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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day –17 October

Today's questions of the day concerned: Overloaded Post Natal Services – Public Sector – Fisheries Officials Competence – TVNZ Restructuring – CYFS Unallocated Cases – Skills Training – Biosecurity - Education ICT Strategy – NZ Post Vs Richard Prebble – Black Widow Spiders – Prison Phone Monitoring – Skills Training

Questions Of The Day - Wednesday, 17 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 ROGER SOWRY (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Will the Ministry of Health provide extra funding to National Women's Hospital if it needs to send pregnant women to Australia due to overloading of hospitals with sick newborns; if not, why not?

A: From time to time there is pressure on neo-natal services that requires mothers to travel to Australia. But it only occurs very rarely.

Q: What about concerns at National Women’s?

A: It is not uncommon for their to be problems at some times of the year. But we do not have 100% occupancy of neo-natal units the whole year round.

Q: How well are neo-natal units coordinated nationally?

A: Very well, through a website that tells everybody where beds are available.

Question 2.

JOHN WRIGHT (Alliance) to the Minister for Economic Development Jim Anderton:

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Q: What contribution to economic development is made by public sector enterprises?

A: Some strategic assets are so important that the economy cannot function without them. The government recently repurchased Air NZ for this reason. The Government has also signed a memo of understanding about the Auckland rail corridor, and will not be selling NZ Post. I have also seen a report in the National Business Review about the sale of assets quoting Bill English. The assets on the list which might be sold include the power companies, Air NZ, the Super Fund, the CRIs and even the universities.

Q: Why have 12 government owned forests been sold under this government?

A: Possibly the odd tree gets sold from time to time.

Q: Why is the government selling off the Air Combat Wing?

A: The member ought to understand that the fighter wing is hardly an asset. It is a liability. That is why we are getting rid of it.

Q: What is the importance of rail?

A: There are lots of important benefits relating to rail. The crown has an interest in ensuring the assets are preserved in the interests of economic development of the regions.

Question 3.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (NZ First) to the Minister of Fisheries Pete Hodgson:

Q: Has he got full confidence in the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Fisheries; if so, why?

A: Yes I do have full confidence. As the Court of Appeal said ministry officials are conscientious and well intentioned and carry out their duties in good faith.

Q: How can he have confidence in them when they have been found to be grossly incompetent, in the High Court and in the Court of Appeal?

A: It is true the Ministry has lost a couple of court cases recently. The Scampi case he refers to relates to events in 1990-92. The current CEO was not even on the pitch at the time. I do not understand why Mr Peters has chosen to play the man not the ball.

Q: Doug Kidd (National): Is he aware that the new Fisheries Act was driven by the need to fix the old system?

A: Indeed I am. The problems the Member for Tauranga has identified will simply compound unless more species are introduced into the QMS. That is why we are doing just that.

Question 4.

KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister of Broadcasting Marian Hobbs:

Q: Will she guarantee that structural changes to Television New Zealand will not result in falling revenue, increased costs and declining audience share; if not, why not?

A: I have every confidence that both parts of the TVNZ group will succeed in meeting their objectives.

Q: When will she accept that plans for her charter are withering on the vine?

A: Never.

Q: Does the Govt. think that TVNZ and BCL should remain in public ownership?

A: Absolutely. We believe that TVNZ plays a critical role. It is sad that the commitment of the opposition is so lacking that they want to sell it off.

Q: Katherine Rich (National): Is creating a weak TVNZ part of her objective? And how does carrying TVNZ on Sky fit within this plan?

A: The carriage of TVNZ on Sky is a way of ensuring all NZers have access to TVNZ.

Question 5.

Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (ACT) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: How many unallocated notifications, classified as urgent, does the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services currently have that have not been allocated for over six months, and how many of these have been unallocated for over a year?

A: 10.8% of urgent cases have been waiting over 26 weeks. And O.6% over 52 weeks.

Q: Why has it been so hard to get this information released?

