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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 29 August

Today's questions of the day concerned: Prison Strike – Army LAV Conspiracy x 2 – DHB Elections – Dinner Defence Discussions – INCIS – NZ Post Vs Richard Prebble - LAV IIIs Cost Blowout – Oil And Petrol Pollution – SOE Profits And The Power Crisis – Peace Keepers In The Middle East – Investing In Air New Zealand.

Questions Of The Day - Wednesday, 29 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.

JANET MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of State Services Trevor Mallard:

Q: What progress, if any, has there been on the prison industrial relations situation since mid-August?

A: No progress has been made since mid August. Stop work meetings have been held. Although the action is described as low level it is also corrosive. Reports indicate the Corrections Association is considering extending their action indefinitely. This is not sustainable. If current actions continue, management say they will have no option other than to suspend the staff involved.

Q: When will a settlement be made? And is the army ready?

A: It is very hard to indicate when a settlement is likely. The police and army have been training. They are ready. However the actions of the prison officers is corrosive and if it continues for much longer it will interfere with the training for forces bound for Timor.

Q: Is management planning to lock out prison officers?

A: This is entirely in the hands of the officers. One of the unions has decided to take a non-negotiable stance in this dispute. Management may be left with no option other than to use provisions available under the ERA. I hope it doesn’t come to that.

Question 2.

OWEN JENNINGS (ACT) to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:

Q: How many times has he met in his office the Chief of Defence Force and does he believe that the Chief of Defence Force has had an acceptable level of access to him as Minister?

A: I have met with the CDF on average once a week, mostly in my office?

Q: Can he deny that in his first six months as Minister he had less than three one to one meetings? And if so how many meetings did he have?

A: I think I can, but I do not have the exact figures here.

Q: Is the CDF happy about his access?

A: Yes. Earlier this year he said so.

(Rodney Hide – leave to table written questions – refused.)

Question 3.

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

Q: In light of her comments that it was outrageous for Kit Richards to engage in highly political activity while a State employee and her comment that he had engaged in "guerrilla warfare", are the same standards expected of the Army?

A: Yes. I do not expect the Army to be involved in any warfare without Government approval.

Q: Does she consider the allegations made by David Dickens that Army personnel were leaking information to an inner group in the opposition aimed at knocking down the F16 proposal as guerilla warfare?

A: I would observe that Mr Dickens appears to be the recipient of buckets full of leaks that he passes on to Max Bradford. The letter written by Lieutenant Colonel Gordon is presently being examined by legal staff and a formal investigation may follow.

Q: In light of the investigation into the Gordon letter, does she support a Select Committee Inquiry into this matter?

A: I am aware that the Committee at the time was chaired by Derek Quigley, and I think he was more than capable of seeing through any manipulation.

Q: Does she think it is strange that the National Party appears to only be opposed to equipping our armed forces with equipment usable for peace keeping?

A: I fully understand Air Force officers feeling a sense of regret at some Government policies. However I understand they are loyally implementing those policies.

Q: Will she deny that she met two Army Generals to discuss detailed costings to knock down the F16 proposal?

A: I am not aware that those people had such information. I did not discuss such information with them. And I can tell you the information the Government eventually got was only got after considerable work by Treasury and Derek Quigley.

Question 4.

DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Labour) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: How many candidates have been nominated for the first elections to district health boards?

A: At the latest count there were 1090 nominations for 147 vacancies. Clearly the number of candidates is a victory for democracy.

Q: Has the Minister seen any reports about predictions about nominations.

A: Yes. In the Dominion on August 22nd Roger Sowry asked whether NZers would be bothered standing.

Q: Will the Minister be more willing to listen more to pleas for extra funding from elected members.

A: The minister is willing to listen to both elected and appointed members.

Question 5.

Hon MAX BRADFORD (National) to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:

Q: What was discussed at his dinner with senior army officers, including Major General Dodson, on 15 February 2000 at the Wellington Club?

A: The dinner was a chance to meet Wellington based officers. I had just returned from East Timor, so we discussed that. We also discussed family connections and martial arts.

Q: Were any of the matters contained in the Gordon letter discussed at the dinner?

