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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day –14 August

Today's questions of the day concerned: NZ Economic Performance – SOE Profiteering From Power Crisis – National Regional Dev. Flip Flop – CCMAU SOE Leak Inquiry – Teacher Numbers – Ross Armstrong Vs Richard Prebble – ERA Membership – School-Work Bridging Programmes – MMP Review – People’s Bank – NZ Music On Air – Lakes DHB Funding Shortages

Questions Of The Day - Tuesday, 14 August 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.

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

Q: What recent economic data has he received and what do they say about the state of the New Zealand economy?

A: A wealth of data has been released all of it pointing to a broad base of growth in the NZ economy. Unemployment is already at a 13 year low. Labour force participation is at its highest level in 14 years. The trade balance is now showing a stable surplus. Building consents and retail sales are growing.

Q: Bill English (National): What does he have to say to 50% of low income earners who have had no pay increase but face a 6% increase in food prices?

A: First of all I would tell them that the National Party has no policies for them. I would also ask the member to look at household income statistics. He would notice that household income growth has exceeded CPI increases. There are obviously external risks still around the performance of the US and Japanese economies.

Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): Has he seen the Cameron and Co. report that found that the People’s Bank is likely to be of negative value to the economy?

A: The most appropriate answer would be to suggest that the ACT party put their poll rating at the top of their web site.

Q: Rod Donald (Green) What has been done to develop broader economic measures of growth as asked for in the Green budget?

A: My colleague Mr Maharey has been making progress with social indicators. Treasury has produced a report too. Some of the things the Green Party has been asking for have proved difficult to measure.

Question 2.

Rt Hon JENNY SHIPLEY (National) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises Mark Burton:

Q: What reports has he asked for from State-owned electricity companies to assure the public and himself that no State-owned enterprise is profiteering from the power crisis, and what do those reports say?

A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) I receive regular reports from officials. Reports indicate that SOEs are meeting the requirements placed on them.

Q: Given that $900 million more has been paid for electricity in the last two months, than in the same months last year, where has all the money gone?

A: One of the generating companies Mighty River Power is a net buyer of power. Meridian Energy has not been generating extra power as it is a hydro generator and has been conserving water. Genesis operates Huntly at near full capacity and has been making money, but there is a cost as well.

Q: Is there any evidence that suggests that SOEs manipulated lake levels before the crisis?

A: Absolutely not. There is evidence that one private sector company bet on a warm winter and came unstuck.

Q: Will he give a guarantee that if significant profits are made, then those will be rebated back to customers?

A: If everybody expects the extra money paid to be rebated it kind of removes the purpose of having a market in the first place.

Question 3.

GRANT GILLON (Alliance) to the Minister for Industry and Regional Development Jim Anderton:

Q: Has he received any reports which positively support regional development?

A: National Radio reported yesterday that National’s Bill English says that the National Party lost some credibility because of its hands off policy on regional development.

Q: Has he seen any reports that proposed changes in tack are not being well received?

A: The Gisborne Herald reports Mayor John Clark saying that Gisborne is sick of hearing from National debris about regional development.

Q: John Luxton (National): Can he confirm that most of his regional development money has been spent in Wellington and Auckland on expensive consultants?

A: I can confirm that unemployment is at its lowest levels in 13 years and that in Northland it has halved.

Q: What about rail?

A: Rail has an important role to play. We are studying the national rail network and those issues.

Question 4.

Hon TONY RYALL (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: Why has she reportedly pointed the finger at the Crown Company Monitoring Advisory Unit for leaking reports to Rodney Hide, when the independent investigator, David Oughton, has said that the search would take a further 10 days and he had a 50:50 chance of tracing the leak?

A: As long as CCMAU papers are leaked questions will be asked about the role of CCMAU staff in that process.

Q: Will he allow Mr Oughton to interview Ministerial staff about this?

A: I am sure that if he wanted to then there would be no difficulty in that.

