Today’s Questions concerned the subjects of: Reserve Bank MPS x 2 – E-Government – Apple Grower Protests – Northland Helicopter Ambulance Services – Police Cellphones - US Chocolate Blockade – Gisborne Rail Link - Positive Discrimination In Apprenticeship Programme – Enterprise Allowance For Beneficiaries – Sports Policy – OSH Review – Transmission Gully Petition
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
MARK PECK (Labour) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:
Q: What reports has he recently received about the state of the economy?
A: This morning the Reserve Bank the issued a MPS, leaving interest rates alone and forecasting only gradual interest rate rises next year. The bank believes the oil price and cigarette price rise impacts will be transient . Treasury is a little more cautious than the Reserve Bank but today’s MPS largely accords by the report from Bill English to the National caucus. The outlook is for growth and declining unemployment – and therefore – rising standards of living. New treasury forecasts are due out before Christmas which will put the government on a sound economic footing through the Summer break.
Q: Rodney Hide (ACT) What about real wage cuts?
A: We had been running an unsustainable current account deficit which means we were paying ourselves more than we were earning.
Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:
Q: What is his response to the comment from the Governor of the Reserve Bank that "the dichotomy between the rural and urban parts of the economy widened as the year progressed" and the "Signs are that this disparity is likely to persist over the near term"?
A: I welcome the boost being given to the economy in parts of NZ like Southland and expect it to flow through to other parts of the economy shortly.
Q: What about other parts of the export sector?
A: The Reserve Bank also sees growth in non-commodity exports as well. Dr Brash has pointed to the fact that we have had an unsustainable current account deficit. The growing exports of services and increases in tourism are expected to benefit urban areas.
Q: Bill English (National) Can he confirm that it is the government’s view that urban NZers have been spending too much and so now deserve a cut in their standards of living?
A: If the member spent more time in his electorate and less in Auckland he would know where export growth is coming from.
DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister of State Services Trevor Mallard:
Q: What progress has been made towards implementing an e-government strategy?
A: In July the e-government unit was established. We have a clear objective to provide easy and efficient access to government services and information via the new e-government strategies. The Internet will be the core of this project. I would like to thank Maurice Williamson for working to get this started and my colleagues for funding it. NZers can expect more efficient service and lower compliance costs as this project is implemented. We will not just be doing what we are doing now electronically – we will have appropriate services configured in an appropriate way.
GERRARD ECKHOFF (ACT) to the Minister of Agriculture Jim Sutton:
Q: Does he share the concerns of many apple growers that they face serious financial hardship or even financial ruin this season; if so, what urgent steps is he taking to address these concerns?
A: I certainly do share the concerns of Apple Growers about their industry. I have initiated a review of the regulatory framework. Any changes arising from this review will need to be supported by the industry and in the interests of the country.
Q: Will he admit that there is nothing he can and will do?
A: At lunch time today I attended a forum with Pipfruit Growers out at the airport. I offered to meet with demonstrators too but by the time I had met their elected representatives they had moved on.
Q: Can he comment on the injunction sought today by ENZA against the exports committee?
(Speaker – that is before the courts and I would prefer it is not commented on.)
Q: Will the government consider changing the rules mid season?
A: It would not be my preferred option to change the rules in the middle of the game. But if that was the lesser of the evils available we would certainly consider it.
Q: Will corporate control help or hinder growers?
A: The objective of government is to help the industry to climb out of present difficulties and no stone will be left unturned in resolving this.
Q: John Luxton (National) Does he agree with the Economist that these structures don’t work?
A: I take that question seriously given he is the architect of the present structure. If the member is recanting he should see a priest.
Hon BRIAN DONNELLY (NZ First) to the Minister for Accident Insurance Michael Cullen:
Q: Is he satisfied that he has been accurately informed of the issues leading to the awarding of the contract for emergency accident work, previously held by the Northland Emergency Services Trust, to an Auckland supplier?
A: I have had a number of briefings on this issue.
Q: Can he explain the difference between NEST information, CAA information and ACC information about three alleged accidents involving the NEST helicopter.
A: No I can’t and I will follow up on that matter.
Q: Why was the contract not awarded to NEST?
A: I understand NEST’s tender documentation was materially inadequate and that it had not been meeting existing contractual obligations to ACC.
