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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 21 May

Today’s questions concerned: Crown Law Paintergate Opinion – Workforce Skills – Maori Television Service (MTS) – Time Limited Benefits – SSC Report On MTS – Racism And Drug Prosecutions – Teacher Pay Negotiations – Mental Health Blueprint Report – Sovereign Yachts – Statistics – Party Hopping Bill – PPTA Settlement.

Questions Of The Day - Tuesday, 21 May 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.

SCOOP COVERAGE BEGINS

Question 1.

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

Q: When did she or her staff become aware that there was no Crown Law Office opinion reportedly clearing her of art fraud, and what actions did she or her staff take when they found out?

A: (Jim Anderton on behalf) I never made any statement to the effect that there was a Crown Law opinion on this. My understanding is that if there was any opinion it would be given to the police.

Q: Why then did her spokesman tell the media there was?

A: As I understand it the spokesperson believed reports in the media that there was an opinion.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Does that mean that the 11th May report in The Press by Colin Espiner was made up?

A: I cannot comment on where journalists get their view points from. If I were the member I would be careful about making careless complaints about fraud when one of his own colleagues is subject of complaints to the police and the electoral office about electoral breaches.

(Richard Prebble – How can that answer be in order. To the best of my knowledge none of my MPs are being investigated.

Speaker – the second part of the answer was unnecessary.)

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Who is the spokesperson who has deceived the media and this house? And why haven’t they been fired?

A: The PM has never said there was an opinion. Crown Law themselves have also said there is no opinion. It is not my role to deal with employment matters in Parliament.

(Winston Peters - I want to know the person’s name.

Speaker – You may well do so. The answer addressed the question.)

A: As far as I am aware if a member of the public laid a complaint to the police they would deal with it in the same way as

Q: Bill English (National): Did her office create the impression that a Crown Law opinion existed and that it cleared her? And when will she take action against the staff member?

A: I have stated repeatedly that the PM never made such a statement.

(Richard Prebble – The acting PM is either saying the media made it up. Or someone impersonated someone from the Crown Law. Or the PM’s office is telling lies.

Speaker – I cannot comment on the merits of any answer given here.)

Question 2.

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

Q: What reports has he received on the importance of a skilled workforce for New Zealand's economic growth?

A: A key plank in the innovation and growth framework is to increase skills in the workforce. There will be further announcements on this in the budget.

Q: What advice has the government received about skills for growth?

A: There seems to be a consensus in advice in this area. Although the National Front Bench is a clear exception to this rule.

Q: John Wright (Alliance): What other moves has the government taken?

A: We have lowered the cost of Tertiary Education. We have reformed the sector. We have empowered polytechnics. And we have implemented a package to forecast skills needs.

Q: Why are immigrants unskilled?

A: We have put the skilled category as the priority and increased the target under that quota to 28,000 a target that is being met.

Q: What about sustainability?

A: We have a conservation and waste strategy.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Can I take it that there are 22,000 unskilled immigrants each year?

A: Speaking as someone who came to this country at the age of 10 and was unskilled, the member may like to reflect on where the unskilled people are coming from.

Question 3.

Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: Does he have full confidence in Mr Derek Fox and the other directors of the Maori Television Service in light of the State Services Commissioner's report and the Ernst and Young report; if so, why?

A: Neither report finds any major concerns with the conduct of either Mr Fox or the board.

Q: Given the report was based on Mr Fox’s recollection, and not on board minutes? What would the Minister’s view be if that recollection is not correct?

A: I am sure the SSC would have done more work had it been necessary.

Q: Will the government check the references of the 59 other people hired on the recommendation of Millennium People?

A: This was the only CEO appointment handled by Millennium People. I am unaware of any questions concerning the bona fides of any of the other 59 people.

Q: What are the implications of the surprise announcement of the inaugural hui of his new party?

A: None at all. Mr Fox always made it clear that he might do that. One possible implication might be that it will do better than the National Party.

Q: On what basis was privilege claimed for the MTS minutes?

A: That was a matter between the SSC and Mr Fox. I do not intend to interfere in that. Were I to do so I am sure the opposition would attack me for doing so.

Question 4.

MAHARA OKEROA (Labour) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: What reports has he received on time-limited benefits?

A: Several. The most substantial from the LSE found that two thirds of people moving off welfare in Wisconsin fell below the poverty line. And things are expected to get worse there. The report however notes that there is an encouraging move against such schemes in the US, and that new schemes under development there are similar to our own. I have also seen reports from Drs Newman and Brash advocating such policies which show the opposition is still in a timewarp.

Q: What is the Government’s record on welfare into work?

A: In 1998-99 there were 140,000 people on unemployment and sickness benefits. That number has fallen by 28,000 by the time of the 2002 year.

Q: What about the OECD report that advocates further reform?

A: I am very up on these reports. I am telling the member that a change in fashion in the US is underway.

Q: Why is this government persisting with a sanctions regime on widows and DPB beneficiaries?

