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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 12 December

Today's Questions concerned: Tertiary Sector Crisis – Australian Welfare Negotiations – LATE Responsibility Changes – Closing The Gaps – Health Strategy – TVNZ Charter – Trans Tasman Travel Arrangement - Closing The Gaps And Jim Anderton – US Lamb Tariffs Decision – Spectrum For Maori – Poorly Performing Schools - ACC Double Payments

Questions For Oral Answer - Tuesday, 12 December 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 till some days after the event.


Question 1.

DAVID BENSON-POPE (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: What advice has he received on reform of the tertiary education sector?

A: I have recently appointed two new people to the TEAC. Russell Marshall and Hugh Fletcher. I look forward to their contribution.

Q: Noting that vice-chancellors are budgeting a $17 million loss this year does this not show that the fees freeze policy is just driving the sector into debt?

A: It is true that after 9 years of cuts to per-student funding that the sector is in a terrible state. It was left in that state by The Honorable Nick Smith. I have said to vice-chancellors that we understand we need to rebuild the investment in the sector. We have begun with $600 million spent in the sector this year. Next year I hope that student numbers will rise and the circumstances of institutions will improve. I sympathise with the sector. The primary function of TEAC will be to tell us how we can best use the $2 billion we spend and how we can best employ the $4 billion asset. I have read the statement from AUS. My answer is that we have begun investment in this sector. We have put the taxpayers money where out mouth is.

Q: Is the Alliance policy of free tertiary education not a runner?

A: The Alliance Party have supported fully the policies we have followed. And we will continue down that road.

Q: When does he see the 25% ratio of fees to subsidies recommended by the Todd Taskforce being implemented?

A: That has never been our policy. We want to drive the cost down so people can achieve their potential.

Question 2.

Rt Hon JENNY SHIPLEY (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: Has the Government agreed to changes to New Zealanders' automatic permanent residency right to live, work and access health and social services in Australia; if so, what are the changes and when do they come into effect?

A: Negotiations have been underway for some time on this. We are not prepared to pay Australia hundreds of millions of dollars to fund welfare payments to New Zealanders living in Australia.

Q: Why has she buckled to Australian pressure?

A: I appreciate that the National Party’s plan was to export as much unemployment as possible to Australia. We are facing reality which her government couldn’t.

Q: Will these effect any NZers living in Australia?

A: No. There will be no back-dating. The provisions will only take effect when agreed.

Q: Is she erecting the equivalent of a Berlin Wall with Australia?

A: This is not an Australian proposal. This is a negotiation that starts with the right of Kiwis to move to Australia taken as a given.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Will the government admit that the changes made by her government to immigration were viewed with disquiet in Australia?

A: That has nothing to do with talks on social security with Australia that have been underway since Jenny Shipley started them in February 1999.

Q: Jenny Shipley (National): If this is not an Australian proposal then why is it being negotiated in secret?

A: Kiwis are free to go and live and work in Australia. But the NZ taxpayer does not follow Kiwis who move with a dole payment. If that is what the member is advocating let her say so.

Q: Is she negotiating away special characteristics of the labour market?

A: No. If what Mrs Shipley wants us to do is pay hundreds of millions for social security to Kiwis in Australia she should say so.

Question 3.

GRANT GILLON (Alliance) to the Minister of Local Government Sandra Lee:

Q: What steps has the Government taken to ensure that local authority trading enterprises can be responsive to social and environmental issues?

A: The government has approved legislative amendments making it clear that a LATE’s objectives can be both commercial and non-commercial. These provisions are in a new bill awaiting its first reading.

Q: How will LATEs be responsible for these new objectives?

A: They will be responsible to their councils for meeting specified objectives.

Q: What structural changes are expected as a result of this?

A: The amendments provide Local Authorities with certainty over their statements of corporate intent.

Q: What information will citizens have about LATEs.

A: LATEs will also be subject to the Official Information Act and the Ombudsmans Act.

Q: Why doe the bill not mention environmental responsibility directly?

