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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day

Today’s questions of the day concerned: Defence Policy – Revenue Flows – Kit Richards – Skill Shortages – Petrol Prices And Economic Development – Employment Relations Act – Bulk Funding – Kit Richards – Bougainville Peace – WINZ Consultants – Spare Education Money.

Questions For Oral Answer - Tuesday, 21 March 2000

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.

Rt Hon. Jenny Shipley (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: Will she assure this House that the announced review of New Zealand's defence capability will not lead to us bludging off our neighbours and allies, nor lead to our forces being put into active service without access to full naval and air support?

A: Yes.

Q: Jenny Shipley (National): What confidence then can NZers have when she has ignored Derek Quigley’s advice.

A: We can assure NZers that any NZ forces committed will be properly equipped and will be able to add value to whatever theatre they are assigned to. I am advised that the only occasion when NZ deployed without support was during the invasion of Samoa during WW1. We are not bludging, we will not bludge. Just because we do not supply all components of an operation does not mean we are bludging. I can’t anticipate what precise provision will be made in the budget except to say that we will not decrease defence spending.

Q: Jenny Shipley: Can I take it that we will move away from an air strike capability?

A: I am no more implying that than her defence spokesman and former defence minister implied when they addressed the same question. Work was progressed on selling the Skyhawks under the last government that indicated they might be worth $60 to $80 million.

Question 2.

David Cunliffe (Labour) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: What do the latest reports on the Government's revenue flows indicate?

A: Tax revenue is roughly on track with the PREFU and on track with the BPS. The government is planning expenditure of $1.2 billion in the next budget. Much of this has been financed out of tax changes already made.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Can he confirm that revenue flows include an extra $41 million in relation to a court case involving the BNZ and Fay Richwhite?

A: No not yet. And if it does then it is likely that it will win on one side and lose on another through indemnities given on the sale of the BNZ.

Question 3.

Hon. Ken Shirley (ACT) to the Minister responsible for Timberlands West Coast Ltd Pete Hodgson:

Q: Does he agree with his colleague, Damien O'Connor, who is reported as saying that "no sensible person could argue against the State-owned enterprise employing Mr Richards to finish work no-one else could do" and "There's been a number of statements from Pete Hodgson which in my view are very unhelpful, provocative and don't accurately reflect the reality of the forestry industry."?

A: No. I think that no sensible person could argue that someone dismissed for unacceptable behaviour to be re-contracted almost immediately. If it is true that Mr Richards can do work that no-one else can do then that is a loss the company must bare.

Q: Ken Shirley (ACT): Does he now accept that Kit Richards actions were consistent with the statement of corporate intent of the SOE?

A: I am surprised that the member resorts to pedantry. It is true that in December a letter was sent changing the statement of corporate intent. It was that change that Kit Richards overtly opposed. There have been several sources of confusion and contradiction over this matter that is why our meeting with Timberlands yesterday has been

Q: Tony Ryall (National) What does he think of the description of himself by Mr O’Conner as arrogant?

A: My colleague Damien O’Conner is the best member of the West Coast in this house. I do not agree with him but his job is to defend the interests of the West Coast.

Q: Jeanette Fitzsimmons (Green) Will he stop the Rimu logging?

A: Yes. there will be a cessation of logging on crown owned forest estate.

Q: Damien O’Conner (Labour) Will this issue be resolved quickly?

A: Yes.

Question 4.

H V Ross Robertson (Labour) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: Has he received any recent reports that identify skill shortages in New Zealand; if so, what do those reports say?

A: The NZIER says that employers are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit skilled labour. The Manufacturers association confirms this finding.

Q: Ross Robertson (Labour): Given this shortage what will the government do?

A: Tomorrow the PM will announce an exciting new initiative - the Modern Apprenticeship Programme.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): What are the numbers involved in this programme expected to be?

A: The PM will announce the numbers tomorrow and that will be designed to reverse the skill shortage.

Q: Muriel Newman (ACT) How will he stop skilled NZers fleeing the country?

A: I do expect NZers to return home because this country is becoming an exciting place to live.

Q: John Luxton (National) Has he seen reports that his government’s tax increases are likely to widen the skills shortage?

A: No. I have seen reports that my Government is doing will in the polls unlike the previous government which is looking increasingly like a history burger.

Question 5.

Dr Wayne Mapp (National) to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:

Q: How much has the Cabinet decided to compensate Vote Defence for the decision to transfer the land used by the Navy at HMNZS Tamaki into a public reserve?

A: No compensation is provided. However in order to balance the balance sheet an appropriation will be made in the 1999 – 2000 year.

Q: Wayne Mapp (National): How can he justify that?

A: The Tamaki decision was a unique one. The overwhelming majority in this house voted in favour of that decision, including that member. The government has recommended we re-examine the defence property report buried by the last government.

Q: Helen Duncan (Labour): Why was the land transferred?

A: The legislation allowing the transfer received wide cross-party support. It was a commitment to the future and future generations.

Q: Wayne Mapp (National) Will he confirm that the fair value for the land is $28 million?

A: In one report I have read the figure used was $26 million.

Question 6.

Kevin Campbell (Alliance) to the Minister for Economic Development Jim Anderton:

Q: What concerns does he have about the impact on economic development of the current level of petrol prices?

