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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day –30 October

Today's questions of the day concerned: PM On GE Announcement x 2 – Student Debt – Health Bureaucracy – Early Childhood Education Report – Susan Bathgate – Marian Hobbs On GE – Alliance Support For War – Maori Views On GE – Alzheimer’s Drugs – Aviation Security – Boy Racers – TVNZ Inquiry

Questions Of The Day - Tuesday, 30 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.


Questions to Ministers

Question 1.

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

Q: Who was she trying to please when she said, in relation to the Government's position on genetic engineering, "the Government's taken a pragmatic path and come up with a commonsense outcome"?

A: My objective was not to please anyone but to describe the process and the outcome.

Q: Jeanette Fitzsimons (Green): When she said all reasonable people would be satisfied, did she mean Maori, Greens and 62% of NZers are unreasonable?

A: What is clear is that either end of this debate have become polarised. I acknowledge different world views exist on this, even though I may not agree with them.

Q: What has she done to gain the agreement of her Maori caucus?

A: We plan to work in an inclusive way based on a partnership to get the right outcome.

Q: Georgina Beyer (Labour): Why is the Government being cautious?

A: We accept that more work needs to be done before any applications for release should be considered. That is why we plan to legislate for a two year period of restraint.

Q: Is it correct that the Green Party said two weeks ago they were considering withdrawing support? And is she confused about why they have changed their mind?

A: To the best of my recollection I recall no threat to confidence on the issue of research. Had we thrown caution to the wind their might have been subject to problems in this area.

Q: Jeanette Fitzsimons (Green): How will she her explain her wish to be inclusive to the 62% of NZers whose views have been excluded?

A: It is my judgment that it would be irresponsible not to allow contained field trials to continue.

Question 2.

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

Q: Does she expect all Ministers to support the Cabinet's decision on genetic engineering; if so, what action, if any, will she take against any Minister who speaks out against that decision?

A: Ministers are expected to agree to collective responsibility except as allowed in the Cabinet rules. The question of how the Greens feel does not come into this. Ministers are entitled to also have their own world views. And we enable ministers to have them in a respectful fashion.

Q: Has she seen the Alliance manifesto under the heading Genetic Engineering where it says that any compromise of biological integrity is a serious breach of the Treaty of Waitangi? And if so does she know what the Alliance has done to its manifesto promise?

A: The Alliance has been a strong force in backing the precautionary approach. And our decisions are based on biological security.

Q: Jeanette Fitzsimons (Green): Given that the wording is very vague in her announcement, is she concerned that collective responsibility may not hold once the detail has emerged?

A: No.

Q: Bill English (National) Given the questions from the Greens, can she assure us she has the support of enough people to pass the legislation she intends to introduce?

A: I would be very surprised if there wasn’t support for the constraint period on release.

(Roger Sowry – leave sought to table the vague statement – granted.)

Question 3.

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

Q: What reports has he received on the consequences of student debt?

A: I have seen a number of reports over the past few days. This is timely as the Select Committee Inquiry report into this issue has just been tabled. I would like to thank the member and committee chair Liz Gordon for the report.

Q: What progress has been made thus far?

A: The Government inherited a major problem with Student Debt. We have spent heaps on it. Fee stabilisation will mean that the average student will be around $1000 a year better off.

Q: Has student debt and average student debt gone up or down under this government?

A: As we expected overall debt has gone up.

Q: What other reports has the minister seen on this?

A: Students studying under this government will pay less than they would have done under a National Government.

Q: How does it help students that since his government has introduced interest free loans that loans have risen by over $1 billion?

A: They will be able to pay it back faster.

Question 4.

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

Q: What has the Government done to implement her stated desire to "streamline the structures in health to get rid of some of the bureaucracy in management"?

A: Progress is being made. I am advised that the combined total employed by the HFA and the MOH was over 900. There are now 81 fewer people employed in these two organisations.

Q: If she included the DHBs would she find that there are in fact more than 160 new health bureaucrats?