Both providers have now agreed to a “media truce” on this issue so I am reluctant to get too far into the details of plans. I will be arranging a meeting for Northland MPs on what is happening shortly. I understand and expect a result early in the new year from discussions now underway between the parties.
Q: Is he sure patients will be safe?
A: Yes. I am confident the existing provider can provide quality service.
Q: If this was a media beat up then why is he working to resolve this issue?
A: While I beleive the girl in question in the story did not suffer as a result of problems, there were issues raised by the incident.
BRIAN NEESON (National) to the Minister of Police George Hawkins:
Q: How many police officers have been instructed to return their cellphones and how much money is this move anticipated to save each year?
A: District Commanders are currently evaluating the use of cell-phones to ensure use is targeted effectively.
Q: What does he think about crooks making jokes to police like, “would you like to borrow my phone?”
A: Unlike the previous government we will be using saved money on policing. Police currently spend $1.4 million a year on cell phones. If you watch the pennies you save pounds. I do not intend to allow wastage in the police such as that which took place under National. We are not doing this to improve police health, no.
Q: Ron Mark (NZ First): Is he seriously telling us that the money spent on Arts is more important than protecting us from scumbags on the street?
(Speaker – that question is out of order – the member shall rephrase it.)
Q: Ron Mark (NZ First): Is he seriously telling us that spending $146 million on Arts is more important than cell phones so police can do their jobs?
A: Some people who are cultural peasants may think there is too much money spent on arts. Some people, crooks, may think too much money is being spent on the police.
Q: Trevor Mallard (Labour): Could money be saved if police simply said “hello” and not “hello, hello, hello”?
(Speaker – that is not in order.)
H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour) to the Minister for Trade Negotiations Jim Sutton:
Q: (Rick Barker on behalf) Why did he distribute two kilograms of chocolate to Wellington-based diplomats last week?
A: I did this to demonstrate trade barriers to the diplomats. The US quota on NZ chocolate is two kilograms. NZ businesses pay heavily from the cumulative effect of trade barriers such as this.
Q: What is he doing about it?
A: Working at the WTO and on bilateral agreements such as that with Singapore.
Q: What about the NZ tariff freeze?
A: We did this so we retained some leverage to negotiate with. The US chocolate blockade may be able to be negotiated away with by making concessions on those few areas we still have tariffs in. We do not object to people exercising their rights to demonstrate, however I must say that the overwhelming majority of NZers support trade liberalisation when it is in NZs interests.
Q: Rod Donald (Green): Will he be giving out apples and have BSE-free NZ meat on the menu next time?
A: If I hear of any specific blockade on organic apples I may well do that.
Hon ROGER SOWRY to the Minister for Industry and Regional Development Jim Anderton:
Q: What did he mean when he told the Gisborne Chamber of Commerce that their region was critically important, that it was underperforming economically, that it should not be isolated and that the rail issue would be resolved?
A: (Phillida Bunkle on behalf) The statement means that after a decade of the National Government the area was left devastated. The statement means this government is not prepared to abandon this region.
Q: How will he guarantee the region will not lose its rail link?
A: If I was a member of the National Party I would keep my head very low when it comes to the loss of rail services in Gisborne. It was the National Party that sold the railways. If the National Party cared about these things they wouldn’t have. Merely misquoting the PM in the Dominion will not hide our achievements. The community has appreciated the government’s style in this area. We have a very positive outlook among agencies who can produce growth in that region.
Q: Can the minister confirm that Gisborne people are hard hit?
A: I can confirm that the people of Tai Rawhiti have been hard hit and that we are making good progress in addressing this problems.
Q: Sue Kedgley (Green): Will the minister guarantee that the line will not be closed?
A: We are working very positively with people to develop an integrated transport strategy of a kind that the Green Party would approve of. Scoping work for a comprehensive strategy has begun. Target delivery date is April 2001.
Q: Janet Mackey (Labour): What is being done to reduce isolation in the region?
A: We are of course unable to move the region. However excellent progress has been made about getting logs processed in the region instead of overseas. The taskforce, as the member knows, has successfully brought people together.
Q: What about his pledge to the City of Gisborne?
