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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day –19 February

Today's questions of the day concerned: PM’s Swedish Business Meetings – Regional Development – Afghanistan SAS Deployment – Kiwibank – Palmerston North Gang Problems - Centres Of Research Excellence - Heart Surgery Funding – Regional Courts Closures - Party Hopping Bill And The Alliance – Immunisation Register – Heart Surgery Funding - Northland And East Coast Housing Funding

Questions Of The Day - Tuesday, 19 February 2002

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 BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: Further to her answer of Wednesday 13 February, what overseas investors will she be seeing when she visits Stockholm, and will she tell investors about her legislative programme which includes a two-year moratorium on genetic modification, ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, paid parental leave and changes to workplace safety and the Holidays Act?

A: The NZ Ambassador and Trade NZ have assembled an impressive group of business people to meet. I can advise that NZ's laws in the area the member mentions either fall short of, or are broadly similar to those in force in Sweden.

Q: What are Swedish leave provisions?

A: Swedish workers receive 13 months of paid parental leave, and 28 to 35 days of annual leave. Which goes to prove that treating your workers well is not bad for your economy.

Q: Can the PM advise whether investors are deserting Sweden in droves?

A: I have no advice of that. Sweden is a prosperous first world country that looks after its people and cares about the world. NZ would like to be compared with it.

Q: Will she be telling Swedish business leaders about the disintegrating Alliance?

A: What I will be telling them is that the overall support for the center-left reaches well over 50%.

Question 2.

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

Q: What reports has he received on the strength of New Zealand's regional economies?

A: I visited the West Coast last week where the jobs machine is having a good impact on the economy. For the first time the West Coast has a skills shortage not a jobs shortage.

Q: Has he received reports from the Hawke’s Bay?

A: Yes. They have a building boom. Master Builders there say the industry has “gone berserk”. A survey published today shows 86% of South Islanders are either happy or very happy in their jobs.

Q: Tony Ryall (National): Can he confirm that job growth in the productive sector has been 0.1%?

A: I know we have the lowest level of unemployment for 13 years. I also know that I have a report that says not enough is being done to help small and medium enterprises. Where does that come from? The leader of the Opposition, who voted against regional development but who now knows how popular our policies are.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Why doesn’t his party appreciate his great works?

A: I know the member has a lot of personal experience in this area. And I would appreciate any specific advice he might have. I am not the minister responsible for NZ Post. I do know that they will be opening somewhere between 300 and 340 branches this year, which is 300 to 240 more than would have been opened under National.

Question 3.

Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: What steps, if any, does the Government propose to take to review the commitment of SAS troops to Afghanistan following the resolution of the Alliance Council last weekend calling for all troops to be withdrawn?

A: None.

Q: Does she believe the actions of the Alliance Council meet the coalition agreement?

A: Obviously the Government doesn’t take direction from the Alliance Council. The only review of the SAS I know of is the one he said he would do if the Alliance did not support it.

Q: Has there been a request for a review?

A: No.

Q: Why has our PM, unlike the American President, not even told us whether our special forces have been in Afghanistan?

A: No I won’t. I have accepted advice of the defence force that it is better not to comment on SAS deployments.

Q: Can she confirm that Alliance Council resolutions are binding on MPs?

A: It is well established in this Parliament that people outside it cannot direct those within it.

Q: Does she believe that the Alliance can help provide stable and effective government?

A: They can and do.

Question 4.

MARK PECK (Labour) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: Has he received any reports on the effect of the opening of Kiwibank on the New Zealand economy?

A: Yes. The NZ consumer has benefited. Not only in extended service offerings but in improvements in service from other banks who are now competing with Kiwibank.

Q: Have there been any difficulties?

A: I am aware that an MP tried to open an account with $20. This is an inadequate deposit. He would need $50.

Q: What about problems with an Invercargill Branch being opened because the SBS says NZ Post is in breach of its lease arrangement?

A: I am not aware of that.

Q: What have other banks done?

