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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day –15 August

Today's questions of the day concerned: Power Crisis SOE Sensitivity – Prison Strike – Reserve Bank And People’s Bank – Drug Advertising – Ross Armstrong – Tertiary Education Funding – Ross Armstrong – Kenepuru Hospital – SOE Information Leaks – Kohanga Reo - Exporting Education – Pacific Island Health – SOE Minister’s Question Answering.

Questions Of The Day - Wednesday, 15 August 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.

SCOOP COVERAGE BEGINS

Question 1.

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

Q: In light of the Prime Minister's comment that "It would be very, very unfortunate if the current crop of people who run power companies don't have that sensitivity to social needs.", what assurances can he give to Aucklanders that State-owned Mercury Energy's plans to have the power to raise household power prices every two days and vary any other terms at 48 hours' notice demonstrates this sensitivity?

A: Mercury is taking temporary measures to allow it to move quickly if the situation worsens. Mercury says it has already given an assurance not to raise prices during the winter for Vector customers.

Q: Will he issue instructions to SOE’s not to price gouge?

A: I have answered the question with relation to Mercury. As Dr Cullen said yesterday there is no evidence of price gouging.

Q: Is he satisfied with Mercury’s actions?

A: Mercury has been a cooperative member of the management group convened by my colleague Pete Hodgson.

Q: I have seen accounts from an SOE increasing prices by 700% to a small business retailer?

A: I can only refer the member to Dr Cullen’s answer yesterday.

Question 2.

JANET MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of State Services Trevor Mallard:

Q: What actions is the Government taking in relation to industrial action in the prison service?

A: Yesterday the CEO wrote to CANZ consenting to stop work meetings next week. The NZ Defence Force will be available if the dispute escalates. By training the Defence Force and doing planning with police the government is doing everything it can to protect the public.

Q: Given prison officers are paid more than soldiers, will the government increase the pay of soldiers when they are deployed in prisons?

A: The member has drawn attention to something from 1996. In 1996 a number of army personnel transferred to the prison service, because of better conditions. That is an indication of where this government has its priorities.

Question 3.

RODNEY HIDE (ACT) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises Mark Burton:

Q: Has he or any officials of his office had any discussions with Reserve Bank officials over what prudential requirements the Reserve Bank will seek before it will grant New Zealand Post Ltd a banking licence; if so, what were the results of the discussions?

A: No.

Q: Why then does he think it will be okay with just $80 million, when Cameron and Co. says it thinks the bank needs $100 million to have adequate capital?

A: NZ Post must comply with the Reserve Bank’s requirements. The board is responsible for that. The decision on whether it is sufficiently well capitalised is up to the Reserve Bank.

Q: Will it be called Kiwi Bank?

A: The announcement on the name is up to the bank.

Q: Is it not a fact that the Reserve Bank has no option on approving the license given that the government has already announced it will go ahead regardless?

A: We haven’t said that.

(Bill English - Leave to table the registration of Kiwi Bank by NZ Post – granted.)

Question 4.

SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Given Pharmac's concerns that direct-to-consumer advertising places a fiscal strain on the New Zealand pharmaceutical budget as it drives up demand for subsidised pharmaceuticals, presents an unbalanced picture of the potential risks all medicines carry and damages the doctor/patient relationship, why has she decided not to ban direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals?

A: Pharmac’s was only one of several submissions on this. Pharmac has welcomed this announcement, and says it is pleased that there will be more controls.

Q: Isn’t her support of advertising for drugs a little bizarre given her previous opposition to this?

A: If the member had read the review from the Ministry of Health she would know that a literature review found that there was no evidence of positive or negative effects of drug advertising. A response from the Medical Association also supports the decision.

Q: Does she support the decision by Marian Hobbs to prevent a cholera vaccine from being used, and in fact to have $60,000 worth of a perfectly good pharmaceutical destroyed?

A: This has nothing to do with the question asked. On the advertising decision I was persuaded by the report and the evidence I received from the Ministry of Health.

