Today’s Questions concerned the subjects of: R&D Taxation Treatment – Treaty Clauses In Health Legislation – Biosecurity Breaches – Auckland Transport - Tertiary Education Accountability – People’s Bank – Sustainable Farming Fund – SOE Spending – E-Business – Northland Emergency Helicopters – Palmerston North Unemployment – Good Health Wanganui’s HFA Contract
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.
SCOOP COVERAGE BEGINS
MARK PECK (Labour) to the Minister of Revenue Michael Cullen:
Q: What is the Government proposing to clarify the tax treatment of research and development?
A: Today we have released a discussion paper on this. The proposal emerged from one of the major accounting firms in correspondence with me. It was unveiled at the business summit and has been well received by business leaders.
Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): What will this cost?
A: There are still a range of estimates on the cost from $8 million up.
Q: Peter Dunne (United NZ): What is the timetable for this?
A: Legislation will be introduced next year on this. It will be my intention for it to apply for the tax year starting 1 April 2001.
Rt Hon WYATT CREECH (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:
Q: Was the Associate Minister of Health, Hon Tariana Turia, included in discussions to remove references to mana whenua from the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Bill?
Q: Did she agree with the removal and if so did she agree with John Tamihere that the words perpetuate a feudal anachronism?
A: I would not expect all politicians to agree on all things at all times. However my associate and I agree far more often than Bill English did with his PM.
Q: Has the government listened to the public?
A: The majority of the committee listened to submissions which supported the inclusion of the Treaty clause. However we did think it was necessary to make changes to ensure there is no misunderstanding concerning preferential treatment in the delivery of services.
IAN EWEN-STREET (Green) to the Minister for Biosecurity Marian Hobbs:
Q: How many of the breaches of our borders by alien species such as snakes, spiders, scorpions, varroa bee mite, Argentine ants, painted apple moth and guava moth are the result of our biosecurity measures not keeping pace with the substantial increase over the last four years in the importation of consumer goods and second-hand cars?
A: Although trade has increased the number of serious new incursions has remained static. The government is developing a strategy to enhance the high standards already in force.
Q: Does she agree that primary industries are paying the price of free trade?
A: I would imagine the Green member is saying that trade is too higher cost. I would reply that our agricultural trade is growing. Therefore it is vital that we remain biosecure. In the last four years MAF has increased container inspection rates introduced x-ray equipment and made international agreements on plant material. MAF Quarantine has also gained ISO quality accreditation in all its operations – a world first.
Q: When did she get Audit reports?
A: I asked for about five audit reports three or four weeks ago. I read these and raised matters with officials who have set up a system to deal with problems. A variety of pests come in via different pathways. Increased trade is not necessarily responsible for all incursions.
Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): When Labour committed to decontamination of imported cars before the election did she plan on mucking around for a year before doing anything?
A: I haven’t mucked around. We have been researching. We have a discussion paper out on this now.
PENNY WEBSTER (ACT) to the Minister assisting the Prime Minister on Auckland Issues Judith Tizard:
Q: In light of the results of the survey commissioned by the Automobile Association that show that 83% of Aucklanders support the completion of the Auckland transport network, what steps will she be recommending the Prime Minister take to ensure that the transport network is completed?
A: The survey conducted by AA was an extremely useful exercise. The ARC and Transit NZ will continue to work towards implementation of a transport strategy.
Q: Will the Minister be recommending legislation to allow private toll roads to enable the early completion of transport projects?
A: One of the question I asked the survey people was whether they had asked the people along the routes where new motorways have been suggested. It is good to see that Aucklanders are willing to pay for improved roading. However I do not see tolls in the short term solving Auckland’s problems. To congestion will be addressed by this government after nine years of inaction by National and ACT. It is no question of the traffic expanding to fill new motorways, it is expanding now anyway. We could pave the whole of Auckland and not solve the problems. What is required is a mix of solutions.
NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:
Q: What is the Government doing to promote greater accountability from tertiary education institutions?
A: The public Tertiary sector represents a significant asset. Just bricks and mortar wise it is worth $4 billion. We will be introducing legislation to enable the crown to intervene in cases of financial risk. We consider this urgent because of the precarious state this sector has been left in by National. We are currently assisting four polytechnics. We have provided considerable assistance to them. This is just part of an overall governance package designed to protect the $4 billion asset that the public has entrusted to this government.
Q: What will he do without his lynchpin chairman of TEAC who quit last week?
A: I would like to say that the departing chair of TEAC is outstanding. Today I have announced an international panel to help us with this sector.
Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:
Q: What process was used to select the independent reviewer of the People's Bank proposal?
A: The requirement for an independent review was a requirement of the board and its approval was made by the board of NZ Post. It would not be appropriate for Minister’s to interfere with SOE’s in the way the member suggests. The board of NZ Post has not yet contacted me with any review results.
Q: Will this reviewer or the next reviewer be looking at the impact on NZ Post?
A: If I could choose one of those questions – clearly the proposal will not proceed unless the rate of return is satisfactory?
Q: Will the review consider the impact on other community based financial institutions?
A: Not the NZ Post review no. That will be considered by Cabinet. A decision to proceed will not be taken unless a strong business case is made and a net gain for the government is forecast.
Q: Bill English (National): Is he confirming that there has been no attempt to ensure the reviewer is independent?
CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour) to the Minister of Agriculture Jim Sutton:
Q: What response has there been to MAF Policy's call for applications for the Sustainable Farming Fund?
A: (Marian Hobbs on behalf) There has been an overwhelmingly positive response with 368 applications received by the closing date for applications.
Q: What sort of applications?
A: The applications for projects total $35 million. They range from organics, to traditional farming, to pest control.
Q: Will funding be made available towards a North Otago irrigation assessment as promised before the election.
A: There is a contestable fund for irrigation assessments of $1.4 million. Next year this will be rolled into the Sustainable Farming Fund.
Q: If it is such a good idea then why is it only $5 million?
A: Next year it will be increased to $9 million. The minister is very impressed with it.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises Mark Burton:
Q: Has he received any reports on spending by State-owned enterprises?
A: (Michael Cullen on behalf). Yes. Lots.
Q: What explanation would he give to low income families then when Meridian Energy has purchased a hand made rug for $60,000.
A: I would not even attempt to pull the wool over their eyes in that matter. SOE’s are responsible for their spending on rugs.
Q: Is Digital TV privatisation by stealth?
A: This government rejected a digital TV programme that would have cost $200 million and has instead got one that will cost around $5 million.
Q: How does $60,000 spent on a welcome mat fit with the commitment to an end to extravagence?
A: That end does not justify the means in this particular case.
H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour) to the Minister for Information Technology Paul Swain:
Q: What steps has the Government taken to encourage small businesses to become e-commerce capable?
A: The government has made several steps. The summit was attended by hundreds of small to medium sized businesses. We have launched a guide. Last week the electronic transaction bill was introduced to reduce the cost of electronic transactions. I would encourage members to support the strategy and encourage businesses to read the guide.
Q: Maurice Williamson (National): Does he intend to publish a work programme so small business can see where the government is going?
A: Yes. And we hope to make an announcement on that before Christmas. The Electronic Transactions Bill is a key initiative designed to place electronic transactions on the same level as paper based transactions and thereby reduce compliance and transaction costs.
Q: Muriel Newman (ACT): What about his snooping bill? Will that help e-commerce?
A: I would expect the ACT party to support legislation to stop hackers.
Q: Nandor Tanczos (Green): Does the minister think that allowing government agencies to hack people’s computers will help?
A: What that piece of legislation does is make hacking illegal. It is about protecting the privacy of individuals and I would expect the Green Party to support it. I appreciate there is concern in the rural sector concerning the availability of bandwidth. We will be addressing this in mid-December.
JOHN CARTER (National) to the Minister for Accident Insurance Michael Cullen:
Q: Is he concerned that an apparent lack of adequate protocols for transition from the Northland Emergency Services Trust to the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust as the contracted ACC emergency services provider could endanger lives in Northland?
A: I am very concerned about an incident at the weekend in which there appeared to be a failure in common sense. Both operators need to wake up to the fact that they need to exercise common sense.
Q: Dover Samuels (Labour): Should common sense be inserted into the ACC contracts?
A: If there is an alternative aircraft closer to an injured person then Ambulance control has the discretion to direct them to accidents. I understand they did not do so in this case.
Q: Is the minister taking any measures to restore services to the Northland Emergency Services Trust?
A: The reasons it did not get the contract was because it could not provide assurances on important matters. I would hope that both operators will recognise that their primary responsibility is to patients and not to having scraps with each other.
Q: Brian Donnelly (NZ First): Is he aware that the contracted helicopter could not fly on 16 nights because of weather and will the government ensure subcontracting arrangements are put in place.
A: The answer lies in the hands of the two trusts and not with the government.
(Maurice Williamson – I have spoken to RNZ’s Al Morrison and I want an apology from Winston Peters?
Winston Peters – I will get the transcripts if necessary.)
Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (ACT) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:
Q: Does he accept that official Department of Work and Income statistics are accurate in recording that the number of job seekers registered unemployed over one year in Palmerston North has risen over 22% since November last year, to 2,171 at the end of August 2000; if so, what assurances can he give that long term registered unemployment will not deteriorate further?
A: I do not accept that Work and Income’s register provides a tool to measuring economic activity.
Q: Muriel Newman: Has the minister not seen the reply from the Minister of Statistics that says that the HLFS cannot measure regional unemployment accurately?
A: I can tell the member that unemployment is very low at present at 5.9% nationwide and that while the HLFS bounces around the trend in her area is positive as it is in mine. When we look at the DWI figures we are looking at an administration tool that shifts around a lot. The person who used to put this tool together now works for Mrs Newman and maybe they should explain this to the MP.
SIMON POWER (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:
Q: What is the total value of the Health Funding Authority service contract with Good Health Wanganui for the current year?
A: Approximately $55.3 million has been agreed so far and more is being offered for elective surgery and staff training.
Q: Simon Power (National): How does she reconcile that with advice from Good Health that there has been a cut in $250,000?
A: The budget for GHW has been cut by $7 million because of the closure of the national secure forensic psychiatric unit. This government has boosted personal health and disability funding by $3 million.
Q: Ken Shirley (ACT): Can she confirm GHW is facing a budget deficit?
A: I will quote the chairman who said the result was pleasing considering the closure of the national secure unit.
(Simon Power – leave to table a letter from the CEO of GHW - granted
Ken Shirley – leave to yable another letter from the CEO of GHW - granted
Annette King – leave to table Wanganui Chronicle article – refused.)