A: ASB has dropped its mortgage rate. WestpacTrust has dropped its fees.

Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): Can he confirm that NZ Post have put together a contentious exit strategy should the bank fail?

A: There is little point in the member leaking something that has already been released publicly.

Question 5.

Hon TONY RYALL (National) to the Minister of Police George Hawkins:

Q: What advice has he received from the Police regarding what response they intend to make to the Mayor of Palmerston North's statement that patched members of gangs are not welcome in the community?

A: Police are working with the Mayor and other agencies to reduce criminal activity in Palmerston North.

Q: Has Tariana Turia helped the situation by offering assistance to Black Power and the Mongrel Mob after asking TV cameras to be turned off?

A: Over recent weeks gang activity has been reduced by police activity in Palmerston North. And can I say, at least the Associate Minister of Maori Affairs turned up. Tony Ryall was not to be seen. I am advised that three Government ministers and one Alliance MP attended the meeting, and that no members of the opposition did.

Q: Why has he gone soft in Palmerston North? Is he scared?

A: I stand by the work I did as Mayor in Auckland.

Q: Tony Ryall (National) Does he see any inconsistency whatsoever in Government members offering to be more helpful to Black Power, and with the considerable problems faced by residents?

(Tariana Turia – the quote is incorrect.

Richard Prebble – we would be delighted to know what she did say. Perhaps she could be given an opportunity to do so.

Speaker – the member’s word will be accepted.

Winston Peters – both Mark Peck and Tariana Turia have raised inappropriate points of order. She knows full well that she has been offered a chance to tell the house what she did say.

Speaker – if a member is quoted in a supplementary question, and that quote is disputed then the question must be disallowed.

Rodney Hide – does that rule apply when Ministers give answers which are also false.

Speaker – if that is so then a committee of the house can be brought in.

Peter Dunne – in the case involving Mr Peck he said he did not make the statement attributed to him. In this case Ms Turia did not say how she was misquoted.

Speaker – the member will resubmit the question.)

Q: Does he see any inconsistency with Govt members offering to be helpful to the gangs, and the interests of struggling residents of Highbury?

A: The member has made assumptions which are simply not true. I have to say I am proud of the Ministers who attended that meeting, that member probably wouldn’t even go to a Boy Scout Jamboree.

(Tony Ryall – leave to table an INL news report quoting Tariana Turia – granted.)

Question 6.

HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: What advice has he received on the development of centres of research excellence in tertiary education?

A: In last years budget we committed $60 million over four years to Centres for Excellence. Yesterday I was advised that we now have a shortlist of 11 proposals. The fund was recommended to the Government by TEAC. It is a vital part of the innovation framework. Centres of Excellence will help to build expertise where it is excellent on a worldwide basis.

Q: When will some actual specific announcements on policy be made?

A: Within two weeks of being elected we removed interest on student loans. Since then we have done heaps more.

Q: How does it help that the level of Student Debt has doubled under this Government.

A: In Otago alone students paid $7.1 less in interest.

Question 7.

Hon KEN SHIRLEY (ACT) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Has she accepted full responsibility for the heart surgery delays causing people's deaths, as reported in the Dominion this morning?

A: I certainly do not take responsibility for Dominion newspaper reports. However I do accept responsibility to deal with this issue.

Q: Since CCH cancelled its contract with Wakefield Hospital the average waiting time for heart surgery has doubled. Will she resign if any patients die?

A: While waiting times have increased they are half what they were under National supported by ACT. The member will be pleased to know that CCH have put in place the capacity to deal with the backlog.

Q: Have such issues arisen in the past?

A: Yes. In 1998 there were problems in the South Island. I am pleased to tell this house that funding will now go into the baselines of DHBs and will provide for increases in both funding and volumes.

Q: Is the statement in the Christchurch Press that the Minister has accepted responsibility for this correct or not?

