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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 10 October

Today's Questions concern: Jim Vs Jenny On The Kiwi Dollar - Auckland Cardiac Surgery (Where Is Ruth?) – Business Forum – Brain Drain – Cardiac Surgery – Stress At Work – TUF President’s Faith – TranzRail Network – Christopher Truscott – Buddle Finlay’s Workload - ACC Legislation – Samoan Hercules Landing Row.

Questions For Oral Answer - Tuesday, 10 October 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 Minister for Industry and Regional Development Jim Anderton:

Q: What did he mean when he said "These exchange rate fluctuations are not an accurate reflection of the economy" and does he believe that the fluctuations have contributed to a decline in economic activity in the June quarter in 11 of New Zealand's 14 regions?

A: Two questions there. Fluctuations on there own say little about activity. They effect different sectors in different ways. I wish the National Party would stop saying the sky is falling in on our heads.

Q: Shipley: Why have only Zimbabwe and Roumania currencies fared worse than the Kiwi dollar?

A: I would suggest that the leader of the National Party should look at a Merril Lynch report she will find that on a broad range of measures NZ measures seventh in the world. If she could open her eyes she would see that this is one of the greatest nations on this planet, and she would feel privileged to live in it.

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Q: What was the real increase in GDP per capita in the year to June 2000?

A: I am pleased to let the facts get in the way of prejudice. In the year ending June 1999 growth was 0.1%. By the end of June 2000 it was 4.3%. I rest my case.

Q: Prebble (ACT): Is he saying the National Opposition is responsible for the decline in the June quarter?

A: The decline in economic activity in 11 out of 14 regions represents a number of factors. The early end of the Dairy season. The removal of one-off events such as the Americas Cup and the frigate mean the economy will quickly bounce back. From one end of NZ to the other there is optimism in this country and the opposition.

Q: Did retail sales fall in 11 of 14 regions over the last 12 months?

A: In the latest August figures there are significant increases in all regions in YOY growth, ranging from 3.3% in Wellington to 11% in the South Island. I celebrate that rise. For the first time in 25 years this country has a government that plans to build this country. This is a pleasant surprise to everyone but the National Opposition.

Q: What would be an appropriate exchange rate be in a country with low confidence and rising inflation?

A: It is silly given our arrangements to suggest what the exchange rate should be. What I can say is that over the weekend I celebrated the opening of three businesses and met with huge numbers of businessmen who are lining up to get into partnership with this government.

Question 2.

STEVE CHADWICK (Labour) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Has she received any assurances that patients requiring acute cardiac surgery in Auckland will not be forced to wait?

A: (Trevor Mallard on behalf) I have been assured that acute patients will not be forced to wait. There have been some unfortunate media comments on this which have caused distress. Work suggests there has been an increase of 7% in the number of referrals for heart surgery.

Q: Will he agree with the contracting out of work to other – private - hospitals?

(Roger Sowry – why is the Honorable Ruth Dyson waiting in the corridor

Speaker – that is not a legitimate point of order, the government may decide who answers questions.

Roger Sowry – there will be disorder if the government chooses to allocate questions to ministers have no responsibility. And especially if a minister stands waiting outside the door.

Speaker – I do not know why the member is at the door and I do not think the member is clairvoyant. The government decides who answers questions.

Mallard – I have the delegated authority for the ownership of hospitals from the Minister of Finance.

Prebble – He may well have such a delegation but that has not in the past been a reason to say why and why not people should have heart operations. We have a new situation here. When that rule was introduced we didn’t have so many Associate Ministers?

Speaker – Silence. Another comment and a member leaves. I am ready to rule. Rule 371 is open on who may answer for an absent Minister. The first point the member raises is interesting and I will have a look at it.

Sowry – Ruth Dyson has responsibilities in this area. I raised this issue because a minister was in the vicinity but was not answering. If we are to go down this path then all questions will be able to be answered by one or two ministers. I would ask you to consider the role of delegations.

Speaker - Delegations mean a question may be answered by another minister in the absence of the principal minister. They do not mean that a question must be answered by that member. Answer the Question.)

Q: Will he agree with the contracting out of work to other – private - hospitals?

A: If necessary, yes and easily.

(Peter Dunne: This raises some interesting questions.

Wyatt Creech: The Minister of Health is at present overseas and I understand that Ruth Dyson is the acting minister of health. Maybe then she should answer.

