ruled it out then.

Q: Will he rule out a capital gains tax or any other kind of tax on home ownership in this and the next term?

A: Provided Labour is re-elected yes. I see that ACT has endorsed the flat tax proposal. The house tax was a key part of this proposal. Rodney Hide it appears, as usual, was trying to have the cream without the cake underneath it. Sadly the member is still here. I haven’t been able to drive him out with higher taxes.

Q: (Green) Will someone with expertise in ecological taxes be added to the review team?

A: I do not accept it is sensible to base a tax base on activities one wants to stop happening. Otherwise the tax base disappears. There are substantial parts of the paper that are very helpful especially those relating to foreign entities.

Question 4.

Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Does she believe that she should take responsibility for decisions to increase district health board chief executives' salaries or make transition payments; if not, why not?

A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) No. Pursuant to section 44 these matters are the preserve of the boards and the State Services Commission.

Q: How can she equate that answer with comments on Face the Nation last year when she said she hated Ministers not taking responsibility for things?

A: If I may quote the Minister of Finance, “skilfully”. The minister is also concerned that there appears to be performance bonuses being paid, even where there has not been performance.

Q: (Green) Will CEOs be invited to pay their bonuses back as an example for staff?

A: It would be a delightful example if DHB CEOs were to return their bonuses, in fact it might even be an example vice-chancellors would like to follow.

Question 5.

JANET MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Justice Phil Goff:

Q: Does he intend to propose changes to the Crimes Act so that the law is gender neutral in respect to sexual offences?

A: Yes. The law as it stands is inconsistent in how it treats men and women. In the law at present women are considered incapable of committing a range of sexual offences. This is a 19th Century assumption. A review of this is nearly complete. I expect to put recommendations to cabinet around September and have a bill ready for introduction by the end of the year.

Q: Given he first mentioned this in January 2000. Why is he announcing this again?

A: January 2000 was one month after taking office, after 10 years during which nothing had been done by National. The review has taken time because it is complex. If making penalties the same for men and women is politically correct then I plead guilty.

(Wayne Mapp – leave to table a January 2000 press release – granted.)

Question 6.

RODNEY HIDE (ACT) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

(Rodney Hide – leave is sought to welcome all visitors in the gallery, so everyone can feel welcome – granted.

Rodney Hide then welcomed gallery visitors and John Tamihere translated.)

Q: Is it correct that, in relation to her proposed settlement with Mr John Yelash, her Chief of Staff telephoned Crown Law to discuss the settlement and that it was Crown Law that instructed Mr Hugh Rennie; if so, why did she not explain this chain of instruction when first questioned in Parliament about who instructed who?

A: My chief of staff had no discussion with Crown Law on instructions to give to Hugh Rennie.

Q: How does she square this with the answer given by the Attorney General saying that Crown Law advised Mr Rennie after seeking instructions from the PM’s office?

A: I am sure that related to whether a section 35 conference should have been explored way back in March.

Q: Has she seen a written answer that says that instructions were given to Crown Law by her office? And will she now change her answers as a result?

A: All answers I have given stand. My chief of staff conveyed my view back in March that it was worth exploring a section 35 conference. She was also involved in approving Mr Rennie as counsel, and in communication of my approval of the final settlement. I have made it clear there was no discussion by me or my staff on confidentiality. On quantum, that was an issue decided by Cabinet, without my involvement.

Question 7.

CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour) to the Minister for Trade Negotiations Jim Sutton:

Q: What is the significance of the latest United States announcements on the World Trade Organisation dispute concerning United States restrictions on New Zealand lamb?

A: On 14 June the US confirmed it would implement the rulings of the WTO appellate body. This announcement is a procedural announcement, and does not indicate how implementation is to be achieved. In our view the offending measure should be removed entirely very soon. I have made our views to the USTR very clear. Our Embassy in Washington is pressing this at every available opportunity. Members can be assured that this government will hold the US Government to account.

Q: Will he ensure the tariff is removed before the end the three year period for which it was set?

A: The tariff is now 3% for in quota supplies and 14% for out of quota supplies. The NZ view is that the US must remove this. If we do not believe compliance has happened we will seek to enforce it.

Q: Given the reluctance of the US to act decisively on this, what can we expect at Qatar?

A: I expect the US to honour its obligation. I further take the US on its word as being a supporter of a new round of WTO negotiations.

Q: Is he aware that US Farmers have asked for another $400 million in subsidies?

A: I do not believe we will ever see completely free trade. However I do expect to see continued progress towards it.

Q: Why are we so compliant while other countries breach obligations at will?

A: The member is exaggerating in saying that other countries ignore their obligations.

