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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 30 August

Today's questions of the day concerned: Centre For Strategic Studies – E-Learning – Massey Military Studies – Consumer Rights – SOE Power Crisis Profits – Education Website – NZ Post Vs Richard Prebble – Sustainable Farming – LAV IIIs – GE Field Trials – Tranz Rail Negotiations – Spina Bifida.

Questions Of The Day - Thursday, 30 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.

Rt Hon JENNY SHIPLEY (National) to the Defence Minister Mark Burton:

Q: What criteria is the Government using to cease funding the Centre for Strategic Studies?

A: Funding decisions are operational decisions made by the CDF and Secretary for Defence.

Q: Can he confirm that Pearce Reid at Massey University was the same person who was appointed by Major Dodson to two positions.

A: I will be happy to look into that matter.

Q: Has this funding question been raised directly with the Secretary of Defence?

A: Yes. The Secretary of Defence was asked about this at a Select Committee and correctly said there had been no ministerial direction on this. I was not consulted about the decision. I was informed by the Secretary of Defence and the CDF of their decisions.

Q: Keith Locke (Green):Can the Minister remember David Dickens saying anything at variance with National Party policy?

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(Speaker - The minister is not responsible for that.)

Q: Why when it was brought to his attention that money from the Military Studies Institute had been siphoned into a special fund, was the MSI not shut down?

A: I have no direct role in that matter either. In relation to the CSS, advice from the Secretary of Defence came to me on the 8th of August, advice from the CDF was received on August 20th.

Q: Has there been any controversy about the CSS in the past?

A: Yes there was concern at the time of the departure of the previous head of the CSS.

Q: Can he confirm that he and Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff have discussed the matter of the CSS and its future.

A: Early in the year this and many other things were discussed. However I have had no involvement in any decision taken either by the CDF of the Secretary of Defence.

(Richard Prebble – will the minister table documents.

Mark Burton – yes.

Jenny Shipley –leave to table three documents – granted.)

Question 2.

HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: What is the Government doing to develop a co-ordinated approach to e-learning?

A: The Government has established an advisory group. It is chaired by Shona Butterfield of the Open Polytechnic. It will consider how to encourage collaboration among education providers.

Q: Is the government committed to E-Learning?

A: Yes, and we have allocated money for it too.

Question 3.

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

Q: What Government funding has been provided to the Military Studies Institute at Massey University since 1999, and what funding has been budgeted in the 2001/02 financial year?

A: The MSI is based at Trentham. It is responsible for a broad range of educational programmes for members of the armed services. It’s budget this year is $2.5 million.

Q: Given that $2 million is being provided to this at the same time that the budget for the CSS is being cut, can he confirm that the unit is now headed by a person implicated in the infamous Colonel Gordon letter?

A: I am sure the letter and its contents are being properly investigated. In fiscal year 1998-99 the funding for the MSI was $2.9 million. In 1999-2000 it was $2.6 million and in 2000-2001 it was $2.3 million.

Q: Does he have any role at all in the MSI funding?

A: I have no responsibility for the funding of that centre.

Q: Is it not true that the Government is happy to get rid of the CSS because it does not like its advice?

A: The lack of intellectual rigour in papers I have seen from the CSS has not provided useful information for the Defence Ministry.

Q: Keith Locke (Green): Does he not agree that the funding for the MSI would be suitably complemented with funding for a Chair of Peace Studies at a university?

A: That is a suggestion worthy of further consideration.

Q: Ron Mark (NZ First) What about the siphoning of funds into a special account?

A: The matters the member is referring to were the subject of an audit. No wrongdoing was found. The CSS funding is at the decision of the appropriate CEOs. The Trentham training institution is funded for requirements across the armed services.

Q: What is his view on a Select Committee’s comments, quoted, that the depth and range of material provided by the CSS was considerable?

A: My comment on the usefulness of information while I have been minister relates to that period. The period the member is referring to was when Terrence O’Brien was providing good professional leadership in the centre.

Question 4.

PHILLIDA BUNKLE (Alliance) to the Minister of Consumer Affairs Jim Anderton:

Q: What legislative initiatives is he taking to address consumer concerns about the services provided by utilities?