A: That is included in non-commercial objectives.

Question 4.

Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: When will the Government release its benchmarks and targets for its "flagship" Closing the Gaps programme?

A: The government will release targets for all its programmes from time to time. For example the Minister of Education will make an announcement this afternoon.

Q: Did the PM write to Ministers in July asking for targets and monitoring reports? And why aren’t they being released?

A: I am sure the member will get information in due course.

Q: Who initiated this term “Closing the Gaps”?

A: Mr McCully was happy to sit in a government that issued documents titled “Closing the Gaps”.

Q: How many flagship policies does the government have? And is this still a flagship?

A: Tackling Inequality – Closing Gaps for all NZers – is a flagship policy for the whole government.

Q: Can she give an example of a gap that will be closed?

A: Announcements on the minimum wage later this week will be a very concrete example of closing gaps.

(Murray McCully – leave to table several documents – granted.)

Question 5.

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

Q: How will the New Zealand Health Strategy, released yesterday, ensure that New Zealanders have increased trust in the health system and improve the health of New Zealanders?

A: The strategy highlights 13 goals and 5 priorities. If we are to restore a public health system we need continual quality improvement. So we have discussed these in the government.

Q: How will she make this a key driver?

A: The strategy was written with the help of a sector group and with meetings with the public. I will be required to report on progress in meeting the strategy each year.

Q: When will she move to benchmarks and targets for DHBs?

A: Toolkits will be provided to DHBs so they can set real goals against the broad objectives in the strategy.

Q: Will she give an assurance waiting lists will be reduced?

A: If we continue where we are going then I will be very pleased.

Q: Sue Kedgley (Green): Given NZMA comments that there needs to be more funding will more funding be committed?

A: Funding for health will be increased over time. We will also work on changes in priorities for funding.

Q: When will the Toolkits be released publicly?

A: The public will see the objectives and goals of the DHBs in their annual plans when they are provided to the public.

Question 6.

Hon PETER DUNNE (United Future NZ) to the Minister of Broadcasting Marian Hobbs:

Q: When and how will a charter for Television New Zealand be implemented?

A: The Charter will be implemented next year initially by an attachment to the statement of corporate intent.

Q: Will she give an assurance that there will be as much, soap, action, quiz and real-TV shows in prime time after the charter is implemented?

A: I am not a programmer so I cannot give that assurance. Maori broadcasting is a particularly important issue to submissions. We will ensure that TVNZ meets the informational needs of Maori audiences. Approximately 170 submissions have been received, two thirds from members of the public.

Question 7.

Hon KEN SHIRLEY (ACT) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: When was she first informed that the Australian Government was seeking to effect changes that impact on the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement by placing restrictions on New Zealanders' access to a range of welfare and health benefits?

A: Formal discussions on Social Security were commenced by the previous government in February 1999. The issue has been an irritation for a number of years.

Q: Were these solutions promoted by Australia or NZ?

A: Agreement has not yet been reached. These are discussions. They have arisen because of the un-sustainability of the existing regime.

Q: Have any concerns been raised about the overstayers issue leading to these proposals?

A: As the member knows the Social Security issues have been an irritant in the relationship for many years. The transitional immigration arrangements are neither here nor there in that context.

Q: Why did she claim that the story on this was a beat up?

A: With no difficulty at all. These discussions are not about the Trans-Tasman travel arrangement.

Question 8.

Hon MAX BRADFORD (National) to the Minister for Economic Development Jim Anderton:

Q: Will changes to the Closing the Gaps programme affect his economic development responsibilities?

A: No.

Q: Given the instruction from the PM to not use the term “Closing the Gaps”, will he renegotiate his purchase agreement with the Ministry of Economic Development?

A: Given that the National Party are making it up again. (Applause). As the National Party discovered when it coined the phrase, the gap between rich and poor has grown hugely under a National Government. I am surprised that the National Party seem so opposed to an egalitarian NZ.

(Max Bradford – he has not answered my question?

