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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 16 August

Today's questions of the day concerned: Rail – SOE Power Prices – Industry Training – SOE Power Prices – Student Job Search – NZ Post Vs Prebble – LAV IIIs – Foreign Student Accommodation – Human Rights – LAV IIIs – School Libraries – Airline Negotiations

Questions Of The Day - Thursday, 16 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

Questions to Ministers

Question 1.

ROD DONALD (Green) to the Minister for Industry and Regional Development Jim Anderton:

Q: Will he commit regional development funding to secure the Southerner and Bay Express rail services at least until Christmas so that their viability and contribution to regional development can be properly assessed?

A: Regional Development funding is available if regions agree passenger services are top priority. So far no region has said railways are their top priority. We are actively working on a large number of options. We are also in negotiations with Tranz Rail and these negotiations are confidential until they are completed.

Q: What about the track?

A: The government is well aware of the importance of the rail corridor and this is also a matter of urgency. This is a private company here. It is not a case of negotiating with duress. If this is a matter of urgent priority to the Greens, they could tell the Government so, and we could allocate some of their resources to the issue. To my knowledge my office has had no contact from Mr Donald on this matter. If the National Party had not sold the tracks this government would not be in the position it is now. We could make up to 60% of the money needed through Transfund, but I understand local authorities could not make up the rest yet. If time is the only issue then we have time. We have to wonder however if the communities really want this then they should be able to find the funds.

Question 2.

(Tony Ryall - leave sought to defer question – denied.

Speaker – there is no need for disorder.

John Carter – I am concerned that we have a situation that may lead to disorder and may put yourself in a difficult position. I know you are not allowed to refer to the absence of members. However this week we have had a series of questions to a minister who is not here. We understand that the member has deliberately absented himself from this house and has returned to his electorate to avoid these questions.

Speaker - The Minister advised me that because of a tragic fire in a factory in his electorate he had to return home to be with his constituents.

Speaker - I hope the member is not trifling with me.

Speaker - Ministers are sometimes not here because of urgent matters and that is where the matter rests.

Member: I understand that it was at 11am this morning that he was dispatched to his electorate. And it is a matter of concern.

Speaker - It is up to the member whether to proceed with the question, leave was asked for and it was denied. This goes against one of the most clear points in this chamber. That the absence of a member should not be referred to.

Ron Mark - During these last two points it was very difficult to hear. I too am greatly concerned about this matter. I missed the bulk of what has happened and want to paticipate too.

Speaker - I take the members point.

Rodney Hide - I can’t hear either. The point is that I could only hear bits of your ruling.

Speaker (to an interjector) - I am at the end of my patience. That is a final warning. I do not make threats.

Ron Mark - I could not hear the explanation that you gave.

Speaker - What I said is that I had been rung by the minister and that I understood that he was going to notify the whips about the fire in his electorate.)


Hon TONY RYALL (National) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises Mark Burton:

Q: What profits have the Government's State-owned electricity companies made during the current power crisis to date?

A: (Michael Cullen on behalf ) Audited financial information for the period does not yet exist.

Q: Given that market settlement figures show well over $1 billion of power sold, what proportion of that is going to SOEs and Genesis energy in particular. I do not have the information to answer that question. Of course when demand exceeds supply then prices rise.

Q: Jeanette Fitzsimons (Green): Are the largest profits probably being made by Contact Energy? And does he regret not buying them back?

A: I do not know. And I do not recall having an opportunity to buy them back.

Q: Is there any evidence that energy companies have acted irresponsibly?

A: A committee recently investigated this and found no misconduct by SOEs.

Q: Is he concerned about market dominance being abused by SOEs.

A: No. Contact too is a major player in generating?

Q: How much extra has been made since the 1st of June?

A: I suggest the member talk to his benchmate about how the market was created.

Question 3.

H V ROSS ROBERTSON to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: What has been the response to the Government's decisions arising out of the review of industry training?

A: Last week we announced matters arising out of the review. The decisions have been welcomed by key stakeholders. Modern Apprenticeships is one of our flag ship policies too.


Question 4.