A: Work is underway. The government has never said it is looking at a buyback option. We need the cooperation of local authorities in whatever we do.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:
Q: Will the Government propose an amendment to the Apprenticeship Training Bill to remove the specific reference in Clause 16 to Maori and Pacific Island peoples, in light of the Prime Minister's statement that the Closing the Gaps strategy is about "focusing on low decile needs across the board"; if not, why not?
A: No we will not. The clause in question provides that coordinators will be required to have particular regard to Maori, PI people, disabled people and women – that is they will focus on several groups who a disadvantaged in the labour market.
Q: Does that mean that there are no poor disadvantaged NZers who are not either Maori or Pacific Islanders?
A: No I am not. Katherine Rich is correct and Dr Nick Smith is wrong.
Q: Brian Donelly (NZ First) : Could the minister explain why two of my children will be advantaged and one will not, merely by reason of race?
A: May I say that the modern apprenticeship programme is open to all NZers. And that all that is being asked is that coordinators pay regard to the disadvantages of some groups. This government is committed to wiping out disadvantage wherever it is found, but we are also concerned with targeting assistance.
SUE BRADFORD to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:
Q: What recent changes have been made in Government policy regarding the administration of the Enterprise Allowance and when were these implemented?
A: No change of policy has been made with the enterprise allowance. The allowance is a temporary subsidy and it works very well.
Q: Why then do groups in Canterbury believe there is a cap on this funding?
A: The member will be aware that each regional commissioner has a regional plan. The commissioner in Canterbury would be happy to brief the minister about that.
Q: What is being done about sustainable employment?
A: I today launched 13 regional plans for WINZ. We are well on the way to having a much more responsive service to the needs of NZ’s regions. I will table these plans so members can look at them if they wish into the long evening.
Q: Does the minister believe that the allowance is effective? And why then have long term unemployed risen under him?
A: Unemployment currently stands at a 12 year low. I would not say I am happy about all money spent in this area however, particularly TOPS money.
DAVID BENSON-POPE (Labour) to the Minister for Sport, Fitness and Leisure Trevor Mallard:
Q: What progress has been made with the Government's review of sport, fitness and leisure?
A: The taskforce has received 365 submissions so far. Key issues have been identified.
Q: What focus has there been on coaching?
A: Several submissions focus on this. Coaches can occasionally be temperamental individuals and we want to work on ways to encourage them to stay in the country and not run away when they get annoyed.
Hon MAX BRADFORD to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:
Q: What reduction in workplace deaths and accidents does she expect to result from the changes proposed in her discussion paper on the review of the Health and Safety in Employment Act?
A: (Laila Harre on behalf) I have not attempted the prediction the member seeks. However it is clear that an appalling number of people die and are injured at present. Fortunately improvement is possible and that is why we want everybodies input into the workplace safety review. I am not clear what the member is referring to about resourcing of OSH. Of course that is essential. However it is also clear that participation of employees in safety issues has been a key driver of success in some workplaces.
Q: Why has she released this document?
A: Some of the reaction to the document shows how discussion was necessary. Workplace safety involves the cooperation of all participants in the workplace. That is why we are consulting with all participants and not simply legislating change.
Q: How has this sort of regime worked in Victoria Australia?
A: There is a lot in common here with a lot of Australian states. In terms of comparative accident rates it is clear that NZ does a lot worse than some other places. This particular paper is not attempting to resolve all issues around OSH issues and provisions but rather to deal with some specific problems. Other work is also in place on issues that arose out of the Tranz Rail inquiry and the government will be acting separately on that. There is nothing pernicious here, rather these are sensible suggestions.
(Max Bradford – leave to table an NZ Herald editorial – refused.
Steve Maharey – leave to table regional employment plans – refused
Speaker – they are on the web and members cans see them there.)
Questions to Members
Hon PETER DUNNE (United Future NZ) to the Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee Harry Dynhoven:
Q: When will the committee be reporting back my petition co-signed by 24,155 others calling on the Government to set aside the funding to enable the construction of the Transmission Gully highway?
A: The committee is considering the petition and will report when it is finished.
Q: Peter Dunne (United Future NZ) Will he confirm that the government is sitting on this petition deliberately to prevent me getting credit?
A: We have had no instruction from the government on this or any other issue. Committees are independent and I enforce that.