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Questions Of The Day (1-6)

Questions For Oral Answer Thursday, 29 July 1999

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 some days after the event.

Question 1.

Hon. Roger F H Maxwell to the Minister of Finance Bill Birch:

Q: What is the Government's medium-term fiscal approach?

A: To reduce debt. Reduce taxes and spend prudently. This has been the policy for a long time and has contributed to higher living standards. Towards the future we want to continue to do all these. Meanwhile the Labour Party is talking about spending $1.5 billion on student loans, housing, reversing ACC, more on sickness beneficiaries, more..

(Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong - chant from opposition.)

Q: (Michael Cullen - Labour) - can he confirm that Treasury has followed guidelines he set them and is not costing Opposition policies?

A: The government doesn't depend on Treasury advice for costing Labour policies and conducting fiscal costings. You just have to read it everyday in the papers.

Q: (Rodney Hide - ACT) Has he had any reports on the cost of Labour policies?

(Point of Order: Michael Cullen - the fact he has a report does not in itself make it a ministerial responsibility.

Rodney Hide - point of clarification for new member - I asked him has he had any reports. And he has. That is in order.

Bill Birch - I have responsibility for fiscal risk and this question bares squarely on this.

Speaker - "The minister can get his reports from where he likes - he is not confined only to Treasury reports - I think we should try to put boundaries on things that defy boundaries to be perfectly frank.")

Birch then continued. Yes I can confirm that I have a report it includes $478 million for foreign aid, $56 million for student loans, $100 Million for ACC, $100 million for business people - in all it comes to $2.5 billion.

(Rodney Hide - I asked the question. I have a right to hear the answer Labour may not want to hear it .)

Question 2.

Hon. Dr Michael Cullen to the Treasurer Bill English:

Q: Does he remain committed to the long-term fiscal objectives outlined in the 1999 Budget; if not, why not?

A: (Bill Birch on behalf): Yes I am committed to the objectives in the 1999 budget.

Q: (Michael Cullen - Labour) Does it include objective to reduce expenditure to below 30% of GDP?

A: Yes it does. The Government's long term fiscal objectives have been set with demographic issues in mind. The Government has also established the Superannuation 2000 task force with this in mind. Clearly however Dr Cullen however thinks he has the answer with his proposed compulsory savings scheme.

Question 3.

Rodney Hide to the Minister of State Services Simon Upton:

Q: How does he reconcile the State Services Commission concluding that the Inland Revenue Department is "a very sound organisation with a good culture" with the statement by IRD's Manager Special Audit to new staff that "Criminals have networks in all Government departments including the IRD ..."?

A: The Commission's statements are entirely reconcilable. This remark was made in the context of a briefing to new staff. The notes had the following to say. "Criminals lack integrity. They are capable of anything. Criminals have networks in all Government departments including the IRD . We should interview in pairs to protect ourselves." I should for the record note the manager in question was not asserting that he had evidence of this but simply that anyone with their eyes open would realise that criminals do not exempt the public sector from their activities. I can give a categorical assurance that there are always risks of this sort of thing and this is why people such as the manager special audit have to be especially vigilant. The Government expects decisive action in the event of anything criminal being found within a department and where there is substantive evidence there are clear instructions that the matter should be put in the hands of the police.

Question 4.

Phillida Bunkle to the Minister of Health Wyatt Creech:

Q: When he attends the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council meeting in Australia next Tuesday 3 August 1999 will he be voting for full labelling of all foods containing genetically engineered ingredients?

A: The Government is committed to the consumers right to make an informed choice when purchasing food. The Government has had a full consultation on this and has taken account of the views . I have been authorised to vote in accordance with the New Zealand Government's position and the ANZFA meeting next week.

(Replying to Phillida Bunkle - Alliance) In the light of the majority decision of the council in December the Government reviewed its position and we will now take our vote with that in mind. I know nothing of putting pressure on Japan not to introduce labelling as alleged by the member. I suggest she take it up with MFAT.

Prior to the December decision the position of ANZFA was that substantially different foods had to be labelled - the post December position is that substantially equivalent foodstuffs also ought to be labelled. It is difficult to say in advance of a meeting what the result is going to be.

(Phillida Bunkle - leave to table a letter of August 26th 1998 about Japan.)

Question 5.

Ron Mark to the Minister of Veterans' Affairs:

Q: Does he support the conclusion of the Inquiry into the Health Status of Children of Vietnam and Operation Grapple Veterans, which reported on 8 June 1999, that they were unable to "convincingly demonstrate any causal connection between exposures to service personnel and health effects in their children."?

A: (Max Bradford on behalf) A thorough independent inquiry was conducted. As to the question on the Government's view on the report, that is a matter under consideration, we will be formally responding to this report in due course. There is no doubt that the inquiry was about as independent and comprehensive as it could be. As to whether there is a causal connection, it seems that is not something that anyone can say for certain.

Q: (Grant Gillon - Alliance) When will the office be broadened as the minister assured the select committee it would?

A: The office was set up a very short time ago. The issue of whether it should take up case monitoring of veterans children is something that is under active consideration.

(Geoff Braybrooke - Labour - leave to table report from Australia - granted) (Ron Mark - NZ First - leave to table documents - granted)

Question 6.

Steve Maharey to the Minister of Social Services, Work and Income Roger Sowry:

Q: Will he ask the Audit Office to widen its investigation of the Chief Executive of Work and Income New Zealand regarding the spending of $165,000 of chartered planes to include management practices and financial accountabilities; if not, why not?

A: The office is currently undertaking its own inquiry. Whether it has to be broadened is something that is up to the Audit Office to decide. They will make the decision on what they investigate and what they do not. The House should note that in addition to this inquiry the SSC is reviewing the performance of the CEO of WINZ. Much as it may pain the opposition the State Sector Act makes it abundantly clear that it is the State Services Commission and no one else that is responsible for reviewing the performance of the CEO.

(Leave refused to Labour member who sought to table "department in crisis" letter.)

(Trevor Mallard - the Minister has just accused the opposition of using the Labour research unit to forge letters. A disgraceful allegation.)

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