Today's questions of the day concerned: Susan Bathgate – Anti-Terrorism Regulations – MG. Dodson And Ron Marks Records - Community Problem Solving – Christchurch Nurses Strike – Mental Health And Families – RMA Compliance Cost Improvements - Aquaculture Moratorium – Susan Bathgate Dinner – Income Related Rents – Criminal Defamation – Ron Mark’s Military File – Ohariu Fire Stations Petition.
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
SIMON POWER (National) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:
Q: Of the $16,759.39 that Susan Bathgate is to repay to the Department of Labour following the Auditor-General's investigation, how much will be reimbursed by accrued annual leave and how much will be paid in cash?
A: Ms Bathgate and the DOL have agreed she pays $2476.56 and that 21 days and 3.64 hours of annual leave be used.
Q: Can she guarantee that if the Solicitor General finds she should not continue in employment, that she will not be paid out, and that there will be no confidentiality clauses?
Q: Was the minister consulted on the terms of repayment?
A: No. The AG suggested the method.
Q: Will the minister be tabling the report she receives from John Upton QC which has reportedly led to a resignation offer today?
A: I will not be receiving a report. I will be getting a legal opinion that will be privileged.
Q: Is she paying for the opinion? And if not why is she not willing to provide it to the taxpayers who paid for it?
A: Legal advice is privileged. It is being paid for through Crown Law.
Q: Would she do things differently now?
A: No. Ms Bathgate was qualified. I probably would have specifically directed the department to interview her again.
Q: Does she still think the appointment was a good idea?
A: The appointment was made through the normal processes. It was not done by me alone.
CHRIS CARTER (Labour) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Phil Goff:
Q: What will be the effect of the United Nations Sanctions (Terrorism Suppression and Afghanistan) Regulations 2001 approved by Cabinet this week?
A: The regulations respond to Resolution 1373 of the UNSC and are part of our contribution to the international crackdown on terrorism. They make it an offence to recruit for and collect funds for terrorist groups. There are around 270 people and businesses listed. They have been identified and designated by the UNSC. Actions against these groups is mandatory on all members of the UN.
Q: Does he agree with Keith Locke that the regulations go beyond the requirements?
A: No I don’t. NZ already has in place the Financial Transaction Reporting Act relating to suspicious transactions. I really can’t understand the basis of the opposition to this.
Q: Why do the regulations have a sunset clause?
A: Because they are an interim measure pending the passage of a bill on Terrorism. I note that Canada and the UK have passed similar interim regulations.
Q: What about world wide workers revolution advocates such as Socialist Action, and former members such as Laila Harre? Will the regulations apply to them?
A: No. That organisation is not listed. And in fact, I don’t believe those organisations still exist. These regulations were necessary to update the rules following Resolution 1373 of the UNSC.
GERRY BROWNLEE (National) to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:
Q: Can he assure the House that as a consequence of Major General Dodson’s accessing the file of Ron Mark, no other member of the New Zealand Defence Force has shown, released or verbally discussed information contained in that file with persons outside the Defence Force?
A: (Phil Goff on behalf) As I advised yesterday, the question of whether information was passed on to others will be determined by the review team working on behalf of the SSC.
Q: Does he stand by his comments of Monday at the Prime Minister’s Press Conference that no Government members had seen the file?
A: As I recall that press conference, it was about information passed on to government members. I am unaware of any information having been passed on to government members, and I now understand that Winston Peters believes he was misquoted in the NZ Herald today.
Q: What is the legal principle to be applied here?
A: The Privacy Act.
Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Why is he arguing the information was never passed to people in Parliament when there are members here who know that it was? Why is he misrepresenting me? And why is he obfuscating?
A: I invite the member to name the members. Put up or shut up.
Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Why was he so tardy in drafting terms of reference? And why did he leave out issues of guilt or propriety in them?
A: He has neither put up nor shut up in that question. The terms of reference were done very openly. The matter was referred to the review group on the 8th and 17th of October.
(Winston Peters – leave to table the terms of reference – granted)
Q: Can he confirm he has confidence in the head of the Army Major General Dodson?
A: The National Party appointed him and they obviously have confidence in him.
TAITO PHILLIP FIELD (Labour) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:
Q: What support is the Government providing to individuals who identify community-based solutions to social and economic issues?
A: Funding for $1.8 million for social entrepreneurs was provided last week. The Department of Internal Affairs and CYF are leading this policy. They will be funding projects that empower communities.
Q: What is a social entrepreneur?