Q: Has the leaking compromised the bank?

A: No. A lot of the leaked material was previously released under the OIA. Yesterday a newspaper proudly claimed there was a leak relating to an “exit plan”. This was announced when the bank was announced.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Can he confirm that the more Mr Hide has leaked, the lower the popularity of ACT has gone?

(Speaker – there is no ministerial responsibility for that.)

Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): Will the bank proceed no matter what the facts are?

A: The NZ Post Board is confident about the commercial success of the bank. I note however that ACT support has halved since this campaign began.

Question 5.

HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: How many additional teachers will be available in schools as a result of staffing increases announced earlier in the month and how will these staff be allocated?

A: I am pleased to announce that there will be 380 additional teachers next year. While schools have an ability to decide how to hire them, they will be able to lower class sizes. We have put 540 more teachers into schools in the last two budgets.

Q: How does this differ from the MRG process?

A: Staffing improvements in our case mean just that. No schools will lose teachers under our process as happened under the National Party approach.

Q: Can the Minister confirm that only one application has been received for the returning home grant? And that there has been a low application rate for study grants?

A: From memory one application is not bad when you haven’t advertised yet

(Mallard then apologised for calling Brownlee an “ignorant buffoon” and asked whether an opposition member had hit a fellow member recently.

Winston Peters – there is an allegation of violence. We cannot simply slide by that.

I have already ruled on that.)

I think there are at least 25 additional students at the Wellington College of Education July intake. And schools are really happy. There is a ten part plan in place, and we are now up to part two. I hope that we will get more than one part a year underway once the economy starts growing faster.

Q: Donna Awatere-Huata (ACT): Will he concede that there is a recruitment crisis in rural schools?

A: No.

Q: What about the chronic shortage of teachers in early childhood education?

A: I think that pay parity work will help to attract more teachers to that area.

Q: How has he kept NZEI quiet?

A: The settlement with NZEI is in fact well ahead of inflation for the period.

Question 6.

Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises Mark Burton:

Q: When did the Chairman of New Zealand Post Ltd assure him that he had sought board approval for the decision to issue proceedings against Hon Richard Prebble, and why did he seek that assurance?

A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) As I have advised previously I was informed at approximately 11am on the morning proceedings were initiated. I was advised that this followed board approval at 8am.

Q: Does he consider he has been misled by Dr Armstrong?

A: I was advised that at around 8am on that day board directors were briefed on this, and that papers were lodged at 9am. I received some advice from CCMAU three weeks later (quoted from).

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): In light of the fact that board members deny ever approving this action. And in light of the fact that officials have said that if Mr Armstrong took action without advising board or the minister then he should be sacked, what will he do?

A: No. The board was advised at the 8am meeting. That does not mean that Ministers approve of what was done.

Q: What will he do if it turns out all the directors are right and Dr Armstrong is wrong?

A: If the member can present evidence to that effect we will consider it.

Question 7.

Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (ACT) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: Did Ms Susan Bathgate apply for the job as a member of the Employment Relations Authority; if so, was she interviewed?

A: Yes and yes. She applied to be chief member, and was interviewed. She was not recommended for being the chief member. However she was recommended to be an ordinary member. A further interview was not thought necessary.

Q: How about how much she is being paid? Is she double dipping?

A: I was aware of the position she had and I directed that her remuneration issues should be addressed. I understand there is correspondence about this between her and the department. In the appointment process 40 candidates were short-listed and interviewed. I was not satisfied with the list however. I reviewed the CVs of all candidates. Appointment recommendations were then made by Cabinet to the Governor General.

Q: Can she confirm that this is the first time a Minister has over-ruled a selection committee.

A: No.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First) Is she no more double dipping that David Caygill is?

A: I have no knowledge of Mr Caygill’s positions.

Question 8.

DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: What evidence is there that school-into-work bridging programmes provide opportunities for students to acquire qualifications?