Speaker: Mr Mallard is entitled to answer on behalf.)

A: If necessary, yes and easily.

Q: Ken Shirley (ACT): Does she agree patients cannot afford the delays? Does he agree that NZers will die because waiting times have increased under this government.

A: Waiting times and lists have come down under this government. If there is insufficient capacity then I understand private contracting to deal with it can be done in a very short space of time.

Q: Winston Peters: How many more heart operations could be funded if we had less associate ministers?

A: On tenth of one percent of one operation judging on there performance today.

Question 3.

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

Q: Can he confirm the reported statement that "Ministers had decided to invite only business people interested in constructive engagement" to the Government's business forum?

A: I think it would be fair to say there would not be a lot of point in engaging with people who did not intend to be constructive. The list of people is full of people belonging to the organisations we are accused of weeding out. The response to the forum plan has been enormous. We have 97 people coming when we originally planned for 75.

Q: Have people been invited from these groups – listed?

A: Organisations were not invited at all. Nobody was invited as an organisation. That is why the organisations have not been invited. People have been invited as individuals.

Question 4.

Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (ACT) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: Given her statement on the Holmes show on Thursday that "fewer people left in the year to August this year than left the year before," does she accept that on a net basis more skilled New Zealanders left permanently or long term in the year ending August 2000 than any time in the last 20 years; if not, why not?

A: In relation to the first part of the question the statistics came from Statistics NZ. As to the second part this cannot be answered with the best will in the world. Nothing gives figures on returnees. In terms of occupations it should be remembered that around 50% of people do not record their occupations on leaving and arriving.

Q: Prebble: Is she denying this fact then?

A: The Minister if Immigration will be happy to supply figures which show that to the end of July there was a drop in the number of skilled people leaving. This country operates in a global marketplace. We need to attract our share of the global market and the Minister of Immigration will be working to ensure that we do.

Q: Can she confirm that the number of young NZers with student loans who have left has doubled?

A: Certainly the student loan issue is important. Hundreds of young NZers with loans turned up to recent meetings in London that I spoke at.

(Richard Prebble - leave to table statistics prepared by the Parliamentary Library – granted.)

Question 5.

Rt Hon WYATT CREECH (National) to the Minister of Health Ruth Dyson:

Q: What has she done to fulfil commitment number three on the Labour Party's commitment card which includes the statement "cut waiting times for surgery in our public health system"?

(Roger Sowry – could you please consider the farce we have seen in Question time today. We believe this is an abuse of procedures making question time a nonsense.

Speaker – I will look into it.)

A: Promise No.3 on the credit card is the responsibility for Steve Maharey and relates to student loans.

Q: What will she do about waiting lists?

A: No absolute guarantees can ever be given to people on waiting lists that they will not die while waiting. Joint work by the HFA has identified two reasons for the increase in waiting times. An increase in referrals of 7% and an increase in cost of 9%. These two factors mean we cannot cut the waiting times in Auckland on the present money. This government has delivered on its promises. We have allocated an additional $96 million for elective surgery this year.

Q: Where will the money for this come from?

A: There are two issues here. One of funding and one of capacity. I can assure the member that one or both of those issues will be addressed by this government and quickly. The government has allocated an additional $96 million for elective surgery. The total number waiting more than six months for an operation has decreased from 33,000 to 26,000 in less than a year under this government.

Question 6.

JUDY KEALL (Labour) to the Minister of Health (acting) Ruth Dyson:

Q: What steps is the Government taking to address the issue of stress at work, a key theme of today's World Mental Health Day?

A: We have set aside an extra $257 million over the next four years for mental health services. Stress is caused by a number of factors and many people in work suffer from it. Stress leads to workplace accidents.

Q: Has stress increased under this government from higher petrol prices?

A: No.

Question 7.

Hon MAX BRADFORD (National) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: What reports has she received that unions are prepared to live by the letter and intent of the Employment Relations Act "good faith" provisions and the code of good faith?

A: I am not aware of any intentions by anyone not to bargain in good faith.

Q: Does she agree then with the President of the TUF who says she will be pressing for inflation plus catchup in future settlements?

A: I have no doubt that if the union official referred to does not act in good faith then remedy provisions will be invoked.

Q: What should employers then do about the President of the TUF?

A: If the actions of the organiser were contrary to the provisions in the legislation then they could pursue their remedies there.