A: The approach we are taking is to provide the support for people to go back to work. We retain sanctions because there are always some people that need one for encouragement.

(Richard Prebble - leave to table four reports – granted.)

Question 5.

KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister of Maori Affairs Parekura Horomia:

Q: What level of confidence does he have in the report of the State Services Commissioner into the engagement process for Millennium People Limited to provide recruitment services to the Maori Television Service Board, in light of the fact that the State Services Commissioner was unable to verify parts of the process without access to the Board minutes, and concludes that his investigation was "far from a forensic enquiry into the situation"?

A: The report from the SSC is one of three reports. Together with advice from officials I am satisfied with these reporting processes.

Q: In light of the fact that the SSC did not talk to MP, and that it was refused access to board minutes, is the Minister satisfied that Millennium People did not recommend that the appointment be made subject to financial and security checks to be made by the board?

A: There was more information than just the recollection of Mr Fox. I am comfortable with the reports at this stage as to the second matter.

Interjection (Gerry Brownlee) – What is the difference between a white wash and a brown wash?

(Speaker – the member will withdraw and apologise.

Brownlee – I withdraw and apologise.)

Q: Mita Ririnui (Labour): What does the report say about Mr Davy’s performance?

A: That the budgeting methodology prepared by Mr Davy was inadequate. That there is no evidence of unauthorised expenditure during his tenure.

Q: How can Mr Fox claim privilege?

A: There are other confidential implications. We are in the process of discussing some matters further.

Q: In light of the fact that no-one in Millennium People was interviewed, how can he be sure that his reports are valid.

A: Millennium People have not been gagged.

Question 6.

NANDOR TANCZOS (Green) to the Minister of Maori Affairs Parekura Horomia:

Q: What action has he taken in response to the Christchurch School of Medicine's study "Arrests and Convictions for Cannabis Related Offences in a New Zealand Birth Cohort", which states: "The bias with respect to Maori is of particular concern since it suggests that independently of cannabis use and previous police record, Maori were more likely to be arrested and convicted for cannabis use than non-Maori."?

A: The bias is most certainly a concern. I am aware of the report and that it has been sent to a Select Committee. I look forward with interest to that committee’s report.

Q: Is he also concerned at the high rates of suspension for young Maori?

A: Certainly this government has cut suspensions in half in a cluster of South Auckland schools.

Q: Does he support decriminalisation?

A: No.

Q: How is the problem of cannabis use among Maori helped by the support for decriminalisation from the Ministers of Health and Education?

(Michael Cullen – The ministers deny that.

Speaker – The member might like to reword the question.

Nick Smith – Leave to table a report from a conference in which the Minister of Education says he supports decriminalisation.

Speaker – A member is entitled to have their word taken at face value.

Bill English – Can a denial be made by way of interjection?

Speaker – A point of order can be made.

Trevor Mallard – At a conference of SPANZ in Otago…interrupted…

Gerry Brownlee – How does that fit into standing orders?

Speaker – Any member can make a statement about a fact concerning themselves.

Richard Prebble – The member’s question could be restated as saying that the Minister of Education is “reported as saying” he supports decriminalisation.)

Q: Georgina te Heu Heu (National): (Restated in accordance with Mr Prebble’s advice?)

A: No. And I remember Mr Creech making a similar statement. This Minister has established a Ministerial advisory group on drug education.

Q: Is the Minister aware of the adverse affects of cannabis?

A: Having not partaken I would be pleased to be guided on this matter. But I know that it causes problems to have heavy amounts of Dak around their families.

Q: Nandor Tanczos (Green): Does he agree with the final line of the study?

A: I need to spend a bit more time reading the report.

Question 7.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: What mistakes has the Government made in its handling of the teacher pay contract talks, noting his statement on radio, "I think we could have handled it quite a lot better."?

A: First I did not make it clear enough that there was extra staff resources available. Secondly I should have made it clearer that the Government negotiating position was just that.

Q: Having stated repeatedly that he had only $120 million? How come he suddenly found $30 million extra on the eve of the Labour Party Congress?

A: If the member reads the statement carefully he will see that the extra money comes in the extra year, the out year.

Q: How many extra teachers will be provided?

A: 385 more teachers will be provided for than roll growth requires if this settlement is ratified.

Q: Was the PPTA announcement made to save the Labour Party an embarrassment?

A: This settlement is quite different than the earlier rejected one. It closely follows the PPTA claim, though it does not include everything claimed.

Q: Would the Minister be interested in attending a teacher stopwork at Onslow College, where teacher concerns would be raised about the loss of talented teachers overseas?

A: I would welcome an invitation to go back to my old school. I would want the teachers to be there however.

Q: Does he agree that the 1.8% on average increase for three years is less than Treasury’s own inflation forecast? Does he agree with teachers that this means real wages are falling for teachers? And does this accord with Labour’s Manifesto?

A: No No and absolutely.

Question 8.

