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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 5 December

Today's questions of the day concerned: DHB Deficits – Business Confidence – Susan Bathgate – Afghanistan – Nurses Strike – NZ Education Performance – Major General Dodson & Ron Marks x 2 – Susan Bathgate - Centre’s of Excellence – Cancer Drugs – Lord Of The Rings – Land Transport Amendment Bill

Questions Of The Day - Wednesday, 5 December 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.


Questions to Ministers

Question 1.

Hon ROGER SOWRY (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: What is her response to the latest Public Health Financial Statistics which recorded a provisional operating deficit for district health boards of $42.3 million for the September 2001 quarter, and is she concerned about the increasing operating deficit?

A: Figures from the Ministry of Health show that September Quarter deficits were substantially higher under the National Government in 1996, both in real terms and proportionally. And they don’t like the answer.

Q: Why is it good use of money to fly members to Wellington to hear a speech from her?

A: Elected members have come for 1.5 days of in service training. I had a strong recommendation that this was a good idea. And they did not come only to hear from me for half an hour.

Q: What has she heard in feedback about the proposed three year funding track?

A: There has been a very enthusiastic response from DHBs. Deficits are nothing new. The question is what funding is being put in in the long term. And DHBs are pleased with that.

Q: Is the reason she will not take ownership of the deficits because they are expanding so much?

A: No. The reason is that I think my personal bank balance is probably in deficit already.

(Roger Sowry - Leave to table papers from Auckland DHB indicating a deficit blowout of up to $87 million – granted.)

Question 2.

JOHN TAMIHERE (Labour) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: What further reports has he received on the state of business confidence in New Zealand?

A: I have seen a survey from Auckland Chamber of Commerce showing a bounce back in business confidence to pre Sept. 11th levels.

Q: Why?

A: Thanks to the freedom of the press I can do no better than to quote Michael Barnett who put it down to Helen Clark, Air NZ and lower interest rates.

Q: Has he seen a report in the Dominion expressing concern about his spending spree?

A: I have been listening to Morning Report this week and I have heard an endless stream of National Party spokesmen urging the government to spend more.

Q: What are the implications of the return of confidence in Auckland?

A: If Aucklanders stimulate demand they will help carry the country through the global downturn.

Q: In light of his testimonial about Auckland does he no longer think it is a dead weight?

A: That may have been true under National. Now Auckland is contributing its due weight.

Q: What about rail?

A: The government is definitely in consultations about the unfortunate lease of the rail corridor signed by the previous government.

Question 3.

RODNEY HIDE (ACT) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: Did Ms Susan Bathgate tell her or her officials before Ms Bathgate's appointment to the Employment Relations Authority that there were formal complaints against her to the Principal Judge and the Registrar of the Family Court of substandard performance and conduct as Counsel for Child that exposed children she was representing to the potential of further sexual abuse, and does the Minister believe that such a complaint, along with an examination of its substance, would have had a bearing on the question of Ms Bathgate's suitability as an Authority member?

A: No and yes depending on the nature of the complaint and whether it had any substance?

Q: Was it acceptable that Ms Bathgate did not meet the children, spoke on the phone to the mother for only three ten minute conversations and billed the crown for five hours of meeting with parties.

(Speaker – the minister is not responsible for this instance. She is responsible for whether she was told about this.

Roger Sowry – can he rephrase the question.)

Q: Does the Minister stand by her claims that Susan Bathgate should be able to keep her other warrants?

A: I stand for defending officers of the law from unsubstantiated complaints. The member should follow the correct procedure.

Q: If she had received information that cast doubt about Ms Bathgate from Mr Upton would she have shared it with her colleagues.

A: The information is privileged as the member knows.

Q: What is the correct procedure when I wrote of this complaint to the Governor General and the PM and following that the AG wrote a report?

A: The correct procedure was the AG inquiry. I then asked for another inquiry by Upton QC. Before it was received Ms Bathgate resigned.

Q: What did Upton QC say about her mate Ms Bathgate?

A: A point of clarification. Ms Bathgate is not my mate. Mr Upton provided an opinion to me to help me decide whether there were any other matters that needed to be addressed. Such opinions are privileged.

Question 4.

KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Phil Goff:

Q: Has he received any reports of the massacre of surrendering Taleban prisoners by Northern Alliance forces; if so, will he support Amnesty International's proposal that an inquiry be held into the massacre at Qala-i-Jhangi fort near Mazar-i-Sharif where hundreds died?

A: I have seen reports indicating that there were several hundred casualties. The most commonly reported view is that inmates seized weapons and attacked their guards. There would clearly be benefits in establishing an inquiry into war crimes in Afghanistan.

Q: Have our SAS troops been given instructions not to take prisoners in Afghanistan like the US special forces have been?

A: All our armed forces are instructed clearly to keep within the terms of the Geneva Convention.

Q: Does he agree with Keith Locke that we get blood on our hands every day we continue to be involved in this conflict?

A: No.

Q: What is the law on the prisoners of war?

A: Prisoners are required to be treated humanely. If prisoners are armed they have rejoined hostilities and are no longer entitled to protection.

Q: What can be done to improve human rights in Afghanistan?

A: Establishing a legitimate government will help. And hopefully that will happen soon. The presence of the Red Cross will also help.

Question 5.

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

Q: What savings had she identified when she stated, in response to my question regarding the Canterbury District Health Board nurses' strike yesterday, that "I would imagine there are costs and savings in any strike."?

A: I have not identified any savings. I understand in the Waikato Nurses Strike there were significant savings in terms of wages. I understand that there are also costs in terms of patient care.

Q: What about the costs to patients and their families.

A: In my answer I said I would “imagine” that is the case. And I base my answer on the Waikato strike. In draft annual plans DHBs are asked to include their wage settlements. Many have exceeded their budgeted plans however. The last minister who intervened in wage rounds was Robert Muldoon. Is that what the opposition wants?

Question 6.

NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: What international reports has he received on performance in reading, numeracy and scientific literacy of New Zealand students?

A: The OECD report on literacy, numeracy and scientific literacy found NZ students ranked 3rd for reading and maths and 6th in science. NZ had the highest proportion of students ranked in the top level of literacy and numeracy. The report shows NZ students are positive about the support they get from their teachers and are good with computers.

Q: Gerry Brownlee (National): Can he confirm that the students were all educated for nine years under a National Government?

A: We have been making a lot of progress in recent months. I want to quote that member who said the Labour policies are “no spelt K N O W” good.

Q: When will he raise the salaries of our outstanding teachers?

A: I do acknowledge teachers. I would add however that the teachers mainly responsible for literacy had a wage increase in July.

(Trevor Mallard – leave to table a Brownlee speech – granted.)

Question 7.

Hon MAX BRADFORD (National) to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:

Q: Can he guarantee that neither Major General Dodson, nor any member of the Army General Staff, has provided any material from Mr Ron Mark's personal military files to any current or former staff member of the public relations company Communications Trumps; if not, why not?

A: No. I received a letter today from the Managing Director of Communications Trumps saying that a page from the file might have been in the possession of a former staff member. I have passed it on to the SSC.

Q: Can he confirm that the staff member was Alan Emerson who is now a territorial officer appointed to Major General Dodson as a PR strategist?

A: I can confirm the first question the member asked, I will look into the second.

Q: Has he received any other correspondence?

A: I have also received a letter from Mr Emerson saying he has never seen Mr Marks file, nor any part of it, and that the page concerned was a profile written by himself. I have passed it on to the SSC too.

Q: Why doesn’t he ask Major General Dodson to stand down?

A: Because the matter is being properly inquired into by the SSC. I await that advice. That is the proper thing to do.

Q: In the light of letter he has referred to, which I invite him to table, which is at variance from the Communications Trumps letter, will he not now get off his butt and instigate an inquiry to prove the facts in this case?

A: The SSC inquiry is doing just that.

(Mark Burton - Leave sought to table three letters – granted.)

Question 8.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (NZ First) to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:

Q: What monies were paid by the Army to Communication Trumps over the last 36 months and, specifically, for what purposes?

A: I am advised that the amount paid by the Army exclusive of GST was more than $426,000. This was for video production and other project work.

Q: Why did he not take action when he first heard about this?

A: I first drew this to the attention of the SSC inquiry on the 8th of October. It was formally translated into written terms of reference last week. I have no matter to cover up. I have no embarrassment to hide. I simply want the facts shown.

