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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 1 November

Today's questions of the day concerned: Confidence In Susan Bathgate – Pre-school Education – Susan Bathgate – Irian Jaya – GE and Maori - Oceans Policy – Southland Institute Of Technology – Student Allowances – Cancer Treatment In Oz – Science As A Career – SAS Deployment To Afghanistan – Outstanding Fines – Education Inquiry Into Decile Funding

Questions Of The Day - Thursday, 1 November 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.


(Ruth Dyson – leave for personal explantion – granted.

I am sorry that yesterday I made a mistake. I was wrong to say that a drug in Australia was not funded. In fact it was funded from February 1.)

Questions to Ministers

Question 1.

(Rodney Hide - leave sought to defer question – refused.)

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

Q: Does she have confidence in Employment Relations Authority member Ms Susan Bathgate; if so, why?

A: (Laila Harre on behalf) The member has written to the Governor General asking him to withdraw Ms Bathgate’s warrant. The Governor General has sought advice from the Solicitor General. In light of this and the fact that there is an Auditor General inquiry underway it would be inappropriate for me to comment on this.

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(Winston Peters – why is it inappropriate.

Speaker – the question has been answered.

Richard Prebble – your conclusion may be correct. But just imagine the situation of a person appearing before Ms Bathgate today. Why should someone appearing in this court have any confidence?

Speaker – the question was answered and I do not need any more POO.

Gerry Brownlee – I would like a clarification. What about the public good?

Speaker – there is no point of order. A minister is entitled to keep information back on the grounds that something is before a court.

Winston Peters – I accept the ruling. But what is inappropriate about this?

Michael Cullen – this house doesn’t decide what is in the public good . The minister is saying that in her consideration it is not in the public good for her to say whether she has confidence or not.

Gerry Brownlee – is this a matter before a court? Or has the Minister decided that other matters should be withheld?

Speaker – there is no point of order because the Minister is entitled to keep information back on various grounds.)

Q: In light of her inability to express confidence, and her revelation that the GG and SG are investigating, will she be asking her to stand down from the ERA?

A: I have no advice on the Minister’s intention in relation to that matter. It is the minister’s intention to await the outcome of the investigation before drawing conclusions.

(Rodney Hide – now the minister has stood up and has refused to answer the question about what the minister thinks? Otherwise this house will end up in disorder.

Speaker – the minister is answering. I have to determine whether she has addressed the question. She has.)

Q: Does she have confidence in the ERA?

A: Absolutely yes.

Q: What steps did the Minister take to ensure Ms Bathgate was paid properly?

A: The issue for payments made is the responsibility of the department. This is also before the AG. And again I say it is simply not appropriate for me to comment on the very substance of an inquiry being undertaken by an officer of this Parliament.

Question 2.

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

Q: What are the main proposals in the Early Childhood Strategic Planning Working Group's report?

A: The main proposals include legislating a curriculum. Requiring half the staff to be trained and registered. Pay parity for registered teachers. And improving accountability.

Q: When will it be dealt with?

A: We will consider it and use it in relation to a strategic plan and budget for next year.

Q: What is the time frame?

A: A decade for the first part of the plan. But some parts go out beyond that.

Question 3.

SIMON POWER (National) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: In light of her acknowledgement to the House yesterday that the Cabinet papers in which she proposed Ms Bathgate's appointment stated Ms Bathgate held other Crown warrants, does she accept full responsibility for Ms Bathgate being paid for all three Crown appointments; if not, why not?

A: (Laila Harre on behalf) The question of the nature of payments is the responsibility of the department. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of natural justice would appreciate why it is inappropriate for me to comment further.

Q: Can the minister confirm that she signed a standard cabinet form which would have listed a full time remuneration of $133,000 for the ERA job as well as her other payments? And if so does she accept full responsibility for Ms Bathgate being paid for three jobs?

A: The fact that Ms Bathgate was paid for three crown appointments is not the issue in this case. The issue is the nature of those payments. This matter is critical in this case. The DOL applied to the Higher Salaries Commission for appropriate remuneration advice. Information was supplied to the DOL in September 2000.

Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): Has she consulted the Associate Minister of Labour on Bathgategate? And given the Associate Minister’s adherence to principals, would she expect her to want Ms Bathgate to be stood down in the interim?

A: I can assure the member that the associate minister has absolute confidence in the minister’s abilities to deal with this.

Q: Simon Power (National): How can she reconcile her answers with her written answers?

A: The two answers are in relation to quite different matters.

Question 4.

GRAHAM KELLY (Labour) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Phil Goff:

Q: What is the Government's response to the decision of the Indonesian Parliament to allow an autonomy package for Irian Jaya?