A: Someone who takes an entrepreneurial approach to social objectives. We support them because they are innovative and provide real solutions to local issues.
Q: What about the four school principles who aren’t getting help from CYFs?
A: I presume the member is referring to an article about Nelson. A new official has been appointed for community liason in that area now. We are moving away from the notion that Wellington knows best and that one policy size fits all. What we have here is an approach based on innovation. We need very strong services to back that process up which is why we have given CYFs $216 million.
Q: Why has Geoff Chapple received such a paltry sum?
A: The grant was negotiated with him. And I must say I received no such reaction from him.
Dr LYNDA SCOTT (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:
Q: What specific actions will she be taking to ensure patient safety when 3,200 nurses, midwives and allied staff walk off the wards in Canterbury hospitals on Sunday?
A: (Ruth Dyson) The Canterbury DHB has been working on contingency plans for some time. The DHB advises it has received excellent support from other DHBs. I have received many communications from people concerned about this. I am advised that discussions with the union are continuing with a view to minimise risks.
Q: Has she heard comments from clinicians saying that serious injury or death is highly likely?
A: No. The government expects that the DHBs will address pay for staff within their budgets. That was the expectation of the previous government too.
Q: Ken Shirley (ACT): What about people who claim that there is a real per-capita cut in vote health, and that that is the cause of this strike?
A: The member is the only person I know of who says that is the cause. What I have heard from nurses is that they are striking as a result of 10 years of frustration.
Q: Sue Kedgley (Green): Why are many highly qualified and experienced nurses in Christchurch receiving less pay than newly qualified police officers?
A: She should address that question to the National Party who repealed the Pay Equity Act.
SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister of Health Annette King:
Q: What measures is she taking to ensure that mental health crisis teams and acute unit staff pay close attention to what immediate family members tell them about the state of their sick relatives?
A: (Ruth Dyson on behalf) A number of measures are in place for health practitioners and a review is underway. The Ministry of Health published guidelines in November last year on how to involve families in care. I have called for a review of all providers on the question of information provided to families.
Q: Is one of the reasons families are not listened to because of insufficient resources in the Mental Health service?
A: Intuitively that is probably part of the problem. And the member has a government commitment that if that is the case, as identified in the current review, then that it will be addressed. All DHBs now have paid positions for consumer advocates some of which are vacant. Some also have family liason officers.
Q: What is being done to improve the quality of training and wages for mental health workers?
A: I am very confident that those issues are being addressed by the Health Workforce Advisory Committee.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National) to the Minister for the Environment Marian Hobbs:
Q: Did she release a comprehensive package designed to improve the Resource Management Act's workability in October, as was promised by the Hon Paul Swain on 5 September in his interim response to the Business Compliance Cost Panel Report?
A: No I have not yet released the package. But I have done the work. It is to be released in December.
Q: Does she stand by her statement that strongly supported the Select Committee report that rejected all 12 National Party proposals?
A: Legislation is only one part of the picture. The RMA will be debated next week and at that stage you will know whether an SOP will be introduced.
Q: What work is being done on the Compliance Cost Panel’s recommendations?
A: Over 50% of the concerns are already being addressed. Most of these can be addressed by better practice at council level.
Q: How does she view disarray in the Labour Alliance coalition?
A: I can confirm that the conjecture made by the member is wrong.
Q: Jeanette Fitzsimmons (Green): Do the PM’s statements in the Speech to the Throne saying that amendments would not be pursued hold?
A: I stand by the comments I made in a letter on those amendments to the Select Committee.
(Nick Smith – leave to table a speech from the Minister – granted.)
DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Labour) to the Minister of Fisheries Pete Hodgson:
Q: Why is the Government proposing to reform the aquaculture industry and what does it hope to achieve?
A: The government has announced reforms that give certainty to the public and the industry and which put an end to various gold rushes.
Q: What about speculative applications undermining the reforms?
A: A two year moratorium effective from the day before yesterday will allow regional councils time to put management areas in place after community consultation. The Department of Conservation has a duty to advise on RMA applications of course.
Q: What is the future for aquaculture?
A: The industry understands the need for this step and accepts that the status quo will not do. If any regional council is ready to go earlier than two years in the future it is welcome to seek a lifting of the moratorium.
Q: Why has the Government acted now when environmental groups have been calling for this for two years?
A: The reason it has taken so long is that this process has been widely and exhaustively consulted on. Why did we not indicate the moratorium? Because to have done so would have worsened the situation.
RODNEY HIDE (ACT) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:
Q: What was the purpose of her 19 March dinner engagement with Susan Bathgate and her partner and was Ms Bathgate's work discussed?
