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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 31 July

Today's questions of the day concerned: Royal GM Commission x 3 - Power Crisis – Super Policy - Undermining The People’s Bank – Whaling – Charitable Status Definition – League Tables For Primary Schools – Tertiary Education Funding – DPB And Teenagers – Lakeland Health Funding

Questions Of The Day - Tuesday, 31 July 2001

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.

MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour) to the Minister for the Environment Marian Hobbs:

Q: What action is the Government taking in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification?

A: We are analysing the report closely. We will take time to make a full response to the report by 31st of October. Guiding our consideration will be acknowledgment of the effort taken by the Commission to be balanced. We will not allow the health and safety of NZers to be compromised in the pursuit of a balanced economy.

Q: Does she agree with the report?

A: I said at the beginning that we will take till the 31st of October to decide on our response. In addition to the submissions received, there was a public opinion survey and several hui. This was a wide ranging report.

Q: When will the moratorium be lifted?

A: The government has made a commitment of trust to the community. We stated that the moratorium would last till the 31st of August and we will keep our commitment.

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Q: What was the basis of her statement this morning that it would be another five years to see crops grown in NZ?

A: The basis for my response was what I had heard from the scientific community about applications presently in the pipe line at present for commercial release of GM organisms.

Question 2.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National) to the Minister for the Environment Marian Hobbs:

Q: Will the Government extend the moratorium on field trials of genetically modified organisms beyond 31 August 2001; if so, how?

A: We will make an announcement on that by the 31st of August.

Q: How credible is this government when it has had the moratorium in place for most of its term?

A: The government has built up trust over a wide range of groups on this issue. We said the moratorium would last till the 31st and we will keep that commitment.

Q: Will she extend the moratorium?

A: No decision will be made till we release it on the 31st of August.

Q: Has she got any feedback from the industry?

A: No I have had no direct approach from the industry on the moratorium. We will be talking over it during the next three weeks.

Q: Nick Smith (National): How can the government be credible at the Knowledge Wave Conference after spending $6 million on an inquiry

A: Commissioners had the role of reflecting reading and writing. It is now the government’s role, and it will take till the 31st of October, to deal with the detail of the recommendations.

Question 3.

JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Green) to the Minister for the Environment Marian Hobbs:

Q: Does she stand by her statement regarding genetic engineering that "we don't want any risks to the environment and we don't want any risks to human safety. So you set up conditions not so much to minimise, but to prevent [risk]."?

A: I stand by the sentiment in the statement, but on reflection I would replace the word “risk” with the expression “damage to the environment.”

Q: What about CFC’s and DDT, we didn’t know they were damaging till it was too late?

A: I accept they are issues of debate here. However science is moving on this subject faster every day. And therefore giving us more information on which to make safety decisions.

Q: What did the public survey say about public sentiment?

A: It said that many saw advantages of GM in medicine and pest management . On the other hand a majority saw disadvantages of uses in processed foods. The document makes very interesting reading and I commend it to the public. I am concerned about damages to the environment.

Q: Will she assure us that she will not make political compromises with the Greens on this?

A: We take the report seriously, and will report on our response on the 31st of October.

Q: What about GE free honey? How can we tell bees not to visit GE crops?

A: No. I have difficulty with Bees and Varroa mites.

Question 4.

PANSY WONG (National) to the Minister of Energy Pete Hodgson:

Q: Does he stand by his reported statements last week that New Zealand is not facing an electricity crisis and that claims of a crisis were too strong?

A: Yes I do. In early June we said the chances of a crisis were there. Recently we entered a more serious period as reserves of lake electricity fell to 1300 gigawatt hours and we need to act to avert a crisis. The National Government did not acknowledge the problem last time till we reached 500 giga-watt hours, by which time we had a real crisis. Right now we have an approaching crisis. We have the prospect of a crisis.

Q: When the Minister asks the nation to save electricity, can the nation be assured that the State Owned Generators have not been profiteering from high prices. And will he disclose the level of profits they have made?

A: Relatively little of the market is traded in the spot market. One of the major generators is presently a net buyer of electricity.

(Speaker – (to Gerry Brownlee) when you are talking about putting hands in people’s pockets you are talking about theft. You should apologise.