Q: Is the army the only branch of the Defence Force that employs a PR company?

A: No.

Q: Given that a former staff member of Communications Trumps is on the personal staff of MG Dodson does he not think it is now appropriate to call Dodson to account?

A: I will inquire into that matter. But I will await due process to run its course.

Q: Why would he believe Alan Emerson’s account, and why would he write to him?

A: I am not claiming to believe or disbelieve any one version.

Question 9.

SIMON POWER (National) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: Did the report by John Upton QC find anything adverse in the actions of Susan Bathgate; if so, has she reported those findings to the Minister for Courts, who is responsible for Susan Bathgate's positions on the Complaints Review Tribunal and the Social Security Appeal Authority?

A: The legal opinion of Mr Upton QC is privileged. Standing Orders recognise the interest in maintaining privilege. On that basis I do not intend to enter into a debate about Mr Upton’s advice.

Q: Given that she accepted Susan Bathgate’s resignation prior to Mr Upton’s advice going to cabinet, on what grounds did Ms Bathgate keep her other two warrants?

A: The question implies that the inquiry was not completed. I will neither confirm nor deny that. Secondly the matter of the inquiry related to the ERA and the resignation related to that.

Q: Was Hugh Rennie correct when he told Kim Hill that the Solicitor General told him that the matter would be proceeding further following receipt of the Upton opinion?

A: The opinion had raised issues. It is my job to hear all sides of the issue. That process was not completed because of the resignation.

Q: Why is Rennie to enjoy access to this opinion when MPs are not?

A: Mr Rennie was legal counsel to Ms Bathgate. The advice comes from the SG to myself. I am under an obligation to listen to all sides.

(Rodney Hide - leave to table Rennie transcript – granted.)

Question 10.

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

Q: What reports has he received on the establishment of specialist centres of research excellence?

A: Applications closed on Monday. 45 applications have been received from seven Universities, three polytechnics and one Wananga. CRIs are also involved. Most of the proposals involved collaborations. Four applications have come in with overseas partners. Four proposals address Maori issues and social policy.

Q: Maurice Williamson (National): Is this not actually part of the Bright Futures programme of the previous government?

A: That member in changing his mind at the end of 1990s moved towards this government, and I welcome his endorsement. There is $60 million in the fund with $20 million for capital purchases and $10 to $13 million a year. We are looking for centres of international excellence. They need to put NZ on the map in those areas of research.

Question 11.

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

Q: Are district health boards fully recompensed for the full cost of cancer drugs; if not, why not?

A: In August this year the government announced access to several new drugs. Specialists are pleased with this.

Q: How are DHBs with deficits already supposed to cope with expansion in their drug budgets?

A: An extra $3.8 million of funding has been provided. Schedule K of the Crown Funding arrangement will apply.

Q: What benefits will these drugs provide?

A: In the Dominion a specialist says that people have new opportunities to use these drugs.

Q: What is her response to the Minister of Finance saying that in inflation adjusted terms real per-capita health funding has fallen this year.

A: My response would be to say that $3.8 million of extra money has been provided for these cancer drugs.

Question 12.

DAVID BENSON-POPE (Labour) to the Minister for Economic Development Jim Anderton:

Q: What steps has the Government taken to maximise the potential benefits for New Zealand's economic development arising from the Lord of the Rings movies?

A: (Pete Hodgson) More than $4 million has been allocated this year and next to a range of projects. One objective is to maximise the exposure of NZ, another is to say

Q: Can he confirm that the Lord Of The Rings website has received 450 million hits?

A: The government has heard since that the website which links the LOTR to NZ has received more than 1 billion hits. The use of National Parks for film making is subject to case by case decision making.

Questions to Members

Question 1.

BELINDA VERNON (National) to the Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee Harry Dynhoven:

Q: On what date did the committee first advertise for submissions on the Land Transport (Road Safety Enforcement) Amendment Bill, and what is the closing date for submissions?

A: The member knows the committee did not advertise and did not set a date.

Q: Has the committee questioned why this legislation is being rushed through when it will not come into effect till 23rd of January?

A: The committee is endeavouring to sort out the difficulty to try and ensure as few lives as possible are lost over the holiday period.


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