A: We see it as a constructive step in the right direction. The bill offers more power over their lives to the people of Irian Jaya.

Q: What are the features of the Autonomy Act?

A: Significant powers will be devolved. The bulk of royalties from exploitation will remain in West Papua. And the Morning Star flag will be allowed alongside the Indonesian flag.

Q: Does he still rule out any NZ involvement in peace-keeping in West Papua?

A: In order to have peace-keepers anywhere the assent of the government is needed.

Q: Does he support a self-determination process for West Papua?

A: I talked about that very question with Jose Ramos-Horta. He said what the CNRT wanted is very similar to what has been offered to West Papua. We hope this Act will lead to less loss of life in West Papua.

Question 5.

Hon GEORGINA TE HEUHEU (National) to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Margaret Wilson:

Q: What would be the practical consequences of incorporating the eight specific Treaty of Waitangi and Maori cultural Royal Commission recommendations, which "the Government is currently engaged in discussion with members of the Maori caucus on", into the Government's proposed genetic engineering legislation?

A: (Pete Hodgson on behalf) These are precisely the matters under discussion. Therefore an answer will be available when discussions are concluded.

Q: Wouldn’t any move to extend call-in powers effectively place a ban on all GE field trials? Or will the government ignore the views of Labour’s Maori Caucus?

A: The fact these matters will be included in the call-in powers does not mean there will be a cultural veto on the Minister for the Environment’s decisions.

Q: What about the Bio-ethics Council?

A: This will be established to promote dialogue on the cultural and ethical issues involved with GE.

Q: Stephen Franks (ACT): What does the treaty say about GE?

A: I would be surprised if it mentions it.

Q: What is the purpose of the proposed amendments?

A: The decisions are made by the ERMA. The amendments will affect the powers of ERMA.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): How many European members of the government made submissions based on the Magna Carta?

A: To the best of my knowledge none.

Q: Georgina te Heuheu (National): What will the Minister do to overcome the perception that Labour MPs have sold out?

A: Leaving aside the question of which side of the debate the member wishes to play. I have had a lot of discussions with all members of the Maori caucus over a number of weeks. I would say that Maori interests are extremely well represented in this government by that caucus.

Question 6.

ANN HARTLEY (Labour) to the Minister of Fisheries Pete Hodgson:

Q: What is the next step in developing an Oceans Policy?

A: Ministers have today released the report of the advisory committee. The report provides a clear insight into the values NZers have in their sea and their coastline. Further consultation will take place next year on what we do about this.

Q: What was the level of participation?

A: 47 public meetings and more than 20 hui were held. Over 2000 people attended those meetings. In July and August 330,000 pages were downloaded from the ocean policy website. I received a letter two days ago from the NZCA and have advised them that their concerns are misplaced.

Q: Doug Kidd (National): Did the committee find, as I suspected it would, that NZers would like the sea to be wide, blue and well stocked with fish?

A: No. They found a great deal more than that. I advise the member to read this and get over his cynicism as he does.

Question 7.

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: Following his clarification that his statement of 26 October was not a threat to withdraw funding from the Southern Institute of Technology, will he now go the extra step to join his colleague, the Deputy Prime Minister, in supporting the Institute's operation in Christchurch?

A: (Trevor Mallard on behalf) I will support any Polytech that uses its resources in a reasonable and responsible manner?

Q: Has he discussed this with Mark Peck?

A: I am afraid that my briefing notes do not inform me of that.

Q: What is the government doing to make Polytechnic’s more responsive?

A: Dozens of things. This weekend we are having a conference in Palmerston North on Skilling the Nation…

(Richard Prebble – this is a miss use of question time.

Speaker – the minister will keep his answer brief.)

A: … so that polytechnics can learn to work together better. It is not too late for members to register.

Q: Maurice Williamson (National): Can the minister confirm that the CEO of SIT has sought a meeting to discuss the issue, and that the minister has said he is too busy?

A: I can not, but I am aware that the Minister of Education is willing to meet with the CEO of SIT on this matter.

Question 8.

SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: Does he agree with the reported comment by the Education and Science Committee chairperson, Liz Gordon, that "While the two major political parties acknowledge that there are significant problems with the current system of fees, loans and allowances, neither has engaged in any solutions.", and what action, if any, does he intend to take?

A: (Trevor Mallard) In respect of one party yes. And in respect of another no. In relation to the one that I said yes for, that party keeps changing its spokespeople.

Q: Will thresholds for student allowances be raised to take account of inflation over the last five years?

A: I will make no such commitment.

Q: How does he expect to convince the public of NZ when he can’t convince his coalition partner?

A: One of the good things about this coalition government is that we can disagree with each other.

Q: When will the government respond?

