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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 27 June

Today's questions of the day concerned: Christine Rankin And The PM – Industry Training – Christine Rankin And Maharey – NZ Schools Report – NZ Post Board - Regional Rail Services – NZ Post And South Africa – Rail Services – Otago Health Services – Oceans Policy – Probation Workers Strike - Easter Trading In 2002.

Questions Of The Day - Wednesday, 27 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.

Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (ACT) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: Is it correct that she has not met Christine Rankin, the Chief Executive of the Department of Work and Income, in the eighteen months that she has been Prime Minister; if so, what assurance can she give the House that her Government is concerned about the almost one million clients of the department, the nearly 5,000 public servants who work for the department, or the over thirteen billion dollars of taxpayers' money that this department spends each year?

A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) I have no recollection of meeting Christine Rankin in the past 18 months. The record of the government in this portfolio speaks for itself. Unemployment is falling. We have restored cuts to superannuation. And we are ensuring that the taxpayer gets value for money.

Q: Is the country to understand that the PM does not meet with any departmental head? Or is it only Christine Rankin? Or is it that she always intended to fire her, and wanted an alibi?

A: The CEO that the PM meets most often is Mark Prebble.

Q: Trevor Mallard (Labour): Can the PM tell the house if it were more likely that the PM would meet Ms Rankin if Ms Rankin turned up to meetings of all departmental CEOs?

A: I have no information on that.

Q: Jenny Shipley (National): If the Department of Work and Income is performing so well, then why is the government sacking Ms Rankin?

A: That matter is before the courts at present.

Question 2.

DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: What progress has been made with the Government's Industry Training Strategy?

A: Later today I will be releasing a document from Skill NZ. As of 31st December there were more than 32,000 persons involved in industry training. A total of 81,000 people participated in industry training last year. I have instituted new methods for monitoring industry training and will get new statistics on this in future.

Q: Does he expect to have to undergo industry training himself in the near future?

A: It is my advice to all members to engage in lifetime learning. There have been substantial increases in participation in industry training by minority groups.

Q: Muriel Newman (ACT): Has he ever blamed officials involved industry training for ruining his career? Or told them he has lived a blameless life of excellence till he met them?

(Speaker - the member is quoting from a case before the courts. Please rephrase your question.

Richard Prebble – We should be able to discuss this matter. There may well be an appeal. This could go on for a year!

Speaker – only quotes from the court case cannot be used.

Winston Peters – this is a matter in the public domain. Everybody else is able to discuss this except us. I think you are wrong.

Speaker – I have taken advice and stand by my ruling.)

Q: Muriel Newman (ACT): Has he ever blamed officials involved industry training for ruining his career? Or told them he has lived a blameless life of excellence till he met them?

A: I thoroughly enjoyed the question and thank you for asking it again. What I do pass on frequently to Skill NZ people is what a wonderful job they are doing.

Q: Will Skill NZ be abolished when it becomes part of TEAC?

A: No.

Question 3.

Rt Hon JENNY SHIPLEY (National) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: In light of his statement yesterday that the Prime Minister expects him to ensure that all his portfolios show a commitment to public service, what commitment does he require of the Department of Work and Income to provide equal employment opportunities and the creation of a female-friendly work environment?

A: DWI complies with legislative requirements and with public service policies. EEO principals are integrated into all departmental strategies.

Q: Jenny Shipley (National): Is he aware of scathing criticism from the PM at people for having a go at women for their dress sense? And if he is found wanting will he resign?

A: I am well aware of what the PM has said about this, and I support her absolutely, to the hilt.

Q: What is the gender composition of DWI?

A: Some 74% of the staff are women.

Q: Peter Dunne (United Future NZ): Does the Minister really believe it is a legitimate function of his role to provide advice on dress sense?

A: The member is touching on a matter presently before the courts. If the member wants me to provide him advice on his dress sense I will be happy to do so. The PM expects a great deal of her Ministers and we do our best to live up to it, though I have to admit that on occasion I have failed.

Q: Why is Christine Rankin’s appearance unacceptable when it is really her, and the PMs appearance acceptable when it is not her?

A: I cannot comment on the first part of the question. But the PM is a wonderful person in all of her manifest forms.

(Speaker – order, order, keep it lower down.

Jenny Shipley – I think that is part of the problem.

Speaker – Oh dear. I apologise for writing Jane Clifton’s column for her again.)