(Nick Smith – leave sought to postpone question – refused)

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

Q: (My question is to the hiding Minister of SOEs) How has he applied the Prime Minister's commitment that she will lead an open, accountable and not secretive Government to his State-owned enterprises portfolio?

(Speaker - you have one last chance to ask the question properly.)

A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) By being as open as I reasonably can.

Q: If the government is so committed to openness why has he refused to answer 15 questions in this house and lots in Select Committees about this?

A: The minister has not refused to give that information. If commercially sensitive information comes out it can damage the value of an SOE. Prematurely exposing a strategy for example could be commercially damaging.

Q: Can he report confidentially to the house on this?

A: I have never heard of such a thing.

Q: What steps has he taken to ensure the cooperation of Trevor Mallard, given his stated keenness for whistleblowing?

A: It is one thing to blow a whistle and another to have the entire orchestra all playing the same tune.

Q: How the public trust you when you say that we need to save electricity then?

A: Can I repeat what I have said before…….

(Interrupted…

Michael Cullen – I would love to answer but if you are not interested.

Tony Ryall - leave to table a document – granted.)

Question 5.

LIZ GORDON (Alliance) to the Minister for Industry and Regional Development Jim Anderton:

Q: Has he been involved with any initiative that will improve industry and regional development; if so, what are the details of the initiative?

A: My colleague Steve Maharey and myself will be announcing today a holiday and graduate work programme?

Q: How will this work?

A: In two ways.

Q: Why has he given so much to Ericcsson.

A: The reality is. This government is upskilling this country after nine years of inaction.

Q: How will the student work programme help students?

A: Students will benefit in many ways. 1000s of skilled jobs will be found for them.

Q: What will the People’s Bank do for regional development.

A: Poll after poll shows that a huge number of Nzers are looking forward to the opening of this bank and nothing you can say will harm this bank.

This programme is aimed at getting students jobs. And in our view jobs are a very good substitute to the benefit. In terms of the EUB there is a hardship grant and that hardship grant will be advertised. However government is difficult and one of the things that needs to be done in government is prioritisation.

Question 6.

(Murray McCully – leave sought to defer questoin– refused)

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

Q: In light of the important difference between the New Zealand Post Ltd board being "briefed" on the decision to issue proceedings against Hon Richard Prebble or "advised" of that decision, and "board approval" of the issuing of proceedings against Mr Prebble, which of these accounts is correct, and if it is "board approval", what are the specific words in the board minutes which resolve to take that course of action?

A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) As I have said earlier I do not hold the minutes in my hand. But I have seen the minutes confirming earlier minutes.

Q: Yesterday he said he had seen the minutes. Where is their permission in these minutes?

A: As I said the minister does not hold the minutes.

Q: Does he have any reason to believe they are not a true and correct record of the meeting?

A: No. And I invite any member of the board to come forward if they are concerned the minutes might be misconstured.

Q: Will the minister confirm that he is entitled to see the minutes, and will he get them and make them available to the house?

A: I am sure the Minister is entitled to do so. But perhaps the member has a different set he would like to leak.

Question 7.

(Ron Mark = Leave sought to defer question – refused.)

RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:

Q: What significance, if any, was given to the all-up weight of a fully combat-equipped light armoured vehicle, including turret, fuel, bolt-on armour and crew, in the decision to purchase 105 LAV IIIs for the New Zealand Army, and was weight a deciding factor?

A: (Phil Goff on behalf) The weight of the vehicle was not a deciding factor.

Q: Given the weight of the vehicles and that only one can be carried by a Hercules aircraft and that you have to let down the tyres. And that even a Hercules would have have to make a five day round trip to get anywhere. And can he confirm it would take almost 18 months to fly the vehicles anywhere with our Hercules fleet? And is this a sound strategy?

A: The member knows already when we deploy APCs en-masse we do so by sea. He also knows you don’t have to let the tyres down to fit them on a Hercules.

Q: Was weight part of the criteria?

A: The contract weight specified compliance with carriage by Hercules, and it can be carried by Hercules.

Q: Max Bradford (National) If it takes 18 months to move the LAVs by air. And now there is no sea lift capability. What possible use can these LAV IIIs be, costing $658 million, for peacekeeping overseas.