Question 5.

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

Q: Has he communicated with any director of New Zealand Post Ltd, other than Dr Armstrong, regarding the assurance given to him by Dr Armstrong that the New Zealand Post Ltd board had approved of the decision to issue proceedings against Hon Richard Prebble; if so, has any director supported Dr Armstrong's claim?

A: No.

Q: Given the contentions surrounding this case, why has he not asked members of the board about this?

A: Because I am advised that the official record of the meeting supports the reports I have been given. Confirmed minutes show that the matter was dealt with by the board as indicated by the chairman.

Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): Can he confirm the existence of a letter confirming that board members can be sacked?

A: I can’t confirm the particular letter, no. But it would not be unusual. If the member has any evidence contrary to the assurances I have been given about the board meeting then he should give it to me.

Question 6.

NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: How will the Government ensure a more targeted approach to public investment in tertiary education?

A: We are developing a smart and active approach to Tertiary Education. We will move away from the “broad spectrum” approach of the past that operated on auto-pilot.

Q: How will charters and profiles be developed?

A: In May I convened a charters and profiles working party. Today that working party meets for the first time. We want the approach to be relatively light handed. We will not repeat the mistakes of the last decade.

Q: Will the targeted approach include taking funds from PTEs?

A: The member is probably referring to the moratorium on private providers. All this means is that there will be no new PTEs established in the next 15 months or so. Membership of the working party includes the key stakeholders. We want a system that is focussed externally, not simply on its own needs.

Q: Can he confirm that the $35 million he has provided is at the expense of private providers?

A: No I can’t confirm the way the member has interpreted that question. What I can also say is that this government is committed to student choice as well as excellence.

Q: Is it a good idea to fund a truck-driving course undercutting other private providers?

A: I would be happy to have a look at that.

Question 7.

Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises Mark Burton:

Q: Further to his answer yesterday, what was "the process of board approval" which "the chairman specifically confirmed" in relation to New Zealand Post's decision to issue proceedings against Hon Richard Prebble?

A: As I have noted in response to previous questions, minutes of the meeting held that morning were confirmed at the next meeting.

Q: Is it not the case that all that occurred that morning, was that there was an informal meeting prior to the board meeting at which three directors were told the legal action had begun?

A: That assertion is not consistent with the advice I have received and passed on to this house.

Q: Was the board required to consult with the Minister about this legal action?

A: No.

Q: Will he fire Ross Armstrong if it turns out that the board was not consulted, and if in fact he has been misled by Mr Armstrong?

A: I am not prepared to engage in that sort of libellous speculation.

Q: In light of the fact that Michael Cullen says the board was only “briefed”. Would he like to amend his comments that the board “approved” the legal action?

A: I do not believe there is any inconsistency that needs clarification.

Question 8.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (NZ First) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Has she seen the public consultation document issued by Capital and Coast District Health Board which proposes removing the existing 100 overnight stay beds at Kenepuru hospital; if so, what steps will she take to ensure the full range of health services are provided for those residing in the northern suburbs of Wellington?

A: I have seen a proposal to provide new services. I know the member for Tauranga will accept that I believe in quality health facilities.

Q: Does she accept that the document proposes the closure of 100 beds at the hospital?

A: Decisions are yet to be made by the DHB. I understand they are also considering expanding other services at Kenepuru.

Q: When will the issue be resolved?

A: The consultation process ends at the end of this month. We expect to have results by the end of September for consideraton. The proposal they are looking at now is around $290 million, up from $150 million.

Q: Is it not a fact that the entire proposal is being reviewed because it is considered unsustainable?

A: The member is incorrect.

Q: What is being done to assess and meet public transport needs of people to visit Newtown?

A: Part of the consultation involves transport issues.

Question 9.

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

Q: What steps, if any, has he taken regarding the leaking of official information about State-owned enterprises?

A: I have taken the steps I consider appropriate.

Q: Does he agree with senior government adviser John Blincoe who in opposition said sources of leaks should be commended for their services?