Q: Can the Minister guarantee he has never spoken inappropriately to any female member of the public service?

A: I always behave in an appropriate fashion.

Question 4.

HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: What does the New Zealand Schools - Nga Kura o Aotearoa 2000 report, tabled today, tell us about progress and priorities in New Zealand schools?

A: The report shows the focus of this government on student achievement, strengthening teaching and forging relationships with communities among other things.

Q: What is he doing about things?

A: A number of things. We have made changes to the national administration guidelines. I think this focus has helped student achievement already. There are negotiations on at the moment aimed at bringing more quality and stability to low decile school teaching staff. The report is organised around the key drivers of educational outcomes. I think it is a useful document.

Q: Is he concerned that the number of students leaving school with no qualification has increased by 1%.

A: Such a change is often a factor of an improving labour market. I would be more worried about that if there was also increasing unemployment.

Question 5.

Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises Mark Burton:

Q: Does he have full confidence in Dr Ross Armstrong as chairman of New Zealand Post Ltd; if so, why?

A: The chairs of all SOE boards retain their posts on the basis that they have the shareholder’s confidence.

Q: Bill English (National): Has he asked Dr Armstrong whether he leaked a board paper to the media? And if he did leak it, what action will he take?

A: As I indicated to the member this morning, I regard the leaking of board documents as a very serious matter. If and when I have evidence I will take action. I would urge members and others to provide evidence, and I will take action.

Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): Will he sack Dr Armstrong if it is found he leaked information to the media?

A: If I had any evidence that any member of an SOE acted in that way, I would use the full powers available to me.

Q: Bill English (National): Given that it appears that Dr Armstrong was the only board member who knew of the existence of the paper, why hasn’t he asked Dr Armstrong if he leaked it?

A: I can indicate to the member that his assertion is incorrect.

Question 6.

JOHN WRIGHT(Alliance) to the Minister for Industry and Regional Development Jim Anderton :

Q: What regional development assistance is available to help regions retain or expand rail services?

A: This government stands ready to work with regions where assistance is available.

Q: What else is he doing to save rail?

A: The MED the Ministry of Transport and Industry NZ are working on a number of transport proposals. An integrated transport solution is to be developed. We will be having meetings with West Coast Rail about services as quickly as possible.

Q: In light of the axing of the Waikato-Auckland connection, what tangible solutions will he offer to Huntly West, where there is 70% unemployment, and Pukekohe?

A: Any legacy of unemployment in Huntly comes from National. Fewer than 12 passengers regularly use the service from Hamilton to Auckland. No government can say that passenger services will be subsidsed at any cost, no matter how few passengers are prepared to travel by rail.

Q: What are the main causes of decline of regional rail services?

A: Other than Richard Prebble there are lots of causes. Equivalent car trips now take often half as long. And there has been a general decline in the regions.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Why doesn’t he ring up the owners of Tranz Rail and say “you bought it, you fix it”?

A: Make my day. You sold it Richard, You fix it.

(Richard Prebble – While I would have liked to have sold rail, that honour actually belongs to the National Party.)

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Could the minister tell the house what the effect has been of the sale of rail in 1993 for $300 million? And where the capitalisation has gone from 16 cents a share to $8 a share?

A: I do not need any lectures from the member on asset sales. What this government has to do is to deal with the results of those policies. And that is what we are doing.

Question 7.

Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises Mark Burton:

Q: Does he accept Dr Ross Armstrong's assertion that the interim report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers shows that there was no substance to concerns raised by employees of New Zealand Post Ltd about Transend's operations in Spain and South Africa?

A: I will reserve my judgment until the final report is complete.

Q: Does he consider a report that indicates cash advances involving hundreds of thousands of dollars being taken by staff is okay? And if not what is he going to do about it?

A: I reserve my judgment until I have seen the final report. There are matters in the interim report that raise concerns, true. But I need to see the final report before I ensure the right matters are followed up by the board.

Q: Will he ask the Chairman if he has been leaking information?

A: As soon as I have identified all the people who had the information I will ask all of them that question.

Q: Does that mean he disagrees with Dr Armstrong that the interim report’s findings clear NZ Post?

A: That is why the final report is the key document. The interim report also indicates that there is no evidence of wrong-doing. Therefore I want to see the final report and then follow it up with the board.

Question 8.

SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Transport Mark Gosche:

Q: Does he stand by his statement that passenger rail services could be maintained through alternatives to roading or passenger output funding from Transfund New Zealand; if so, how does he suggest that this can occur before the services are expected to cease in three months?