A: No it isn't. What I have accepted responsibility for is the need for us to address the issue. With the exception of Wellington heart surgery in the North Island is broadly in line with our expectations. The problem with the South Island is that each year they have received a base contract and top up money. That is not a good way to fund heart surgery.

Question 8.

Hon DAVID CARTER (National) to the Minister for Industry and Regional Development Jim Anderton:

Q: What discussions has he had with the Minister for Courts about the impact that closing or downgrading local courts would have on regional development?

A: This proposal came up under the last National Government. His government approved it, but did nothing about it. Mr Robson has gone out to discuss this not only with me, but with lots of interested groups. No final decisions have yet been made.

Q: How does Mr Robson’s regional downgrading plan tally with his own?

A: I repeat. No final decisions have been made. Key issues include facilities being not ideal, small distances, small workloads, the priority to improve speed of access. The fact no decisions have been made is indicative of our willingness to discuss matters with regions.

Q: Is this one of the reasons Mr Matt McCarten has called Mr Robson intemperate?

A: I have no ministerial responsibility for the views expressed about colleagues.

Question 9.

GERRY BROWNLEE (National) to the Associate Minister of Justice Margaret Wilson:

Q: Will she consider reviewing the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Act provisions if the Hon Jim Anderton leaves the Alliance or the Alliance splits?

A: No.

Q: After the PMs statement of seven days ago, does she see any irony that her party hopping legislation is likely to be first tested by the Government’s coalition partner.

A: No.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Can she advise whether under the Act, that when Mr Anderton forms the New Alliance Party, that Liz Gordon will chuck him out, or will he chuck her out.

A: If he would like to put the question in writing it I will answer it.

Q: Is the bill capable of dealing with the Alliance ructions?

A: Yes.

Question 10.

JUDY KEALL (Labour) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: What advice has she received on the need to implement a National Immunisation Register?

A: Yes. I received advice in February from Bill English that an immunisation database would be an expensive waste of time.

Q: Who has supported a register?

A: Many people including the director of public health. I am pleased to say that by the end of this year there will be a register.

Q: In light of her comments, what can she do to ensure other parties encourage rather than discourage immunisation?

A: I would welcome any assistance. The first thing she might like to do is talk to her leader.

Question 11.

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

Q: What is her response to comments made today by Health Surgery South Island Ltd clinical director Richard Bunton, who said, following her instruction to the Ministry of Health that North Island private hospitals be used to clear the South Island heart operation backlog, that "If the Minister would adequately fund the surgery in the first place, this would not need to be done. It's a response from someone who does not understand the issues. This sort of band-aid approach is not a solution."?

A: I have not instructed the MOH to use North Island hospitals. I have asked that spare capacity be used to clear the backlog if it is available.

Q: Will funding for private operations to clear the backlog come from the existing contract, or redirected from other DHBs, or new money?

A: It certainly won’t be redirected. If the funding has been provided but the operations have not been done then that funding should be made available.

Q: Will Wakefield Hospital be allowed to help clear the backlog in Wellington?

A: We have never stopped the use of private hospitals to deal with such matters. CCH decided they wanted to provide their own capacity. That was their own decision and was certainly not done by me. I believe that shortly the South Island organisation will disappear altogether.

Question 12.

Hon DOVER SAMUELS (Labour) to the Minister of Housing Mark Gosche:

Q: What is the Government doing to alleviate housing problems in the Northland, East Cape and Eastern Bay of Plenty regions?

A: The Government has made available an additional $7.45 million for housing in these regions. The funding is targeted at sub-standard housing and will be distributed as loans, repair grants and in 38,000 smoke alarms.

Q: Murray McCully (National): Can he confirm that more than $5 million will be spent on suspensory loans to do repairs to private homes?

A: Yes. And we won’t be hocking off state assets with suspensory loans like the previous government did. We have identified around 1500 families living in substandard conditions. We are prepared to work with anyone to fix this.

Q: What about state housing on Maori owned land?

A: We recently opened four houses on Maori land, the first built since 1992.


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