A: It is my understanding that there is a 90 day period in standing orders.

Q: Nandor Tanczos (Green): When will the government face up to the fact that the current system is not working? And when will it provide a significant increase in funding?

A: I consider $800 million as a significant increase in funding.

Q: Maurice Williamson (National): Can he name a polytechnic that has lowered its fees since this government was elected?

A: From memory the SIT lowered its fees in 2000.

Question 9.

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

Q: Will she take action to ensure that New Zealand cancer patients requiring radiation treatment, who are unable to be treated within clinical guidelines here, receive financial assistance from the Government to immediately access treatment in Australia; if not, why not?

A: Yes. DHBs are funded to provide radiotherapy services. I have directed DHBs that where it is appropriate to send patients to Australia for treatment that should be done. The Ministry is working with DHBs to establish the final cost.

Q: When was the government first warned about these problems?

A: Six years ago in 1996 when Jenny Shipley was the Minister. In April 1999 Bill English was told that in 2001-02 there would be a crisis.

Q: Ken Shirley (ACT): How can cancer patients have confidence when radiologists are threatening strike action in support of a 20% wade demand?

A: It is irresponsible and typical of that member to talk about strike action when negotiations in all relevant DHBs are continuing.

Q: When were DHBs first advised about this?

A: I do not know. I suggest the member advise his constituent to contact the Auckland DHB.

Question 10.

DAVID BENSON-POPE (Labour) to the Minister of Research, Science and Technology Pete Hodgson:

Q: What is the Government doing to encourage science and research as a career for young New Zealanders?

A: I am pleased to tell the member that a record number of young NZers received funding to work in businesses in the Technology for Industry programme. There were 185 fellowships issued in the coming year, a substantial increase. I expect that another record will be set by next June in this programme.

Q: Is he concerned about the threats of the lunatic fringe to rip up GE crops discouraging young NZers from a science career?

A: Bio-terrorism can be dealt with harshly under NZ law, and I am sure it will be. Science takes place within a society. And the plurality of views ought to be taken into account

Q: What is he doing to counter the pervasive culture in CRIs and Universities that is pushing young scientists into GE?

A: The government has increased funding for organic farming.

Question 11.

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

Q: Has he received any information that would lead him to change his answer to the House that "I also recall ... the offer of the Special Air Services (SAS) troops to the effort to defeat terrorism. That action also was supported by every member of the Government."?

A: No.

Q: Why is the minister choosing to ignore statements and reports concerning the Leader of the Alliance, Sandra Lee and the Labour Maori Caucus.

A: Because I know that every member mentioned voted for the deployment of the SAS. Resolution after resolution was passed by the UN calling on the Taleban to desist from allowing people in their country launching attacks on people in other nations. They were given a three week ultimatum after September 11th. They ignored it. Force was used as a last resort.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Will he reconsider his answer to the house?

A: I have given my answer several times.

Q: Keith Locke (Green): Will the Minister act on Labour MP Mita Ririnui’s comments in the Dominion this morning and send medics instead of the SAS to Afghanistan?

A: I am sure that providing only aid is not going to stop Osama bin Laden launching attacks on civilians. I am also sure that a huge humanitarian effort will be necessary.

Q: Lockwood Smith (National): Will he answer this simple question? Do Matt Robson, Sandra Lee and Mita Ririnui support NZ’s SAS deployment?

A: Yes.

Question 12.

RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister for Courts Matt Robson:

Q: What progress has been made on the proposal announced in February 2001 to work with other agencies to prevent those with outstanding court fines from leaving the country?

A: There are a number of complex issues involved in this question. An investigation is well advanced and is due to be completed next year.

Q: Noting that outstanding fines have increased dramatically, can he guarantee that fines will be at a lesser level next year.

A: There is progress to report to me early next year. In relation to next June I am hopeful that will be the result.

Q: What progress has been made since the Department of Courts was established.

A: Overall the amount collected has more than doubled (120% increase) in the last six years.

Q: Why should we believe he even cares about this?

A: Because I have to report to the Minister of Finance on how well I am doing.

Q: Who is responsible. Judges or slackness in the department.

A: I daren’t say it is slackness as I have to get on with the department. The problem is with well-heeled white collar types like lawyers, that is the finding of the department.

Questions to Members

Question 1.

GERRY BROWNLEE (National) to the Chairperson of the Education and Science Committee Liz Gordon:

Q: What progress has been made in the committee's inquiry into decile funding?

A: The department resolved to conduct an inquiry earlier this year into this. This is under active consideration. Next week the committee will be briefed on this subject.

Q: Noting that the report deals with the mechanism to give money to schools, will she undertake to start an inquiry?

A: That will be decided next week by the committee.


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