A: I will of course treat Mr Blincoe’s advice with considerable attention and care.

Q: What has been the result of the leaks on the NZ Post Bank?

A: One pleasing result has been a decline of the ACT Party in the polls. I am confident that the Minister of State Services is doing nothing to impede my inquiries.

Q: What are the appropriate steps?

A: One of them is that when you have a fox in the hen house you don’t turn on the lights to tell them you are coming.

Q: Has he seen a report that Jim Anderton encouraged public servants to leak when Ministers were breaking the law?

A: Yes I have.

Question 10.

MITA RIRINUI (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education Parekura Horomia:

Q: What work has this Government done to change the way it works with Te Kohanga Reo National Trust?

A: Earlier this year we agreed to set up a joint working group to review the relationship. The report from this group has now been received.

Q: What does it say?

A: The report raises some fundamental issues, including issues relating to the future of the property putea policy.

Q: Will he require a more democratic structure of the trust?

A: After 20 years of venturing forth to support the language we are most certainly looking at those issues. This government is constantly seeking to strengthen its relationship with stakeholders. The review has set the foundations for a strong relationship with the crown.

Q: Can he assure us there will be no more illegal and unethical activity at the trust?

A: That is why we moved to get the documentation done. We have been committed to doing that rather than leaving it alone like the last group did.

Q: How many Kohanga are struggling?

A: Like any network there are ups and downs. We are committed to strengthening and supporting Kohanga throughout the country.

Q: Why will he not provide the $3 million necessary to resolve this problem? Especially given the $50 million for Maori TV?

A: Stumping up cold cash is not the full answer. We want to ensure that the language is maintained.

Question 11.

GERRY BROWNLEE (National) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: Is he committed to expanding the export education sector so it will earn over $1 billion a year for New Zealand?

A: Yes. The Education NZ trust predicts that the target will be reached next year, two years earlier than planned. If we don’t have an industry in which parents can be assured that their children are safe, then we won’t have an industry. The government has supported marketing and industry development. Our strategic approach is contained in a document which is available to members.

Q: What is he doing to ensure that students are not enrolled inappropriately?

A: It is a major interest of this government that students receive quality education. So we are certainly working with institutions. Export education contributed $500 million to June 1999 GDP, this year the figure is close to $850 million.

Q: Has he seen a report from Hong Kong that NZ’s educational standards are deteriorating?

A: I would be interested to follow that up with the member. I have seen reports saying the opposite.

Q: Does he really expect primary and secondary schools to be responsible for police vetting?

A: Those checks have to take place.

Question 12.

DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Labour) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: What additional funding has been put into Pacific Island health since the Labour-Alliance Government took office?

A: Since the government took office we have increased funding from $9.5 million to $18.5 million. We have also committed $15 million over the next three years to the Pacific Provider Development Scheme. $1 million was provided in 1998 and 1999 by the previous government to this scheme. We are serious about this.

Q: Wyatt Creech (National): Why was Damien O’Connor designated to ask this question?

A: I know that the member for the West Coast, like all members of this government, has a keen interest in Pacific Island health.

(Mark Gosche – for the benefit of Wyatt Creech, the two Pacific Island members from this side are at the funeral of Arthur Anae’s father.

Damien O’Connor - I resent that question. I can represent any NZer.

Speaker – well wait for the general debate then.)

Questions to Members

Question 1.

RODNEY HIDE (ACT) to the Chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee Mark Peck:

Q: Following the Minister for State Owned Enterprises' last attendance at the committee, did the committee write to the Minister with a set of questions which it asked be responded to by Monday 13 August; if so, what has been his response?

A: The member will be aware that the committee’s correspondence with the Minister is confidential until the committee reports.

Q: What does the chairperson propose to do about a Minister who abruptly leaves the committee and then ignores a request to answer questions in writing?

A: The member will be aware that these are matters properly for the committee.

SCOOP COVERAGE ENDS

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