A: (Pete Hodgson) On behalf of the Minister I can confirm that regional communities can seek funding from Transfund and MED. The government will be working closely with local communities on this issue.

Q: Does he agree with regional council staff that it would be impossible to get long distance funding from Transfund for inter-regional services?

A: No. The contest for funding in government is not new.

Q: What is the government doing?

A: The government has just today met with West Coast Rail to discuss investigating options for transport alternatives. And more meetings are planned.

Q: When the Minister identified Transfund on the radio as a potential source of funding was he indicating extra funding would be given to Transfund?

A: The point of my answer was to confirm that regional councils can seek funding through those two funds. It so happens that I come from a city where there is a profitable train system. The long and the short of it is that if you market these services they may work.

(Winston Peters – we have a person – Judy Keall - who gives most of her speeches by way of interjection. I wish you would restrain her.)

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): What is this magnificent pool of money? And why don’t we just take the rail corridor of Tranz Rail for their failure to meet agreements on infrastructural investment?

A: It is not the corridor that is on the market.

Question 9.

Dr LYNDA SCOTT (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Why has the Ministry of Health agreed to an independent review of its funding for acute services at Otago District Health Board in the next financial year?

A: (Tariana Turia on behalf) The DG of Health has initiated an independent review of this matter.

Q: In light of the expectation that acute services demand is expected to increase by 1% why has funding been cut by the government? And is this nonsensical as health staff say?

A: It is entirely appropriate that hospital advisory committees discuss funding for acute services.

Q: What is the review designed to achieve?

A: The review will examine the methodology for the application of acute growth funding being included in the funding envelope, and whether this methodology has been applied consistently.

Q: In light of the fact there is under-funding everywhere? Will there be a review everywhere?

A: No.

Q: Did the Otago DHB CEO get a bonus and pay rise?

A: I don’t know.

Q: Lynda Scott (National): Can the Minister explain why she decided to reduce funding to hospitals when we know the demand for health services is increasing and more taxes are being paid?

A: There has not been a reduction in funding this year for acute services.

(Lynda Scott – leave to table a letter – granted.)

Question 10.

DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Labour) to the Minister of Fisheries Pete Hodgson:

Q: What progress can he report on the development of an Oceans Policy for New Zealand?

A: Very good progress. This week the Ministerial Committee launched a nationwide consultation exercise. Dame Cath Tizard described this as a once in a life-time opportunity for NZers to contribute. This is the first stage of a three stage process. The aim of this stage is to identify shared goals.

Q: Does he have any reason to doubt that NZers wish the ocean to be wide, broad, blue and well stocked with fish?

A: The issues are more complex than that. The consultation process is designed to identify the values and principals people have with regard to their ocean. It is particularly important to get Maori involved.

Q: Is he worried that there has been no national media coverage of this once in a life-time opportunity?

A: A lot of effort has gone into cost effective notification. I will give the website address now.

Question 11.

RICHARD WORTH (National) to the Minister of Corrections Matt Robson:

Q: What direct or indirect action has he taken to end the industrial dispute involving 500 Community Probation Service staff?

A: (Tariana Turia on behalf) Ministers of any government cannot take part in negotiations over pay disputes.

Q: Given warnings from the PSA about high risk offenders what assurances can he give that public safety is not being put in danger?

A: I am advised by the department that it is business as usual. Electronic monitoring is continuing as normal. The department has strategies in place to maintain services throughout industrial action.

Q: What can the Minister do?

A: It is the minister’s job to monitor events closely to ensure that everything that can be done is done to assure public safety.

Q: How will the minister know whether there is a problem, when he has no measurements to base his opinion on?

A: I am unable to answer that question.

Q: Sue Bradford (Green): How many private security guards have been employed?

A: I don’t know.

Question 12.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (NZ First) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: As there are just 43 weeks to go before Easter 2002, what work is she undertaking to ensure there will be Easter Sunday trading next year?

A: (Laila Harre) My officials have been examining options for a law which reflects an appropriate balance. I am working on an options paper for cabinet. I expect the paper to go to cabinet in the next month.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): As officials have been working on this for 10 years, what more could they find out about it? And why doesn’t she just get on with it?

A: I have to advise the member that his previous bill on this subject was defeated. The objective will be to come up with a solution that does not undermine the fundamental purpose of the three restricted days.


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