A: Staff have been transferred to DHBs however I have heard that there are planned reductions in DHB staffing.

Q: How does she reconcile this with her promise to cut back the bureaucracy?

A: Numbers in the health bureaucracy have fallen. Auckland plans to remove 170 non-clinical staff. I also have a letter from Waitemata saying they are planning to reduce non-clinical staff.

Q: How can she explain how more money is being spent on managers and bureaucrats?

A: There has been a steady increase in nurses since we became government.

Question 5.

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

Q: What are the main findings of the New Zealand Council for Educational Research report Competent Children at 10?

A: The significant findings include that participation in an early childhood education center is important in performance right up to 10 years of age. It means that children who go to services where staff are responsive perform better at 10 years old.

Q: What has the government done?

A: We are encouraging greater participation in early childhood education and improving quality.

Question 6.

RODNEY HIDE (ACT) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: Did she phone Susan Bathgate in September 2000 to tell her that her application to be Chief of the Employment Relations Authority had been unsuccessful and to see if she was available to take the job of an ordinary member; if so, why?

A: Yes and yes.

( Rodney Hide - This question has been down since 11am and I think the Minister should answer it.

Speaker – could she please do so. )

A: I phoned her to inform her that she was unsuccessful, and to ask her if she was available to be an ordinary member?

Q: How many other unsuccessful members did she ring?

A: As I recall there were two people interviewed and that is why they were contacted. She was not hand-picked as the member alleges. Along with other applicants her application went through to be an ordinary member in the same way as others.

Q: What about her pay?

A: The DOL has sought assistance from the Auditor General on this. When the report has been received it will be considered.

Q: When she phoned Ms Bathgate did she tell her the new job would be a full time one?

A: No I referred the matter to the department. There is no rule against someone having more than one warrant, the problem is how much the person is paid.

Q: Is this a case of jobs for the sisters?

A: It is not normal for Ministers to look at the conditions under which appointments are made. The department followed the normal process. The process has been questioned therefore they have called in the Auditor General.

Q: How can she claim the application was handled in the normal way when it wasn’t?

A: I assumed the department would interview her again. It was for them to follow the procedure. If they didn’t that was up to them.

Question 7.

MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour) to the Minister for the Environment Marian Hobbs:

Q: What are the key principles underlying the Government's response to the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification?

A: The Health and Safety of NZers has been paramount. That is why we will legislate for a two year restraint period. We believe contained research should go ahead so that NZers can continue to benefit from research.

Q: What does it mean for food safety?

A: There will continue to be no GM crops grown in NZ. Food with modified ingredients will be clearly labeled. Consumers will have a choice. When the commission discussed conditional release it also discussed the need for further research. That is why we have decided to have the certainty of a two year period of restraint.

Q: What extra controls will be put in place for containment?

A: HASNO already provides the most stringent conditions in the world.

Q: How will food be clearly labeled from December 7th, as claimed, given that all highly refined oils and starches and additives will be exempted?

A: I said before that food that contains GM ingredients and was manufactured after December 7th will be labelled.

Question 8.

Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Phil Goff:

Q: In light of media reports that the Alliance has held a special meeting on their position on the war on terrorism, including the need for further United Nations authority for the attacks and the Alliance's desire to negotiate a peaceful settlement, is he confident that he has full support from every member of the Government for New Zealand's actions in the war on terrorism?

A: This government has made it clear right from the beginning our absolute commitment for the campaign against terrorism.

Q: How does he reconcile that with the actions of Deputy PM Jim Anderton who wrote to his members saying that if events require “we will alter our responses”?

A: I recall the Deputy PM on 4am on the morning of the attacks sending a resolution to President George Bush. I also remember a resolution on this being supported by every member of government in this house.

Q: Jim Anderton (Alliance): Is the possibility of a peaceful settlement included in the ways the government is going about its business?

A: Yes. Our efforts are wide ranging. (listed) and they also include the use of force as a last resort.