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

Q: What reports has she received on developing mental health services in line with the Blueprint for Mental Health Services in New Zealand?

A: I have this morning attended the launch of a major report from the Mental Health Commission. The report notes that there have been increases in funded clinical, and non-clinical positions. It says that while good progress has been made, much more needs to be done.

Q: What about forensic services?

A: Yes funding has increased. And additional funding has been found for 22 more beds this year.

Q: What about the PSA concerns about safety and the bed shortage in Auckland?

A: Overall there are more acute beds. The problem is in Auckland. I’m sorry the member means acute in-patient beds, not just acute beds. The member needs to look at total bed numbers because in Mental Health there is a continuum of care.

Q: Will dangerous patients all be kept secure?

A: Yes. But I would like people in prisons to be moved to secure forensic services as soon as possible.

Q: Why if things are okay everywhere other than Auckland, are Mental Health nurses in Christchurch considering taking industrial action due to bed shortages?

A: As the MHC pointed out progress has been made, but much more needs to be made.

Question 9.

RODNEY HIDE (ACT) to the Minister for Economic Development Jim Anderton:

Q: Has he any concerns over Sovereign Yachts' plans for the surplus land at Hobsonville Base that his Ministry facilitated the disposal of, and is he confident that New Zealand taxpayers have not lost out on this deal?

A: The 4.3 hectares of surplus land at Hobsonville was sold to descendants of the original owners within the law pursuant to the offer-back provisions. The land is being used for making super yachts.

Q: Is he aware that high density apartments are being considered in the area? And how does he feel about his jobs machine having been hijacked by property developers?

A: I am aware that the member tried to hawk that story around unsuccessfully over the weekend. This is primarily an issue for the people with the plans, and for the Waitakere Council. The MED is not responsible for the sale of surplus land and no decisions have been made on any such sale in any event.

Q: Could the land in Lot 1 alone be worth up to $9 million for housing? And why then was the land sold for $500,0000?

A: The MOD sought independent valuations for the sale of the land.

(Rodney Hide – leave to table plans for 175 high density apartments – granted.)

Question 10.

LIZ GORDON (Alliance) to the Minister of Statistics Laila Harre:

Q: Are there any Government initiatives designed to improve public access to official statistics; if so, can she detail these?

A: Yes. From the end of this month detailed Census data will be available over the web via the Table Builder program to the public for free..

Q: Who will benefit from this?

A: Social scientists, students, businesses and local government. The Table Builder program will enable people who have previously paid for this service to use their money for something else. We are also considering making the business based Infos database available for free too.

Question 11.

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

Q: Further to her answer that "I have full confidence in [the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Act 2001], because the purpose of the legislation was to maintain proportionality", does she have full confidence that the Act has fulfilled its stated primary purpose, which was to "Enhance public confidence in the integrity of the electoral system;"; if so, why?

A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) Yes because proportionality has been maintained.

Q: Does she believe that having six Alliance members who are not members of any political party in Parliament, and who plan to launch a new party after the house rises, enhances public perceptions of electoral integrity? And if so how?

A: The public expects these members to vote for the Alliance up till the election, which is what they will be doing.

Q: Is she worried about the word integrity losing its sheen?

A: I think more contempt is coming from the amount of time being wasted on this matter.

Q: Would he consider bringing forward the expiry of this bill till today?

A: No.

Q: Given that we daily have a charade of two Alliance parties, what purpose does this stupid arrangement have other than avoiding the Party Hopping Bill?

A: It preserves the result of the last election.

(Gerry Brownlee – when will we receive our full answer.

Speaker – You have it.

Gerry Brownlee - Leave sought to table my letter - refused.

Gerry Brownlee - Leave sought to refer the matter to the Privileges Committee – refused.)

Question 12.

HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: What are the details of the settlement reached between the Ministry of Education and the Post-Primary Teachers Association for the secondary teachers' collective agreement?

A: A 5.5% increase over three years. An NCEA allowance of $1000 this year and next and $1500 in 2004. And more non-contact hours. We also agree to 385 extra teachers in classrooms next year, over and above roll-growth numbers. And there will also be a ministerial taskforce.

Q: What will the taskforce deal with?

A: Several things. The terms of reference will be agreed between the PPTA and the Ministry of Education. And it will report in July next year.

Q: Is it true that PPTA President Jen McCutcheon has been promised a career as a Labour MP? And if not, why was she at the Congress over the weekend?

A: There were hundreds of people organising for a Labour victory at the Congress. I understand that Jen was there and she discussed a few things with the Minister of Finance.

Q: Donna Awatere-Huata (ACT): Are teachers angry that they have been sold out by the PPTA?

A: I find it amazing that the party that does not even support collectives is now supporting wild-catting teachers. A bit of consistency would be nice.

Q: Noting his earlier answer that the $30 million money is for a further year of the contract. Can he confirm that there is no new money in the offer over the November offer for the next two financial years?

A: No.

SCOOP COVERAGE ENDS

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