A: Because I wanted the information to be accurate. We categorise cases into four groups. No critical or very urgent cases are currently unallocated. One of the reasons it has taken so long to release information has been a computer problem.

Q: How many CYF staff are on stress leave?

A: I don’t know. May I say however that these people are highly professional. They are working very hard.

Question 6.

DAVID BENSON-POPE (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: What evidence is there that tertiary education institutions are focusing on emerging skill and knowledge requirements?

A: Last evening I spoke at the launch of the Skilling the Nation conference. As noted in The Dominion an ambitious programme is planned. I was pleased to see opposition spokespeople including Maurice Williamson present at the conference.

Q: What will the polytech sector need?

A: Five things including strong governance, assistance to adapt, and to be affordable.

Q: What about limits on library book purchases?

A: The universities are working closely with us on these problems.

Q: What about the Wanganui Polytech graphic design course?

A: Whatever happens Waikato University has said that that course will be provided in Wanganui.

Question 7.

ERIC ROY (National) to the Minister for Biosecurity Jim Sutton:

Q: Is he satisfied that the current border control management is providing adequate protection; if so, why?

A: (Marian Hobbs on behalf) Even with the best biosecurity in the world some organisms will still make it through. The arrangements we have are as comprehensive as we can make them.

Q: When she said on Radio NZ this morning that when NZ was relying on other nation’s staff it could not count on them working as hard for NZ biosecurity as NZ staff would, did she mean protocols with other countries are useless?

A: I meant that we have been unable to negotiate a new phytosanitary agreement with Japan on used vehicles.

Q: Should vehicles that infringe be returned?

A: The owners of the infringing vehicles have to pay for decontamination of vehicles and trucks.

Q: What is the greatest risk pathway?

A: Containers and used vehicles.

Q: Having regard to manifesto promises on decontamination, why is she allowing un-decontaminated cars to come to NZ?

A: All cars are inspected either here or offshore.

Question 8.

NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: What progress has the Government made in the implementation of the Information and Communication Technology strategy?

A: We have set up a number of initiatives (listed). Most of the projects involve bandwidth expansion.

Q: Is the government considering a proposal to give all children aged over 10 years a lap-top?

A: This would cost around $1 billion and is not considered a good way of spending money. We note that the NCEA Opposition of the National Party has already been dropped. We will see whether Nick sits on Gerry on this policy proposal too.

Q: Donna Awatere-Huata (ACT): Why has he repeatedly put down questions on this when there are real issues to discuss?

A: Thankyou for that question. Believe it or not even government back-benchers have rights to have questions asked. I would note that in the entire time Gerry Brownlee was spokesman on education he asked just seven questions. What a lazy member. (Mallard – I withdraw and apologise.)

Question 9.

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

Q: In light of his statement to the House on 9 August 2001, in relation to the issuing of proceedings by New Zealand Post Ltd against the Hon Richard Prebble, that he had "asked the chairman of New Zealand Post whether he had sought board approval. His answer was yes." and of his earlier written advice from the Crown Company Monitoring Advisory Unit that if the chairman had not received such board approval "there would be strong grounds for seeking Dr Armstrong's resignation", what steps would he take if it was demonstrated that Dr Armstrong's assurance was wrong?

A: I have been provided with no evidence to indicate that Dr Armstrong’s information was wrong.

Q: What would be his response to know that the minute says, and I quote, that the CEO advised the board that legal action had been commenced, and that no approval was asked for or given.

A: I would say that the board was briefed. The board did not amend or prevent the action and that therefore the action was with the board’s concurrence.

Q: Is the board minute a public document?

A: No. But the relevant bit has already been released to Richard Prebble.

Q: Can he confirm whether he asked the board chairman if board approval was asked for? And if so whether the answer was yes?

A: I can confirm that the chairman and the secretary indicated the concurrence of the board, yes.

Q: Should he have said “briefed” or “advised” rather than “approved” in earlier answers to questions?