A: I am today introducing the Consumer Protection Bill which extends the protections for consumers to the first time to water, electricity, gas and the Internet.

Q: Why is this necessary?

A: Unfortunately Max Bradford deregulated the electricity market without protecting consumers. The new bill deals with the mess Mr Bradford left the industry in. Under the bill consumers will be able to seek redress from suppliers.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Isn’t the credit for this bill due to Phillida Bunkle? And shouldn’t she be the minister given that her housing problems were no greater than Marian Hobbs?

A: She did lots of good work yes.

Question 5.

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

Q: Have State-owned power generators made increased profits off consumers during the current power crisis; if so, how much?

A: As I said yesterday, all the financial accounts for all the SOEs will be provided to this house at the correct time.

Q: Will he be prepared to provide support to people who cannot afford power or food?

A: State companies have not increased the costs to consumers. By way of an example Mercury Energy has given away more than $1 million in credits to its customers during the power crisis.

Q: Have the SOEs responded to the claims made by the opposition?

A: Yes. Mighty River Power is buying power. Meridian is not generating much due to the low lake levels, and Genesis doesn’t have enough spare to make big profits.

Q: Is it not correct that the Labour Government is collecting profits and denying it like National did?

A: It is correct that the market was built by Max Bradford. I do note that Contact Energy has admitted that it is doing rather well out of this crisis.

Q: Since $1.5 billion extra has been paid since June 1, why won’t he table the figures?

A: I repeat the figures will be tabled when they are required to be under the SOE Act.

Question 6.

Hon BRIAN DONNELLY (NZ First) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: How has the Ministry of Education online learning centre Intranet site, Te Kete Ipurangi, assisted schools?

A: (Steve Maharey on behalf) The website assists schools with curriculum resources. It helps teachers and students. It facilitates debate and it connects teachers.

Q: Is he aware that the examples of several rude anagrams for things like Bill Clinton on the web site (quoted from)?

A: I agree those would not be appropriate material for a school web site.

Q: What has he heard about the quality of the site?

A: The site is internationally recognised. It has been called one of the three best teaching websites in the world.

Q: Is the minister aware of more rude anagrams on the site (quotes another one)? And what will he do to ensure all links on the website are suitable?

A: The government does police this website. However it is usual for websites to be tampered with and it will need to be checked often.

(Brian Donnelly – leave to table anagrams – granted.)

Question 7.

Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises Mark Burton:

Q: In light of his assertions to the House that the New Zealand Post Ltd decision to initiate legal proceedings against Hon Richard Prebble had "board approval" and the chairman "specifically confirmed" such approval, will he read to the House the precise wording in the minutes of the meeting which records such "board approval"?

A: Minutes are quite properly held by the Secretary of the Board. My office has confirmed again that the board was informed of proposed action on the 21st of February, and that there was no opposition or dissension recorded in the minutes.

Q: Has he been refused a copy of the minutes? And if not then will he please read them?

A: There has been no refusal to provide the minutes. I have been provided with the information I requested.

Q: Has anyone other than the opposition alleged the minutes are not fair and accurate?

A: No.

Q: Is he in any way concerned that his failure to obtain he minutes leaves the house and the country with the impression that he is indifferent to the accuracy of his answers to the house?

A: As usual the member is making absurd allegations.

Q: Noting that Dr Cullen has used different expressions than him, does he concede that he has misled the house?

A: No. If the member would care to provide a shred of evidence….(Interrupted.)

(Peter Dunne – The Minister appeared to be quoting from a document.

Mark Burton – I was quoting from my notes.

Richard Prebble – Is he saying he hasn’t got the minutes?

Burton – Yes.)

Question 8.

DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Labour) to the Minister for Rural Affairs Jim Sutton:

Q: What progress is being made on the Sustainable Farming Fund?

A: The fund is providing a positive difference to rural NZ. To date we have approved lots of grants.

Q: Is the fund supporting organic production?

A: The member will be thrilled to learn that nine organic production projects have been funded. These projects are strongly aligned to organic funding via vote agriculture.