A: 18.7% of school leavers left without qualifications last year. We are working on this with several programmes including the Gateway programme.

Q: How many schools are involved?

A: 24 schools are involved at present. More than 600 students are involved. Wellington’s Mana College recently launched a programme leading to plastics manufacturing qualifications for students.

Q: Does he agree with Trevor Mallard that he is unconcerned with the growing number of drop outs?

A: What he was talking about was the reasons for people leaving school. One reason for young people leaving school is that we have produced more jobs with them.

Q: What about the NCEA?

A: One of the good things about the NCEA is that it will mean that students leave with some qualifications.

(Maurice Williamson – leave sought to table a Dominion article.)

Question 9.

Hon PETER DUNNE (United Future NZ) to the Associate Minister of Justice Margaret Wilson:

Q: What action will the Government take on the recommendations of the Report of the MMP Review Committee’s Inquiry into MMP?

A: Under Standing Order 241 the Government must respond to recommendations within 90 days. We will be complying with this Standing Order.

Q: Will the Government provide for a referendum? And if not why not?

A: The government has not considered in detail its views on this yet. The committee was divided on key issues. The outcome of the review was that it decided it is not time for a change yet, another election should be held first. Attitudes of the public seem to have shifted a little because this is a better working Parliament than the last one.

Q: How can she say that when in a poll 76% of people say they want a referendum? And am I correct in hearing her say that the Government has an open mind on a referendum?

A: This Government always has an open mind on all issues. Also I understand that the committee took into account the survey as well as written submissions.

Q: What electoral system was favoured by submitters?

A: The majority supported MMP. 111 supported MMP, 12 supported FPP and 17 STV.

Question 10.

Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: Does he stand by his comment in regard to the “People’s Bank” that “The new bank will have to stand or fall on its commercial merits.”?

A: Yes.

Q: In light of that statement. Will the government therefore be reconsidering its support in light of advice from CCMAU and Treasury that it is unlikely to be successful?

A: That advice was available at the time the decision was made. It was completely opposed by advice from the NZ Post Board to the Government.

Q: Are there any reports other than those from John Lepper and the NZ Post Board that support the bank proposal?

A: I am confident that there is broad public support for the new bank, and I think that is supported by the fact that those leading the charge against it are falling in the opinion polls.

Q: If the advice of CCMAU and Treasury is insufficient, how much more advice is the government prepared to ignore?

A: The previous government did not follow Treasury advice always either, for example it did not follow advice that changing the level of the pension might constitute a breach of the Super Accord.

Question 11.

MARTIN GALLAGHER(Labour) to the Minister of Broadcasting Marian Hobbs:

Q: What is the Government doing to promote the playing of New Zealand music on commercial radio?

A: I am releasing today a discussion paper on a code calling for a 10% quota which will move to 25% over five years on all formats.

Q: How will the code be developed?

A: With the industry, and by early October.

Q: Has she met with broadcasters and offered tenure renewal and spectrum auctions to keep them quiet on Youth Radio?

A: There have been lots of meetings and negotiations.

Q: Is this a quota?

A: Yes. This is a voluntary quota.

Question 12.

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

Q: Has she or the Ministry of Health responded to the Lakes District Health Board’s refusal to sign the hospital arm component of the Crown Funding Agreement; if not, why not?

A: The Lakes DHB has not refused to sign its funding agreement.

Q: Why has the government refused to accept findings that the Lakes DHB has been underfunded by $6 million?

A: The member is wrong the DHB is working through that review with the MOH.

Q: Why was there a review?

A: Because the previous government had ignored important officials advice that I decided to look into. To date one board has signed and six have agreed. When I became Minister half the sector hadn’t signed and that was the case year after year under National.

Q: How can he say Lakes DHB has not refused to sign when it has?

A: I have read the letter that the DHB wrote to the Ministry. They said they would delay signing till outstanding issues were resolved. There is a difference between delaying and refusing.


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