A: The purpose was to have dinner. I have no recollection of what was discussed beyond the fact that it was a social evening.
Q: Does she recall Ms Bathgate raising a dispute she was having with the Employment Tribunal at the time, about which she earlier warned her employers that she was having dinner with the Minister?
A: No I have no recollection of that.
Q: Is it unusual for ministers to attend social gatherings involving officers of the state?
Q: Does she still think the employment of Ms Bathgate was a good idea?
Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): Since she can’t remember. How much wine was drunk at this occasion.
(Speaker – that is not an appropriate question.
Rodney Hide – how come Labour can ask questions of Jenny Shipley about dinner dates and I can’t of Margaret Wilson.
Speaker – that wasn’t what was asked. There was a question about the consumption of wine.)
MAHARA OKEROA (Labour) to the Minister of Housing Mark Gosche:
Q: What recent reports has he received on the impact of income-related rents for low income State house tenants?
A: Nearly 53,000 tenants are now on income related rents, that is 90% of tenants. Turnover of houses has nearly halved. This is creating stability for families. Community workers say that foodbank use by state house tenants has declined.
Q: Has he seen the report that says the waiting list is growing by 1100 per month?
A: I believe the report referred to is somewhat old. The waiting list is now lower than it was 12 months ago. What I am worried about in waiting times is how long it is taking to get a National Party housing policy. Three spokespeople, but no policy. The government is spending millions on maintenance and renewal of housing. The healthy housing project is also helping achieve a better standard of living for 1000 families.
Q: Given how many families can’t get into state houses, will he do something about the accommodation supplement?
A: Clearly, as we spend $800 million a year on the accommodation supplement, we will be continuing to review that.
Q: What about morale of employees of Housing NZ?
A: I have received reports from the staff who say they are greatly enjoying implementing government policy.
Dr WAYNE MAPP (National) to the Associate Minister of Justice Margaret Wilson:
Q: Further to her answer on Tuesday of "no" when she was asked if she had considered whether the criminal defamation provision was inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, does this mean that neither she nor her officials even considered the right to freedom of expression before introducing the provision?
A: My answer meant that I considered there was no problem. While I was aware of official’s preliminary assessment on this, I took a different view.
Q: Is she now telling us that officials had the view that this provision did contravene the Bill of Rights Act?
A: The preliminary view was that it was not a justified limitation on freedom of expression. However the issue of balance against the electoral process was not addressed. And I took a different view.
Q: Why was no formal vetting undertaken?
A: Because it is not the practice of the MOJ to undertake an assessment of every amendment.
Q: Did she advise the Cabinet on three puzzling features of her amendment (listed) ? And if not why not?
A: I don’t recall advising on those matters. We did have a general discussion on defences from my recollection.
Q: Was the provision put in because of the PMs experience in dealing with several people who criticised her?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (NZ First) to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:
Q: Why, prior to answering my question No 2 on yesterday's Order Paper regarding Major General Dodson's accessing of Ron Mark's files, did he consult with the State Services Commission inquiry team?
A: I consulted with the commissioner and the review team to ensure the answer I was to give would be accurate.
Q: Why would he do that, when he could simply look at his records and give a yes or no answer?
A: The question as to whether any information was passed on to anyone is at the core of this inquiry. I wanted to be sure that that question would be put to Major General Dodson?
Q: What process is the inquiry following?
A: It is conducting interviews with people with relevant information. They will if necessary make further inquiries. And then they will report back.
Q: Is he not willing to express confidence in Major General Dodson?
A: Any minister must have confidence in the head of their department until they have reason not to have confidence.
Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): How can he explain how he knows so much about the inquiry, and how he is able to tell it to ask questions, if he is not interfering with it?
A: It is important for me to have information about the inquiry to be able to answer questions.
(Richard Prebble – leave to ask a question on how Mr Mallard asked a question concerning Mr Marks saying “tell us why you weren’t promoted and why you became a mercenary?” – refused.)
Questions to Members
Hon PETER DUNNE (United Future NZ) to the Chairperson of the Government Administration Committee Dianne Yates:
Q: What progress has the committee made in dealing with the petition of Tony Swain and 3,070 others requesting that the existing fire stations in Johnsonville, Newlands and Khandallah are retained and upgraded?
A: The committee began considering this petition today and will report to the house in due course.
Q: Has the committee received my letter asking for plans to close stations to be put on hold?
A: Yes and an appropriate response will be sent to the member in due course.
SCOOP COVERAGE ENDS