A: As I recall he is responsible for purchasing the sealift capability that failed. It is a peculiar example of double standard for that member.

Q:What role would the LAV IIIs play in East Timor?

A: The terrain is a major factor. For much of the country the LAV III would be appropriate however on patrol where NZ’s soldiers are deployed no vehicle could transport the soldiers where they are patrolling.

Q: Noting his answer that it was not considered practical to move the LAVs by air, then why did he say in July that this was very important, and even say that the other contender had to be tipped on its side to get it in a plane. When this is untrue.

A: Fueled vehicles cannot be transported that is because of air transport regs. Nor do armoured vehicles. We do not drop them directly into combat therefore there would be no need to be armoured when they arrive.

(John Carter – earlier you said there was a fire in the Ministers electorate. It has now come to my attention that there were no injuries. That the fire was in the roof. That the factory is likely to be out of commission for five days and that there is no risk of loss of jobs. The opposition can draw no other conclusion than that the Minister withdrew to avoid questions. What should we do in these circumstances. We have no other right other than to bring this to your attention. Otherwise it may well lead to disorder.

Michael Cullen – I can assure the house that the Minister talked about this early in the morning to me before anyone knew no jobs were at risk. He asked me my view and I agreed to answer SOE questions on his behalf. We will have lots of glass houses being broken if issues about where members are are discussed too much in here.

Member - I as a whip of the ACT party was not advised. Nor was the whip of NZ First. Nor was National.

Speaker - I recollect clearly what I said. The minister rang me and I understood that the minister was contacting the whips. That is what I said and I am responsible for what I said.

Ron Mark - There are serious questions here that are very important. If I had known he wasn’t here I wouldn’t have asked the question that is for sure we only get two a week. I also know about a previous unavailability of this minister at a Select Committee meeting. Questions are raised that deserve a full explanation.

Speaker – The other incident is not relevant to this. Any minister has an absolute right to delegate a question to any other minister. That ruling goes back to 1974 and is very clear

John Carter - We are well aware of that speakers ruling. That is not the issue. The issue is that a Minister can avoid questions on the basis of a serious matter that should take him away, when in fact the issue is not serious. I am really worried about this. If Ministers can do this. By the time he left he would have been aware of the number of questions being asked of him. We can only assume that he intentionally left. Perhaps you can consider this again and more deeply, and then come back to us.

Speakers – I cannot second guess a members decision to return to his electorate.

Rodney Hide – I am the MP that Ron Mark referred to in his earlier point. The Defence Committee met, Mr Burton advised he would come back at 7.30pm, and he didn’t. I got his diary and the only thing he had on that night was the Select Committee. What can we do?

Speaker - There are many more opportunities to ask him questions. I cannot second guess a members explanation. And that matter should, if it is an issue, be taken up at the select committee.

Leave that the house sit tomorrow for the questions to be asked of Mark Burton on Friday – refused.

Max Bradford - Leave to table a report that says the Charles Upham was an appropriate sea-lift ship. The only reason it was cancelled was that they had had ideological objection to it. – refused.

Rodney Hide – leave to table something – refused.)

Question 8.

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

Q: Does the proposed New Zealand Code of Practice for Providers Who Enrol International Students mean that schools enrolling international students under the age of 18 effectively have 24 hours a day in loco parentis obligations placed on them for those students?

A: No. The draft code of practice is intended to provide a framework to minimise risk. The idea is to require all students under the age of 18 to have suitably vetted accommodation. This does not make the schools responsible for the students outside of school hours.

Q: What about legal obligations for school boards that arise out of the code? What is he doing about that?

A: The consultation period is now closed. I am sure that issues of that nature will have been raised if they are important. I can tell the member so far that only roughly 4% of submissions have mentioned that problem so far.

Q: Can he confirm that if a parent brings a child to NZ and enrols them in a school, then the school would be responsible for police vetting a home stay? And if so isn’t he cutting across the obligations of parents?

A: We want to create an environment where children are safe. If Mr Brownlee wants to put a billion dollar industry at risk then he should explain why?

(Brownlee – leave to answer the minister’s question – refused.)

Question 9.