Question 8.

Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National) to the Minister assisting the Prime Minister on Auckland Issues Judith Tizard:

Q: Has the Government delayed the decision regarding the proposed acquisition of the Tranz Rail Auckland rail corridor from June to August; if so, what advice has she given the Prime Minister on the reasons for this delay?

A: There has been no recent change to the timetable. While the original timeline was June, when the government entered negotiations the time-line was always expected to be extended.

Q: What progress has been made?

A: The government and officials have met regularly with Tranz Rail and with Mayors. We will continue to meet with people.

Q: Is she confident a settlement can be reached by August 31st?

A: This government remains committed to resolving Auckland’s transport problems. We are committed to resolving the mess made by National.

Q: Does the minister recall that the previous government sold this rail network for $1, and why doesn’t she just take it back?

A: We are committed to making progress. The access rights were sold for $1, but they are not the only issue. There are lots of issues to be resolved in time, and they will be.

Q: Will she give an assurance the August deadline will not be missed?

A: I am delighted with the National Party’s passion about this issue, and hope they will therefore assist in resolving it, since they made the mess in the first place.

Question 9.

Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (ACT) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: Is it correct that the strategy of amalgamating the Ministry of Social Policy and the Department of Work and Income "arose in discussion" between herself and the Minister of State Services, and that as a result the State Services Commissioner recommended in writing to her that the Chief Executive of any newly-merged structure "needs to be a policy leader, thinker and change manager, rather than primarily an operational manager"?

A: I have been advised that this question touches on matters awaiting judicial decision and it is inappropriate for me to answer it.

Q: Can she deny to this house that she instigated the social policy agency and social welfare agency merger?

A: My answer is the same as the one to the first question.

(Winston Peters – The PM is claiming sub-judicae protection. I would like a ruling on this.

Michael Cullen – No she isn’t. She is choosing not to answer.

Speaker – Quite right.

Rodney Hide – Who provided the advice?

Speaker – the PM does not have to answer that.

Helen Clark – I am happy to answer. The State Services Commissioner provided the advice.)

Question 10.

Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: Does she stand by her answer in the House yesterday, with respect to the Employment Relations Act, that "The intent is that both supervisory staff and all other staff should be able to choose whether they wish to be covered by collective bargaining and by the collective agreements that result from that bargaining."; if not, why not?

A: (Steve Maharey on behalf) Under the ERA union members have a right to pursue a collective agreement. However the Act does not guarantee any particular outcome.

Q: Has the minister corrected her position on this in response to advice from the Prime Minister?

A: No. While I am not going to comment on any particular dispute, unions have a right to negotiate in good faith for a collective agreement.

Q: What is the procedure for establishing a collective agreement?

A: The intent of the act is to promote collective bargaining. But a collective agreement is not concluded until all parts of the agreement are agreed.

Q: Why does she think it is necessary for the PM to correct matters after so many of her announcements?

A: On behalf of the Minister, I have not been corrected. These are readily reconcilable statements.

Question 11.

DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour) to the Minister of Communications Paul Swain:

Q: What process is the Government following to appoint a Telecommunications Commissioner as announced in the Government's telecommunication policy?

A: We advertised nationally and internationally for applicants for this position. We want someone who will be accepted by the industry, who is experienced, and who will be fair. The appointment will be announced when it is made. For the past 10 year NZ has had a regulatory environment that has not proved to be satisfactory. We had an inquiry and it resolved we needed an authority to settle disputes. This person will provide that role.

Q: Will the position attract a salary package of between $220,000 and $350,000?

A: The final salary package hasn’t been decided, but it is fair to say it will be considerable in order to attract an appropriate candidate.

Q: Won’t this cost the public in phone charges?

A: This will help the public and it is therefore appropriate that they pay for it. I am keen to make sure the new commissioner can hit the ground running.

Question 12.

LINDSAY TISCH (National) to the Minister of Internal Affairs George Hawkins:

Q: What reports has he received regarding fire evacuation procedures in multi-storey buildings with stairs and lifts?

A: (Steve Maharey on behalf) The only report I have received is a report from the Building Industry Authority on making minor changes to the code.

Q: What is his response to a recent fire alert at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Auckland during which two firemen became trapped in the lift when they were switched off by hotel staff?

A: That is a very specific issue that I am sure the Minister would love to talk to the member about.

Q: How can he approve a pay rise for professional firemen when even the guests at the hotel knew to use the stairs.

A: As I said earlier I am sure the Minister would love to talk to the member in a lift somewhere in the vicinity of this house.

(Speakers Ruling: I think on reflection I should not have agreed to allow Mr Tamihere to mihi school children today.)


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