Roger Sowry – I think you haven’t heard the comment correctly. The Minister was accused of having his hands in consumers pockets. And that is precisely the debate that is going on around the country.

Speaker – the member is probably partially right. And I will accept his word in that regard. He is however out of order to be interjecting.)

A: The underlying reason for prices going up is lake levels falling. There is one thing that I can do and that needs the passage of the electricity bill presently before the house.

Q: Why did he turn the generators on in Parliament when he could have taught people in this complex to use less electricity.

A: The generators will displace 20% of our consumption. This complex is however energy efficient already, so much so that it received an EECA prize for energy efficiency last year.

Question 5.

MARK PECK (Labour) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: Has he received any further suggestions on the future of superannuation policy?

A: I have seen a report that we should set up a committee to discuss multi-party agreement on the cutting of entitlements. We will not discuss the proposed National Party’s Super Authority because it is a Trojan horse to smuggle in a policy of cutting the pension, just as the Nats have done three times before.

Q: Will he agree that he is wrong when he says that his super fund secures the pensions of old people?

A: No I won’t.

Q: John Wright (Alliance): Why is the bill in three parts.

A: Because each part is essential. Part one sets entitlements. Part two sets up the fund to pay for them. And Part three is a key to political stability allowing parties to sign up to parts one and two.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Is he borrowing all the money. And why are we borrowing and hoping?

A: He has now admitted that the real reason to hold talks is to discuss the cutting of pensions. Thanks for being honest.

Q: Did he see a report that NZ Post’s super fund took a bath, and lost 15%, and that the medium performance for many other super funds was close to 0% gains.

A: When economies slow down the rates of return on funds decrease. But does he suggest that noone should ever invest in equities?

Q: What stability is there in a proposal based on the support of NZ First who want something completely different to what is being enacted?

A: I would rather have had the honest support of NZ First, than the support of a National Party that has broken every promise it has ever made to superannuants.

Question 6.

RODNEY HIDE (ACT) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: Given the Deputy Prime Minister's reported comments yesterday in relation to the suggestion that Government officials may be involved in undermining the bank that "I will certainly be asking questions", is he aware of any members of the Deputy Prime Minister's office undermining the People's Bank?

A: No.

Q: How can he say that when he has advice that Jim Anderton breached the securities regulations when he mentioned the issuing of redeemable preference shares to fund the bank on the Holme’s show?

A: That proposal was never proceeded with and how that relates to the principle question is a mystery to me.

Q: What about MPs setting out to make an SOE fail by leaking material?

A: If the member succeeds in selectively leaking material till he destroys the People’s Bank as he claims then the victims will be the taxpayers.

Q: Will the government release the legal advice it was given about the Deputy PM’s comments on financing the bank?

A: Speaking on the Holme’s show may break the law of good taste. But I am no lawyer and cannot comment on the other matter.

Question 7.

PHILLIDA BUNKLE to the Minister of Conservation Sandra Lee:

Q: What were the key outcomes of the recent meeting of the International Whaling Commission she attended?

A: The key outcomes were unfortunately that we failed in our bid to establish a whale sanctuary. The 75% majority was not obtained. However 60% was achieved. There was controversy about vote buying by Japan and Iceland failed in its bid to get representation. There was also a concession that the population of Minke whales in the South Pacific is a lot lower than previously thought. With the continued recruitment of pro-whaling nations by Japan the prospects of the sanctuary being achieved at future meetings are not great . However a large proportion of the zone belongs within the EEZs of South Pacific Nations, some of whom have declared whaling free zones within those areas.

Q: Does she believe she is now pathetic to have failed? As she accused National of being?

A: I consider the former National Government’s conservation endeavours in general to have been pathetic. We successfully sponsored resolutions on the dangers of Persistent Organic Pollutants to whales.

Q: Why has the Minister not acknowledged in all her spin on this, that this sanctuary was proposed by the National Party in 1998?

A: I have acknowledged multi-party support.

Question 8.

Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: If the purpose of the Tax and charities document is to find out "people's views on a 400 year definition" of "charitable purpose", as she told the House last week, what aspects of the definition of "charitable purpose" does her Government believe could be out of date?

A: The preamble includes as examples of charitable purposes “the marriage of poor maids”, the language if not the application is a little outdated.