(Sowry - leave to table Superannuation press releases – refused.

Sowry - leave put again – granted.)

Question 8.

SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Transport Mark Gosche:

Q: Does the Government have any strategies to ensure the option of freight or passenger services across the rail network is maintained in the event Tranz Rail announces its withdrawal today from providing any such services; if so, what are those strategies?

A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) The government is committed to ensuring that the most affordable transport is available. Tranzrail is not the only potential provider of rail services. We are not aware at present of exactly what Tranzrail is proposing. We will be talking to Tranzrail and to others about what can be done. The Minister of Finance will be meeting Tranzrail shortly about an announcement that will be made at 3.30pm today. We need to talk to the country and the regions about this issue.

Q: Does the government have a view on breaking up the Main trunk line and selling it off?

A: It is possible we may have to clean up the mess left by the government , yes.

Q: Does the Minister have any advice on the impact of announcements he will be making on contracts with Regional Councils?

A: Until we know the nature of the announcement at 3.30pm it is premature to address this question.

Question 9.

GERRY BROWNLEE (National) to the Minister of Health (acting) Ruth Dyson:

Q: How many New Zealanders are currently isolated under section 79 of the Health Act 1956 and at what cost?

A: There are two people detained under this provision. The combined cost for the two people is $328,000 a year.

Q: What about Christopher Truscott?

A: The fact Mr Truscott is no longer in custody is of concern, yes. Of equal concern is the fact that some men are putting their wives health at risk by having sex with Mr Truscott knowing he has HIV.

Q: What will she do about Mr Truscott?

A: There have been arrangements made for Mr Truscott by the previous government. This is an issue that it would be better for our community to work together on. There is a responsibility to rehabilitate the person in a case such as this. The alternative to this is imprisonment. That would not solve the problem. They would not get rehabilitation, and they would have to be kept in isolation.

Q: Can she confirm this situation arose under the previous government?

A: Yes.

Question 10.

CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour) to the Minister of State Services Trevor Mallard:

Q: What reports has he received on payments to the law firm Buddle Findlay?

A: I am aware that of around $933,000 of spending on Buddle Finlay most was arranged prior to December 1999. There are few contracts this government has let to Buddle Finlay.

Q: Can he confirm a senior partner has this year received $106,000 in fees, and that this senior partner is also involved in organising this business forum?

A: I have received advice that Treasury had spend a quarter of a million with Buddle Finlay last year under Bill English. It is no surprise that Bill English when asked about the timing of spending he was complaining about by the Dominion said, “I don’t think that matters much”. Mr English was the Minister that spent the money. I am also not surprised that the written questions that led to this revelation came from Murray McCully.

Question 11.

Hon KEN SHIRLEY (ACT) to the Minister for Accident Insurance Michael Cullen:

Q: When does he intend introducing legislation reforming ACC, and what will it include?

A: (Ruth Dyson on behalf) November this year. The bill will increase the focus on rehabilitation. It will include lump-sum payments for permanent impairment and a few other things.

Q: Can she explain the delay from the middle of this year? And can she explain the Chen and Palmer article saying it is unlikely to be seen till next year?

A: It is regrettable. In relation to the second part I have no idea what article he is referring to. The maximum lump sum payments under the scheme will be $100,000 for 80% impairment.

Question 12.

GRAHAM KELLY to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:

Q: Has he received any reports concerning his decision to request an RNZAF Hercules to carry out a humanitarian action in Samoa?

A: I have seen many reports. One in the Dominion saying that Rodney Hide’s populist tactic had backfired and saying that Mr Hide said he was going to concentrate from now on on policy issues. That said I have since received 31 written questions on policy issues from Mr Hide including several more on policies in relation to humanitarian issues and the defence force.

Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): Was the Airforce command wrong when they repeatedly turned down requests to land a plane loaded with high explosives, at a weight higher than its maximum landing weight, and in circumstances where the crew would exceed the maximum flying time limits

A: On the day in question I was contacted at 4.40pm. After considering the advice of officials I agreed that normal procedures should be waived to allow the man to fly home on the plane. I was later informed that the plane was in the air and that dumping of fuel might be required. I again authorised this to be done, The Captain of the Hercules then decided not to dump fuel. The landing weight was 15,000 pounds below the maximum landing weight. I believe and continue to believe, given my confidence in the staff involved, that the right decision was taken.


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