A: I have real concerns about petrol prices on economic development. Every dollar spent on high petrol prices is a dollar not spent in the regional economy. Recently oil prices reached their highest levels ever. Oil is now down to $26 US a barrel from $34 a barrel at their peak. It seems to me that petrol prices are like interest rates – quick to go up and slow to come down. Today I have written to the Commerce Commission asking them to investigate oil companies pricing. I note that they were recently prosecuted for price fixing. The Commerce Commission is also welcome to look at differential pricing between cities and regions.

Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): Is the Alliance still pushing a carbon tax?

A: The issue of tax changes are part of the review of tax which is presently underway.

Question 7.

Hon. Max Bradford (National) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: Further to her statement that "the success of the ERA will be measured by how well the parties work together over time to develop productive relationships", what does she consider to be the measure of whether the parties are working together in this way?

A: The measure will be the manner to which the parties constructively engage in good faith. I expect that this will occur at various times and various levels. I am confident that employers will promote mutual trust and confidence and soon see the benefits in productivity.

Q: Max Bradford (National): How can she square this with Ken Douglas’s statements that there will be an “element of payback” towards employers?

A: I am unaware of Mr Douglas’s comments. I am aware that NZ is lagging behind in labour productivity. The development of codes to good faith bargaining will be developed through a consultative approach.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): What level of increase in lost days would be an indication of failure of her policies?

A: No.

Q: Peter Dunne (United): Because of the weak numerical strength of unions how will she help them?

A: The ERA provides for the registration of Unions. There is also provision for employment relations education. This will assist employers and employees. I am planning a monitoring system so we can measure the impact of the new legislation.

Question 8.

Hon. Peter Dunne (United) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: What impact will the abolition of bulk funding of teachers' salaries have on bulk-funded schools?

A: Minimal. Half will gain and half will have funding reduced. There will be a profound impact on the 70% of schools who are not bulk funded. Despite asking for 18 months I am yet to find one single school where a permanently appointed teacher will lose their job. What we will be doing is giving around $20,000 to several schools as a bonus for not being bulk funded.

Q: Nick Smith (National): Why did Labour legislate in 1989 for compulsory bulk funding of all schools?

A: The issue wasn’t well considered it has been now.

Q: What indications has he had from bulk funded schools on their reaction to this move?

A: One bulk funded school principal from Christchurch has welcomed the end of bulk funding. Part of the bulk funding arrangements has been performance bonuses for principals on individual contracts. We have already abolished that.

Q: Nick Smith (National): Why does the government not trust boards of democratically elected parents to manage school budgets?

A: We do not like a trend that contains an incentive to employ less experienced, cheaper teachers.

Q: Donna Awatere-Huata (ACT): Will the cancellation of bulk-funding comply with the contracts with the school boards? If so how?

A: It has been the policy of many government’s over many years to change laws. This government will also do that.

Question 9.

Hon. Tony Ryall (National) to the Minister of Forestry Pete Hodgson:

Q: Are his comments that the employment of Kit Richards is "untenable" a reflection, with respect to his portfolio responsibilities, of a Government policy that all public servants must agree with the Prime Minister?

A: No.

Q: Tony Ryall (National): Are public servants permitted to express views different from his outside work hours.

A: It is unacceptable for public servants to undermine the stated policy of the government or to undermine their employers statement of corporate intent.

Q: Damien O’Conner (Labour): Can he advise that my position is tenable given my disagreement with the government?

A: Certainly. We disagree regularly and still respect one another.

Q: Rod Donald (Green): Has Kit Richards apologised?

A: I am not aware of any apology.

Q: Does he accept there is an element of bullying in his approach?

A: I most certainly do not.

Question 10.

Graham Kelly (Labour) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Phil Goff:

Q: What progress has been made towards a lasting peace in Bougainville?

A: There has been substantial progress towards entrenching the cease-fire to the point that the head of the peace monitoring group believes their role is at an end. However in the area of law and order there are still problems. In the area of a political solution there is still considerable work to be done too. Currently we have 30 personnel serving in the peace monitoring group. We also have civilian police in Bougainville doing training and they are doing an excellent job.

Question 11.

Hon. Roger Sowry (National) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: When did he write to the Minister of State Services asking him to include the question of whether it was appropriate for consultants to act as managers of Government departments in the review of Work and Income New Zealand?

A: On Tuesday the 14th of March 2000.

Q: Roger Sowry (National): Can the minister advise why he then said the next day to the media that he was alarmed about the appointment of a consultant when he knew about the appointment since December 23rd.

A: I was advised on 23rd of December of an appointment. In March however I was advised by the media that a further consultancy had been let at a high cost of $1000 per person, per day. I passed this information on to Don Hunn who is conducting a review of WINZ.

Question 12.

Martin Gallagher (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: What progress has been made towards allocating unused bulk-funding money from the 1999/2000 financial year to centrally resourced schools?

A: I am pleased to tell the house that cabinet has approved to reallocate the funding to centrally resourced schools. $15 million will be reallocated and will be in school accounts early next month.

Q: Nick Smith (National): Can he confirm that all this money would already be in schools hands if it wasn’t for the bullying of teacher unions?

A: No I cannot. But I can confirm that there is a new burger at Bellamys called the smith burger, half tongue and half chicken.


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