Q: Which of the purposes are out of date? And when will she explain how she intends to change the definition?

A: I am amazed at the length the National Party will go to protect a 400 year old law. The discussion document asks whether people consider the definition is too wide. What is wrong with that? This is a discussion document. It asks questions. Can I suggest the National Party applies it’s minuscule intellect to addressing them.

Q: Will she provide an assurance to Education charities about their status?

A: We are a strong supporter of charities.

Q: Given that the definition has been developed in case law, what cases will be overridden?

A: The discussion document merely says that there may be problems with the definition. Who knows if there are? That is why we are asking the question.

Q:: Can she provide an assurance that John Shewan’s concerns will not be given life?

A: I have no responsibility to Mr Shewan.

Question 9.

HELEN DUNCAN to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: Does he view league tables as the optimum way of comparing student performance across New Zealand; if not, why not?

A: No. League tables focus on assessment as the end result rather, than as a diagnostic tool. That is why we reject the school-cert-for-eight-year-olds approach of the National Party. We do however support national standards testing. We have committed $28 million to assessment programmes. New tools out today will help students to make progress. To my mind this is the correct method of assessment.

Question 10.

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (National) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: Are media reports accurate that the Government is standing firm behind its offer to tertiary institutions of a 2.6% funding increase for next year in return for a freeze on fees and that extra funding for centres of research excellence is conditional on acceptance of the offer?

A: Yes.

Q: Can I ask him then what his response is to papers from Lincoln University which says that the money does not cover the shortfalls even nearly.

A: My response is to say that under National funding in this sector decreased, and that under us it has increased.: The opposition spokesman may like to think of himself as an evangelist. But he should get with the programme. We are increasing investment in this sector.

Q: Are fee rises of 27% threatened?

A: I am extremely optimistic that we will get fee stability for next year.

Q: How can cutting funding for PTEs contribute to a Knowledge economy?

A: This so called attack on them has not resulted in one single complaint from the Private Education sector.

Q: Does he think vice-chancellors have calmed down yet?

A: Watch this space. We will get a fee stabilisation deal.

(Leave to table an agenda item from Lincoln University – granted.)

Question 11.

LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: What reports has he received on the relationship between teenage birth rates and the domestic purposes benefit?

A: Recent research shows that teenage birth rates have fallen since the DPB was introduced. These are the facts that those on the right choose to ignore. In a recent editorial the NZ Herald pointed this out. The facts speak for themselves. I agree with the herald. Teenage birth rates are being used as a scapegoat.

Q: Bob Simcock (National): Does that mean he now endorses the conclusions of Helen Wilson that a number of studies show that outcomes for teenagers are improved by giving birth.

A: Teenage mothers tend to stay on the DPB longer than the average recipient who is a women in her 30s. However I know the member will never let the facts get in the way of his attempts to demonise young mothers.

(Gerry Brownlee – he should have to apologise.

Speaker – I do not think the word demonise has been ruled out before in this house.)

Q: Peter Dunne (United NZ): What incentives are in place for young mothers to come off the DPB?

A: The main incentives range from the Compass programme, a very good policy that we are going to expand, to the recently launched school in Rotorua.

Q: Sue Bradford (Green): Is the government planning on continuing a sanctions regime to get people off the benefit rather than valuing parenting for its contribution to society.

A: No. We want to move away from work testing to a more positive, opportunity based approach to benefits. In the US punitive sanctions did not work. While some people came off benefits they came off them and went into poverty.

Question 12.

Hon ROGER SOWRY (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: (Michael Cullen on behalf) In light of the finding of an independent study that Lakes District Health Board is underfunded by around $6 million, will she immediately provide the board with increased funding; if not, why not?

A: The independent study was approved by the Minister of Health. Lakeland Health has had problems for years. In a recent editorial we were complemented for opening up health meetings to the public.

Q: What will he do about the planned cuts in services?

A: The report finds that there has been underfunding for years. The board and the ministry will work on that.

Q: What about clinical safety?

A: The community has been assured that safety is a clear objective of the board and its staff.

Q: Does she think that her inability to obtain funds for Lakeland over the last two years has had a negative affect on that board?

A: I am advised that the Minister thinks the problem started under the previous government.


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