Speaker – I am not responsible for the Ministers reply. But it was within terms of the standing order.)

The government knows that regional development policies provide jobs and security to people. My instinct tells me NZers are feeling more secure now about their future than they did in the past.

Q: Is he

A: I find the insinuation that policies are racially based……those who have suffered inequality in this country for a very long time deserve a government that will address those. And they have one.

(Max Bradford – leave to table purchase agreement – granted.)

Question 9.

CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour) to the Minister for Trade Negotiations Jim Sutton:

Q: What is the Government's reaction to the World Trade Organisation disputes panel ruling finding in favour of New Zealand's case against tariffs on lamb imports into the United States?

A: We are delighted with the ruling in our favour it is a credit to officials. The win demonstrates the value of rules based trading systems to a small country like NZ.

Q: What are the next steps?

A: I expect the ruling will be appealed and a decision will be delivered before June. If we are successful the US will be required to lift the tariff.

Q: Does he still consider the US as a bully or a swindler?

A: If the previous government had done better very likely this tariff would have never been applied.

Q: What advice is he taking from the Green Party?

A: The policies of the Green Party in places bear scant resemblance to the government. However they do advocate fairness and egalitarianism.

Q: Will the US be able to string out the appeals process till the end of the tariff period?

A: The US Government has a history of complying with WTO rulings and I expect them to do so in this case.

Q: John Luxton (National): Are there any situations where NZ may be vulnerable for breaches on trading rules?

A: I don’t think it appropriate that I should get up and plead guilty for something for which we have not even been charged.

Question 10.

Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National) to the Minister of Communications Paul Swain:

Q: Has the Government modified its plan to give Maori preferential treatment with respect to the 2 GHz spectrum; if so, in what way?

A: Earlier this year the government decided to set aside some spectrum to be purchased by Maori on a JV basis. This remains our intention. The spectrum will be purchased in a commercial way. We need to remind the opposition that they threw $15 million of spectrum money at Tau Henare and Alamein Kopu. The government wants all NZers to succeed it is a shame the opposition doesn’t.

Q: How many radio station licenses did Mr Williamson give to Maori?

A: I don’t know.

Q: Does the Minister mean that the decision to extend preferential treatment to Maori is based purely on race?

A: No.

Question 11.

NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: What powers of intervention does he have to assist poorly performing schools?

A: Current legislation for assisting poorly performing schools are blunt instruments. There is a very high threshold that means there is often a longstanding dispute before any resolution.

Q: What is he doing about it?

A: Early and useful intervention should be available in the law. I have introduced a bill with a graduated range of responses to problems.

Q: Is he meddling?

A: If a school is putting students education at risk I believe the government has a responsibility to lend a hand. This government will not sit by and let schools decline. If that is not why you have a government then I do not know what the reason is.

Q: Brian Donnelly (NZ First): Could the requirement to prepare an action plan address incompetent principalship?

A: Yes.

Question 12.

GERRY BROWNLEE (National) to the Minister for Accident Insurance Michael Cullen:

Q: What systems were in place from 31 March 1980 to 1 July 1999 by which the Accident Compensation Corporation could ensure an employer who restructured their business received an adjustment from being a first scheme employer to a latter scheme employer?

A: From 1980 to 1999 the IRD acted as agent to collect premiums.

Q: If a business was in existence from prior to 1980, and paid its premiums every year in advance then when did it become an arrears payer, and why has $120 million been taken in double payments?

A: This is a difficult matter that was gone into clearly at the time of the passage of the 1998 changes to the bill. People who have been treated unfairly may have remedies through ACC review procedures or alternatively against their advisors. I am satisfied what the ACC has done is legal from a legal and process point of view.

Q: Have employers paid double?

A: Certainly some believe that is the case. I do not know whether that is true. I do not intend to seek a change in the law at this stage.

Q: What is he doing to ensure small businesses are refunded over-payments?

A: I would like over-payments to be repaid were they occur. Obviously in some cases there can be disputes. The first recourse of those affected would be to ACC review procedures.


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