A: No. I became aware of that document yesterday. My view is that it is a foolish document and certainly I did not discuss it over that dinner. I also have dinner and lunch with Naval and Air Force personnel.

Q: Was this dinner a unique occasion, or has he had lots of dinners with Army officers?

A: I have had occasional dinners with various officers from all three of the services.

Q: Ron Mark (NZ First): Does he recall a meeting with General Dodson in his office after receiving advice from the CDF which the General himself appears to have no recollection of?

A: I do recall the meeting. Although the member’s telling of the sequence of events is incorrect. I requested a further report from the CDF. That briefing took place with another officer than General Dodson.

Q: Now he has described the Colonel Gordon letter as foolish, will he be seeking his resignation?

A: I did not describe it as an official document. Last evening when I tasked the CDF with inquiring into this matter they agreed to do so. I do not hire and fire Lieutenant Colonels. The CDF will provide advice once he has the facts at his disposal.

Question 6.

MAHARA OKEROA (Labour) to the Minister of State Services Trevor Mallard:

Q: In light of Dr Francis Small's report on the INCIS project, what steps has he taken to improve monitoring of information technology projects in the public service?

A: In April the government indicated it would accept all the recommendations in Dr Small’s report. Today I am releasing new guidelines to Government Departments. Issuing guidelines is one way of helping departments, but broader strategies and skilled people are also needed.

Q: Will the guidelines modernise the Public Sector? And will new projects contain proper project management disciplines?

A: That is the objective.

Q: Nandor Tanczos (Green): Will this include the offender management system for the Department of Corrections?

A: If it is a project were purchasing has not occurred yet then the answer is yes.

Question 7.

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

Q: In light of his statements to the House that he had received reports on the minutes of the New Zealand Post Ltd board meeting at which "board approval" was given to issue proceedings against Hon Richard Prebble, what specific words in the board minutes record the approval of the board to this action?

A: The board minutes of 21 February and 21 March have been approved as . I do not hold the minutes or any other SOE minutes.

Q: When will he take the allegations about this matter seriously.

A: The advice I have is from the Company Secretary and I have to accept his word in that regard. I have received no advice from any director that the minutes of 21 February or March are incorrect.

Q: Why given that he has had four hours to answer this question why has he not got the minutes?

A: Far from treating the house with contempt I have tried to provide further information.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): As he has had a statement from Bill English and myself that we have been told by directors that there was no meeting, does he not accept that he has an obligation to check the minutes himself?

A: Far from being indifferent I have confirmation from the Company Secretary that the minutes are accurate.

Q: Has he asked the Chairman or questioned the other directors, as asked to do so by this house?

A: I have raised the matter with the Company Secretary. I have further confirmed the information with the Chair of NZ Post.

Question 8.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (NZ First) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: When did the Minister of Defence or any other Minister or official first tell her there was to be an escalation in costs of around $488 million from $212 million to around $700 million for the purchase of the LAV111s, and what was her response?

A: I understand the history is as follows. In June 2000 we were advised the cost would significantly exceed the $212 million allocated. I would have been made aware in the lead up to a cabinet committee meeting in September about this.

Q: Why then did they go ahead with this purchase regardless of the cost blowout?

A: It was clear before the election even that the $212 million was not enough for the required number of vehicles. I have a minute from before the election in which Max Bradford asked for $487 million for the purchase of 127 vehicles.

Q: What has been the major factor leading to cost increases?

A: The cost is affected by movements in the exchange rate. Hedging contracts are now in place to prevent cost increases from that source.

Q: How can we have any confidence in the final cost figures given they have been provided by the same people who mucked this up before?

A: As the member would be aware there are a number of players involved in this.

Q: Does the PM find it acceptable, given that the tender closed in December 1999, that the Minister of Defence was not told of the cost blowout till June 2000, and that she was not told till September 2000?

A: It is clear that Ministers were not advised of some things at the time they should have been.

Q: Does she agree that there was a massive escalation in another defence project, project Sirius?

A: I do not want to blame the past government for this. There are always cost blowouts, it seems, in defence projects.

Question 9.

GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Energy Paul Swain:

Q: What steps is the Government taking to minimise the level of pollutants in New Zealand's petrol and diesel products?