A: The end outcome is the same. Did the board get advice? Yes. Did it do anything other than agree? No.

(Roger Sowry – this has been going on for months. The standard the Minister has set for the house is that if the outcome is the same at the end of the day then it doesn’t matter about the words.

Speaker – the Minister gave his opinion about the significance of the answer. He is entitled to do that.

Murray McCully – on previous occasions another minister has used the expression “advised” or “briefed”. I have asked the Minister about this. I want a considered ruling on whether care should be taken in answers like this, when a matter has been pursued over eight months. Also I would like to know whether there is an obligation on Ministers to come clean on matters such as this.

Mark Burton – I take exception to accusations I have been other than clean and clear to the house.

Speaker – I am not going to conduct an inquest into the significance of words used by Minister’s. All I have to ensure is that Minister’s address the question. I am not commenting on the quality of the answer.

Rodney Hide – in order for the good order of Parliament we need questions answered at the proper time. The issue here is that officials advice was that if approval was not asked for, then the Board Chairman should be asked to resign. Questions were asked time and again about this. I would ask you to ensure that Minister’s answer questions on time.

Speaker – my job is to ensure that questions are answered in accordance with standing orders. As far as I am concerned I am not going to get into the value of answers.)

Question 10.

IAN EWEN-STREET (Green) to the Minister for Biosecurity Jim Sutton:

Q: How many live black widow spiders per year would have to arrive in New Zealand on Californian table grapes before the Government would consider them a sufficient biosecurity risk to ban importation of Californian grapes?

A: (Marian Hobbs on behalf) MAF stated recently that the trade might be suspended if another black widow were found and correct biosecurity arrangements were not being followed. This is not the case this time. The correct arrangements were followed. All three incursions by black widow spiders were investigated. The first two investigations found mistakes had been made. The third found none. Unless the grapes are wiped out with chemicals we cannot prevent black widow spiders.

Q: Is the Minister understating the risks posed by this pest?

A: The spider is not a biosecurity risk. The risk is that if the spiders are coming then the glassy winged sharp-shooter might be travelling with them. A significant milestone was reached last month on the biosecurity strategy. Everyone is invited to participate.

Q: Is it not the Minister’s view that the Green Party’s approach to this is based on trade protectionism rather than biosecurity?

A: Sadly I am not responsible for the Green Party’s point of view.

Question 11.

Dr WAYNE MAPP (National) to the Minister of Corrections Matt Robson:

Q: Why is the Government failing to implement the 1999 Act of Parliament empowering the Department of Corrections to monitor prisoners' phone calls?

A: In February 1999 Cabinet agreed to amend the Penal Institutions Act to enable monitoring to occur. This did not activate monitoring.

Q: What about a statement from Mr Goff in September 1999 about this?

A: Like my colleague Marian Hobbs I am tempted to say I am not responsible for Mr Goff’s statement in opposition. There is no wholesale organisation of crime going on within prisons. Organising for monitoring is underway.

Q: What have victims been saying about this?

A: Nothing. Victims want more effort concentrated on their needs.

Q: What about Rimutaka problems?

A: That is another matter.

Q: What has been done to reduce planning of crime from inside prisons.

A: We have banned cell phones. And have been using technology to detect them.

Q: How does he know crime is not being organised from inside prison?

A: I don’t. But what I can say is that we are taking the proper steps to introduce telephone monitoring.

Question 12.

MITA RIRINUI (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: What steps has the Government taken to address skill constraints in the economy?

A: Today’s skill shortages are the legacy of a decade of policy failings. We now have 1700 modern apprentices around the country. The government has also been looking at the timber processing industry.

Q: Will the government be seeking to increase Maori participation in trade training?

A: Yes. I have been working with Parekura Horomia on a mentored pathway programme that leads from school to to apprenticeships for young Maori.

Q: What else is he doing?

A: We have a number of work streams. We are working on, information, access to information, skills forecasting and on training programmes.


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