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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day –11 October

Today's questions of the day concerned: Air New Zealand – Tertiary Education – Air New Zealand – Fashion Textiles And Clothing – PPTA Strike – NZ Authors Fund – Wellington X-rays – Air Force Redundancies – Mobile Phone Regulation – Cancer Treatment Equipment – Marian Hobbs Achievements – Community Housing For Mentally Disabled

:Questions Of The Day - Thursday 11 October 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.

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

Q: Did she receive a letter from the Acting Chairman of Air New Zealand, Dr Jim Farmer, dated 3 August in which he expressed concern that the Government had “embarked on a high-risk and speculative course that had the danger of putting the Air New Zealand group at risk”, and warned that he would be failing in his duty if he did not bring to the Government’s attention “the seriousness of this situation and the grave financial risk faced by Air New Zealand Limited as a result of the current uncertainties”; if so, what actions did she or her Ministers take as a result of this warning?

A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) Yes. Air NZ was concerned that the Qantas proposal would frustrate the plans. Therefore we carried on discussions in parallel. Accordingly there is no way the discussions delayed anything.

Q: If a letter using these terms wasn’t enough, what should the Chairman have done?

A: In Para 3 of the letter there is thanks given to officials. The rest of the letter is based on the assumption that there was a delay due to the Qantas discussions. This was incorrect. The Air NZ board took considerable time before it agreed with its own management’s view.

Q: Why should the public not believe Sir Selwyn Cushing on TV?

A: As gently as I can let me say I think that Sir Selwyn is the single person who is most responsible for the loss in shareholder value in Air NZ. Crown negotiators were always prepared to meet earlier than Air NZ was, so it is wrong to say the government delayed anything. On the 20th of June Garry Toomey advised that the situation of the airline was not precarious.

Q: Is this the same Selwyn Cushing who raised funds for the Labour and National parties?

A: I do not recall his fund raising for the Labour Party, though I do recall his fund raising for the National Party.

Q: How come he is the only person who thinks he did nothing wrong?

A: I have never claimed that. Though as I am speaking on behalf of the PM I should be careful about answering that question.

(John Carter – will he table the letter from Dr Farmer

Michael Cullen – I see no reason not to.

Richard Prebble – will he also table the advice from Garry Toomey..

Speaker – that is not an official document.

Richard Prebble – excuse me, this is clearly an official document.

Speaker – I will look at this further and report back.)

Question 2.

H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: What initiatives has the Government undertaken to assist institutions to adapt to a changing tertiary education environment?

A: I have written to all tertiary institutions inviting them to apply for a $35 million strategic change fund.

Q: Is there a need for strategic change?

A: There certainly is. Though I note that Bill English recently dismissed the idea of the Knowledge Economy to Canterbury directors. The fund offers institutions an opportunity to respond to challenges in this area.

Q: Maurice Williamson (National): What is he doing to assist vice-chancellors to deal with massive pay claims next year?

A: What we have done in particular is to stop the year by year cuts that his government put in place.

Question 3.

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

Q: Did she or any of her Ministers receive a letter approximately ten days after the letter of 3 August, signed by each of the directors of Air New Zealand, urging the Government “to accept that, while Air New Zealand will work constructively and expeditiously with your newly introduced process, Government must also do its part by placing a realistic limit on the duration of this process”; if so, what action did she or her Ministers take?

A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) The Government was seized by a necessity to deal with a date of September 6th. From mid August delays started to mount up from Air New Zealand’s side.

Q: Why did he continue to promise a long due-diligence process then?

A: We didn’t. The member is completely wrong in that respect.

Q: When did Air NZ clarify its capital requirements.

A: As late as 20th of August crown negotiators were still asking for information on this. The company never responded.

Q: Did the government not sign a confidentiality agreement till 4 October?

A: No. No. No. No. And No.

Q: Is this totally unacceptable to taxpayers?

A: Due to the incompetence of the board under Selwyn Cushing this airline got into serious trouble. Now the taxpayers are having to rescue it.

Q: Bill English (National) When will he realise he is wrong? And that it is his fault that this is costing so much?

A: We did agree to lift the cap. We were seeking a national interest package in response. Subsequently it turned out that the airline could not be recapitalised under the terms agreed.

Question 4.

WILLIE JACKSON (Alliance) to the Minister for Industry and Regional Development Jim Anderton:

Q: What is the Government doing to support the development of the fashion, textiles, clothing and footwear industries?