TIM BARNETT to the Associate Minister of Justice Margaret Wilson:

Q: What changes are proposed to New Zealand's human rights legislation?

A: The human rights amendment bill tabled this week does several things.

Q: Does the bill address the Consistency 2000 issues?

A: Yes. The bill amends 95 acts to bring them into conformity with the Human Rights Act?

Q: Why has she overruled the views of an overwhelming majority of NZers about the race relations conciliator?

A: We consulted key groups including the NZ Ethnic Council and decided on that basis to continue an effective service from within the HRC office.

Q: Stephen Franks (ACT): What about the independence of the office and what about people who jumping to conclusions about the police at Waitara?

A: If the member reads the bill he will see there is a new provision in there guaranteeing the independence of the new HRC.

Q: Will the commission have a plan?

A: Yes it will have a plan that will be developed by itself. I understand they will develop that as a matter of priority.

Question 10.

(Leave sought to defer question – refused

Member ejected for the chamber.)

RODNEY HIDE (ACT) to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:

Q: Does he stand by his answer to written question No 8404 that, in the East Timor terrain where the New Zealand private was killed, the proposed new LAV III "would not have been far behind the patrol conducting the tracking", "would always have been on immediate notice to come forward", that "When the foot patrol came into contact with militia personnel, the LAV would immediately have been activated.", and that "The noise of the vehicle moving to the site might have caused the opposing group to withdraw."?

A: (Phil Goff on behalf) The answer provided was drafted by the NZDF. I have checked this. The minister himself twice qualified the question when he delivered his answer. After the answer was delivered the Minister learned it was wrong. A draft answer was provided late and was not provided to the minister before he answered.

Q: Will the minister deny that his answer is based on the draft response provided by the army without CDF signoff. And that this was withdrawn and replaced with an answer that said… “because of the nature of the terrain it would not have been practicable”, but that the minister stuck with the first answer even though he answered this five days later?

A: I am prepared to table all three draft answers and the letter under the OIA. Both of the answers were signed out as is normal. The first answer given was substantially answered as provided for in advice. The second answer came late and was not shown to the minister for that reason. Therefore all the assumptions made by the member are wrong.

Q: Can he confirm that no vehicle could have reached that site?

A: Yes. I am advised that whether tracked or wheeled, a vehicle could not have been able to get near the area.

Q: Max Bradford (National): How does he square that, when the second answer he gave says that it would not have been practicable for the LAV IIIs to have been used?

A: That is the member that signed of the cabinet strategy committee minute approving of the LAV IIIs . The second answer was provided to the minister by the Defence Forces. He relied on that advice. He added that there was a lot of speculation in the answer, and clearly he was right about that.

(Rodney Hide - Leave to table responses from the CDF contradicting what the Minister has just said.

Phil Goff - I too would like to table those documents.

Rodney Hide - I believe the minister to have a different set of documents. Because my documents say…..

Phil Goff – leave sought to table documents – granted. )

Question 11.

DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister responsible for the National Library Marian Hobbs:

Q: How is the National Library contributing to schools' opportunities to participate in the knowledge society?

A: The National Library provides schools with lots of resources..

Q: What special assistance is provided to low decile schools.

A: Ten more schools are to receive special assistance. We have given schools the right to spend library money in a range of ways. There are some arguments about how to fund librarians. There are some who believe that all teachers should be teachers of information service access and that that task should not be left to one teacher.

Question 12.

BELINDA VERNON (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen :

Q: What brief has he given to Mr Rob Cameron in relation to his negotiations with Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines and Qantas, and when will the Government make a decision on this matter?

A: The government has asked Mr Cameron to identify an outcome in the best interests of NZ ASAP.

Q: Does he have a brief to discuss legislation?

A: That matter must be left to Mr Cameron. The nature of various possible deals has different implications. We will take into account matters of National Interest and landing rights on key routes.

Q: What did Mr Cameron say about the People’s Bank?

A: We read his report with care and made various changes to the business plan.

Q: What about negotiating routes on which Air NZ and Qantas compete?

A: There are no specific instructions on this. It is all a question of who is doing the sacrificing, Qantas, Air New Zealand or Singapore.

SCOOP COVERAGE ENDS

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