Question 9.

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

Q: Can he confirm that in the July 2000 draft Cabinet paper the Chief of Defence Force and the Secretary of Defence recommended the purchase of 55 light armoured vehicles with an option of 50 further vehicles but that following a briefing to him from the Chief of General Staff he provided specific guidance to the Secretary of Defence and the Chief of Defence Force on the range of options to be included in the Cabinet paper, and that the subsequent Cabinet paper did not contain the specific recommendations of the Secretary of Defence and Chief of Defence Force but presented what they had recommended as only an option?

A: I can confirm that the final cabinet paper contained a range of options included the one referred to.

Q: Why did he deny his cabinet colleagues the actual advice of his most senior advisers?

A: I did not deny that advice. That option was included.

Q: Why did the government opt for a single purchase?

A: Because 105 vehicles were necessary to action the plan. And because that was the cheapest option.

Q: Is he telling the house that the options paper did not include the advice from his most senior advisers?

A: On the contrary. It included that as an option. But decisions are ultimately made by cabinet, not by senior officials.

Q: Can he explain the difference between his and Major General Dodson’s recollection of how his briefing came about?

A: There is no conflict. As shown in para 352 of the AG;’s report it says the minister requested a briefing from the CDF who directed Major General Dodson to provide the briefing,

Question 10.

JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Green) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: How many messages has she received from New Zealanders calling on her to ban GE field trials and commercial releases into our environment and what has been her response?

A: I have received 1000s of messages in many forms on this reflecting many sides of the debate.

Q: What is her message to the family who have walked to Wellington and who are with us today in the Gallery?

A: The message is the same as I gave when I met them. And that is that we are seriously listening to the views of Nzers.

Q: When will decisions be made?

A: The government is currently considering in detail the 49 recommendations of the RCGM. We will make a decision by the 31st of October.

Q: How does the PM expect NZ to catch the Knowledge Wave if the surfboard is to be locked up for another two years?

A: To surf the knowledge economy is a very serious issue. And I thank the biotech industry for giving us more time to consider these matters.

Q: Is it possible to have a truly GE free NZ?

A: No. But we understand the message behind the slogan.

Q: What does she think of Keith Locke?

(Speaker – the minister is not responsible for the Green Party.)

Question 11.

BELINDA VERNON (National) to the Minister assisting the Prime Minister on Auckland Issues Judith Tizard:

Q: Has she given any advice to the Prime Minister as to whether the Government will meet the deadline of 31 August for the completion of negotiations with Tranz Rail over access to the Auckland rail corridor; if so, what was that advice?

A: No I haven’t given the PM any advice on this issue.

Q: Given that this is the sixth deadline to be missed. What comfort can she give that the Government will conclude a deal?

A: As it was outlined in the memo of understanding we intended to meet the deadline of tomorrow provided satisfactory terms and conditions can be negotiated, including price. Treasury officials met with Tranz Rail yesterday and will be reporting to an Ad Hoc Cabinet Committee next week. We have missed no deadlines. We are working with Auckland to produce a transport policy that is good for Auckland.

Q: If the government is considering investing in Air New Zealand, is it also considering buying back NZ Rail?

A: We are working region by region, but Auckland’s needs are considered urgent.

Q: What advice will she give to Auckland about this?

A: Auckland Mayors are focussing on the elections now. The Britomart contract does not have to be let till early October so we have plenty of time.

Question 12.

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

Q: What action is being taken to reduce the incidence of spina bifida in New Zealand?

A: Work is being done across party lines to enrich bread with folic acid to prevent spina bifida. Agreement on this was shown yesterday on Folate Awareness Day. Increasing the amount of folate in women’s diets is expected to reduce the number of cases of spina bifida by 50%-70%. The Green Party have worked with other parties in Parliament to prepare an agreement to be considered by bakers.

Q: Why is this being held up?

A: The Greens have signed the letter. NZ First and United Future have not signed the letter.

Q: Can she confirm that we wanted a nutrition campaign next year and support for information that whole grain breads already have high folate levels?

A: Yes. Two, four, six, eight folate!


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