A: Yesterday I chaired an industry steering group meeting at Vogel House. I met with them to create more sustainable jobs in this industry. Industry NZ has gathered info on the sector and its possibilities for growth.

Q: What is the Government doing?

A: Industry NZ is a major sponsor of NZ Fashion Week. Industry NZ is also participating in apparel export workshops with TradeNZ. What is wrong with that?

Q: John Luxton (National): Given the record low level of confidence in this Government, what were the barriers to growth identified in yesterday’s meeting?

A: The most significant barrier was the previous National Government and its record of non-participation with industry. This industry has a very positive long term future. This compares with advice from a former National cabinet Minister who advised them to leave the industry.

Q: What are the implications of the Hong Kong trade agreement on this industry?

A: No one at the meeting raised any of those issues as being significant to the industry. They were interested in the high quality end of the market. It was a very, very positive meeting I can assure the member.

(John Luxton – leave to table a press statement from Jim Anderton on barriers to growth – granted)

Question 5.

GERRY BROWNLEE (National) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: Does he see any irony in the fact that his Government today is reliant on non-union labour to keep secondary schools open, and when will he ensure that secondary schools return full attention to students?

A: (Steve Maharey on behalf) I am very unhappy that the PPTA has chosen to strike so close to exams.

Q: Does he feel any embarrassment that it would take a very long time for a teacher to earn the $1.8 million his government has provided to pay out the CEO of Air NZ?

A: No. The School Trustees Association says that all schools are open and 26% of teachers are in schools, ensuring the safety of pupils.

Q: Why is he belittling teacher’s claims while spending $1 billion on transport?

A: This minister is minister at a time when a very reasonable offer is on the table. He hopes this will be settled.

Q: Has the PPTA got what they voted for?

A: What they have got is a very reasonable offer.

Question 6.

SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Judith Tizard:

Q: What action is she taking on the expert report and recommendations for the reform of the Author Fund which were delivered to the Government over 10 months ago?

A: The final version of the review of the fund was provided on the 28th of November 2000. It has 8 recommendations. The government is considering policy options in response to the recommendations.

Q: Given the value of the fund has fallen by so much when will something be done?

A: Since the fund was introduced the book rate has varied from $1.33 to $1.76. The average payment increased between 1999 and 2000. We are doing our best to recognise authors for the important role they play.

Q: What is the problem?

A: One recommendation was that the funding should be linked to inflation. That would expose the government to fiscal risk and set a difficult precedent about cultural funding.

Question 7.

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

Q: Are media reports correct that thousands of Wellingtonians may not get x-rays and scans if the Capital and Coast Health radiology service reduces its volumes by as much as 30 percent, as proposed by the hospital and health service general manager; if not, why not?

A: CCHB released a press release on October 5 saying that his board was making good progress in solving a difficult problem. He said that a shortage of radiologists was the problem.

Q: Has he seen comments saying the health system is crumbling and does not value its staff?

A: We do value our staff. We are trying to fix a system that has been crumbling. It will take time but we are well underway.

Question 8.

RON MARK (NZ First) to the Defence Minister Mark Burton:

Q: What role did the Chief of Air Staff take in the redundancy or discharge notices given on Monday to the first of this year’s 350 air force personnel expected to lose their jobs?

A: (Phil Goff on behalf) The chief of Air Staff had overall responsibility for this. Prior to the issuing of the letters he personally briefed all staff on the changes.

Q: Was it appropriate for him to be overseas at an air show on the day of the redundancy notices?

A: At the time the COAS left all the plans had been completed. His absence had no material affect on the process therefore.

Q: Is the downsizing the first reduction in airforce personnel?

A: Under the last National Government the Air Force lost 1200 positions. The Armed Service as a whole lost more than 3000 positions. This is classic example of double standards.

Q: How can he explain how it was appropriate for him to approve an overseas trip to an airshow at the time.

A: The COAS, who is an honourable person, personally briefed every member of the Air Force prior to the discharge notices being issued. I would also point out that of the uniformed redundancies, only 20 of the 350 positions were compulsory redundancies.

(ACT Leader Richard Prebble was then ejected from the house after claiming that the Minister lied about something to do with a Select Committee. He was ejected after he refused to withdraw his comments. After challenging the speaker, he was “named”– a very serious censure by the house – the house voted along party lines to “name” Mr Prebble, which is not the normal course of matters. The Government and the Greens voted in favour and the Opposition against.

A debate over whether this was appropriate then ensued. Peter Dunne from United Future suggested the motion be re-put.