A: After a significant review of the rules we have released a discussion document on options for change.

Q: When can the public expect to see results?

A: We are proposing two stage implementation. Stage one is proposed to happen by 2003-4. Stage two in 2006-7.

Q: Why has the 2005 deadline been delayed for two years?

A: If National had done something about this we would have hit the targets earlier.

Q: Can he confirm that poorly tuned engines are part of the problem? And can he confirm the cost at around $170 million?

A: Yes on tuning. On costs, the cost of change has not been determined yet.

Q: Will he consider using a tax differential to speed up the transition?

A: The full range of submissions will be taken into account by the government.

Question 10.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises Mark Burton:

Q: What reports has he requested or received about the effects of the electricity crisis on the profits of the Government-owned electricity companies?

A: I receive regular reports on all SOEs.

Q: Why then has he refused 10 times to answer questions in this house on this?

A: As previously indicated, audited accounts will be tabled when available as proscribed in the SOE Act.

Q: Has he seen any SOE initiatives relevant to this?

A: SOEs are making a number of steps to increase capacity in the future.

Q: Is he telling us he hasn’t received any reports on these profits?

A: No. I have unaudited reports received under an obligation of confidence. To receive information without proper confirmation would be wrong. There is a provision under the Act and I will comply with it.

Q: Does he plan to invest SOE profits in alternative energy projects?

A: I can confirm that my colleague the Minister of Energy is actively encouraging a wide range of alternative energy measures.

Question 11.

KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Jim Sutton:

Q: Has the Government been supporting attempts in the United Nations Security Council to establish a United Nations observer force in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza to protect the Palestinian people?

A: NZ continues to support all initiatives to restore calm in the region. Our mission in New York has been attending a meeting of the Security Council on this which, on the last report, was deadlocked over what to do.

Q: What is the Government doing about the assassination and collective punishment policies of Israel?

A: My colleague Phil Goff has made our position clear on a number of occasions. We deplore the violence. We encourage the parties to follow the Mitchell Report. A return to negotiations is inevitable and should take place as soon as possible.

Q: If peace keepers were approved, would the government send NZers?

A: We would certainly consider contributing to a peace keeping force, but first there must be a peace to keep.

Q: Rodney Hide (ACT) Did the government seek to establish an observer force in Afghanistan?

A: I don’t know.

Q: Given the government is supporting efforts in the UN, is it also encouraging the US to redouble its diplomatic efforts in the region?

A: I am not briefed on that matter but I imagine the government is supportive of the US in everything it is doing.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First) Having regard to government precedent did we send observers to Cambodia to protect the people against Pol Pot?

A: No.

Q: What is the government doing to support the withdrawal of Israel’s forces from occupied Palestine as required by UN resolutions?

A: We are making all the diplomatic efforts within our power.

(Rodney Hide - Leave to table an article by Keith Locke on Afghanistan – refused

Winston Peters - Leave to table an article by Keith Locke on Pol Pot – refused.)

Question 12.

BELINDA VERNON (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: Is the Government considering underwriting or investing in Air New Zealand, rather than allowing commercial interests to invest in the company; if so, why?

A: Government has made no decisions yet, and will not be able to do so until the company is clear about its business plan and capital requirements.

Q: Will the government procrastinate further?

A: The member should not believe the Dominion or the NZ Herald. The fact that Air New Zealand has delayed its financial statements does not suggest that the government is responsible for that.

Q: Has the government delayed its decision timetable?

A: No the timetable is dictated by Air New Zealand and to a lesser extent Singapore.

Q: Why did the Government not make BIL sell the shares it is not entitled to hold in Air New Zealand last year?

A: Whether or not BIL sells its shares has no impact on recapitalisation of Air New Zealand. Share sales by shareholders do not capitalise companies. The overriding interest of the Government in this matter is to ensure the survival of Air New Zealand as a strong brand and preserving New Zealand’s international carriage rights.

Q: What assurance can he give the Government will not risk taxpayer dollars?

A: I find it difficult to give an answer consistent with the public interest on this. However to repeat the PMs comments it is not the government’s preference to invest.


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