Q: Is the War on Terrorism within the Alliance typical of this government?

A: The troops were offered with the full support of all the government members.

Q: Does the Minister support the position of George Bush that there will be no negotiations with the Taleban, regardless of the usefulness of such negotiations?

A: It is not the experience of the US that the Taleban have been willing to negotiate.

Q: Given what the Deputy PM has said in writing, and that an Auckland Regional Alliance meeting has resolved to oppose the war, how can he claim this?

A: Decisions of parties are made by caucuses and not by branch meetings.

Question 9.

STEPHEN FRANKS (ACT) to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Margaret Wilson:

Q: Has she considered whether the spiritual implications for Maori of the Royal Commission's recommendations on genetic modification are contemporary issues for settlement under the Treaty of Waitangi; if so, has she discussed any conclusions with members of the Labour Maori caucus?

A: Yes. And yes I have discussed it, but no conclusions have been reached.

Q: How will she assure NZers that they will not be subjected to the alleged spiritual beliefs of some Maori?

A: This matter is not my responsibility alone. In terms of the specific issue about beliefs this is a matter that is being considered by the Government. It is under discussion. But this government does respect different approaches and world views. Eight of the 49 recommendations of the RCGM make reference to the TOW it is these matters that are under discussion.

Q: How specifically will announcements address detailed concerns?

A: That is under discussion.

Q: Given the world view that is widespread among Maori, and among Pakeha, that putting human genes into animals is offensive, will this be prevented? And if not what was the point of Maori making submissions?

A: That is the task that is before us at the moment. Respecting the points of view of groups but without making any view dominant. It is not only Maori that has a view on this matter.

Question 10.

Dr LYNDA SCOTT (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Why will Pharmac not fund drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease?

A: Any new drugs approved for use in NZ go through a process established by the previous government. A committee decides on the efficacy of a drug. The committee remains of the view that the efficacy of two of these drugs remains debatable. They do however have an open mind on this.

Q: Is NZ now a third world country?

A: I cannot comment on the views of a clinician. I do take notice however of the views of the committee. In NZ Pharmac has decided that the benefits are modest and that there are other priorities.

Q: What is being done?

A: My colleague Ruth Dyson is looking at issues around dementia. It is looking at issues like staff training and ratios and the involvement of family members in treatment. Much of this does not require money but does require new ways of dealing with sufferers.

Question 11.

HARRY DUYNHOVEN (Labour) to the Minister of Transport Mark Gosche:

Q: What action is the Government taking to improve aviation security?

A: We expect to appoint 100-125 people to screen domestic passengers.

Q: What else is being done?

A: A strategic review will report by the end of December on a number of other issues like cockpit door strengthening.

Question 12.

Hon TONY RYALL to the Minister of Police George Hawkins:

Q: What is his response to the Hon Judith Tizard's comment that she believes police do not have the resources to monitor the "boy-racer" problem, and what was the outcome of the meeting she said she wanted to have with him to discuss the issue?

A: Judith Tizard and I recently had a very successful meeting with the Auckland Mayoral Forum on these issues.

Q: Did he tell Judith Tizard or the Forum that Auckland Police are planning to cut staff numbers? Or is he too scared?

A: I have made arrangements for the Commissioner of Police to visit the Auckland Mayoral Forum to discuss police numbers.

(Tony Ryall – leave to table document on Auckland police staffing cuts – refused.

Tony Ryall – leave to table document again – with fuller description - refused)

Questions to Members

Question 1.

RODNEY HIDE (ACT) to the Chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee Mark Peck:

Q: Is the committee undertaking a financial review of Television New Zealand; if so, why?

A: Yes. The committee has resolved to conduct that review. It can do this and regularly does so. Did the Commerce Committee write to him concerned about this?

A: Indeed the committee has received correspondence on this, I am sure the Commerce Committee chair is merely expressing the views of his committee on this. The FEC has decided to hold onto this on the basis of reasons known to itself.


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