Michael Cullen – you sir were challenged by the member. I for one was very surprised the National Party voted against the motion.

Roger Sowry – I have watched Labour vote against the naming of a member on at least one occasion. So it is not as unique as the Leader of the house implies. I think this answer illustrates the combination of frustration experienced by opposition members. Ministers start answers in a way that is provocative. The opposition has tried not to take points of order at every answer.

Speaker – there comes a point in time when one goes to far. That was what I judged had happened.

Ron Mark – as a relatively new member in this chamber I seek your guidance. At times when one is subjected to a reply that one seriously questions. Could you please reflect on how such frustrations could lead to disorder. What sort of mockery would there be if every member of this side of the house were named.

Speaker – this is the first person I have ever named as Speaker. I considered it very carefully before I did it.

Max Bradford – leave sought to reconsider the motion just put – refused.

Ron Mark – I would like a second supplementary.

Rodney Hide - I would like to be helpful. I have submitted written questions that have not been answered for more than four weeks. I just say sir that it would help if you were even more rigorous about getting written questions answered. I did thank you for your efforts, but the answers I have received are simply that there has been insufficient time to prepare answers.)

Q: Ron Mark (NZ First): Is the reason the Minister did not tell COAS not to go because he would not be prepared not to go either?

A: I imagine the reason was two-fold. Firstly he had fulfilled his responsibilities. Secondly the meeting was an opportunity for the chiefs of staff from around the region to meet. It was not simply an air show.

Question 9.

ALEC NEILL (National) to the Minister of Communications Paul Swain:

Q: Has he received any reports from the Ministry of Economic Development opposing the regulation of mandatory cellular roaming and co-location of cellular equipment; if so, why has he chosen not to accept that advice?

A: Yes. However the government is keen on competition. This government does not always follow the advice of officials.

Q: Has he met with Tex Edwards, and what due dilligence has he done on Econet?

A: I have met with Mr Edwards. I have also met with representatives of every major telco. One of the objectives is to promote competition. NZ unlike virtually every other country has not got an effective regulatory regime for telecommunications. We are tackling a difficult issue that .

Q: Has he opened up the Government to claims of false-pretences because assurances were given to bidders that regulation would not be imposed in this market?

A: Changes have been made as a result of the sending of the bill to a select committee.

Q: Has he received advice that Econet has never even approached Vodafone? And if so what mischief is being remedied?

A: There have been such reports. However Vodafone also said that it supported roaming and new entrants in its submissions to the Telcomms inquiry.

Question 10.

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

Q: What steps have been taken to upgrade equipment used for the treatment of cancer?

A: A programme of replacement of linear accelerator equipment is being developed. We will need to install four new machines and ten replacement machines. So far we have installed two new machines. There are 17 machines for treatment in NZ. The previous government was advised that 50% of them would be beyond their recommended machines by 2000. If warnings had been heeded earlier we would not have the problems we have now.

Q: How will new equipment help when trained specialists are leaving in droves?

A: In question seven I was talking about radiologists. We are short of them and of radiotherapists. It is a shame we did not train more three years ago when warnings were made.

Question 11.

GERRARD ECKHOFF (ACT) to the Minister of Broadcasting Marian Hobbs:

Q: What are her top four achievements as Minister, in order of importance?

A: We have kept our word in this area. We have retained TVNZ in public ownership. We have created a charter. We have increased funding for NZ on Air, and we have provided more money for Radio NZ.

Q: How does the Minister reconcile that with the fleeing of top executives from TVNZ, a collapse in advertising revenue, and a consequent collapse in a value of TVNZ.

A: The collapse in advertising revenue is a global thing. The company remains profitable.

Q: Why does she not know the name of her remote control and her stereo?

A: I freely admit to forgetting the names of things. However, my personal foibles do not detract from my achievements in this portfolio.

Question 12.

JUDY KEALL (Labour) to the Minister of Housing Mark Gosche:

Q: What progress has the Government made with the availability of community housing for residents of the Kimberley Centre and Braemar Hospital?

A: We have committed $2.9 million to provide modified homes for new tenants. We have allocated $4.4 million for rent relief to community organisations.

Q: Are any of the houses to which the Minister refers leased from the private sector.

A: We are talking about community housing not state housing. Yes housing NZ does lease some properties. This is not a new policy.

Q: What else has the government done?

A: We have also increased the community housing stock by 120 properties in 21 months. This demonstrates our commitment to community housing.


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