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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 6 November

Today's questions of the day concerned: Paid Parental Leave – Afghanistan Aid - Bathgate-gate – Recession Roading Plans – Breast Cancer Treatment – Health Information (IT) Management – Substandard Policing – Refugee Interviewing – Carol Moseley Braun’s Views On NZ Security - Public Service HR Capacity – Bathgate-gate – DPB Work Testing – Terrorism Bill Amendments

Questions Of The Day - Tuesday, 6 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.


Questions to Ministers

Question 1.

Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: Can he confirm media reports that the Government has delayed the introduction of paid parental leave because of fears the slowing world economy will cut Government income?

A: No.

Q: What guarantee do parents have the scheme will start on July 1st next year?

A: What the PM actually said was that someone who conceded on the basis of a politicians press statement would be unwise. The Government intends to look through any temporary shocks to economic activity. We will not be making the same mistakes as the previous government. The government’s next update of economic forecasts will be released on 18th of December in the DEFU.

Q: What about Laila Harre’s advice to families?

A: While I have long been keen on family planning, I will repeat the advice of the PM, people who get pregnant on the basis of press statements would be unwise. The parental tax credit will not be abolished but it will be offset.

Q: Can he give an assurance that the funding for parental leave be provided at the expense of existing entitlements?

A: Yes.

Q: Is he assuming an economic slowdown, and as a result is he anticipating an early election?

A: Anytime soon I would look forward to an election.

Question 2.

H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Phil Goff:

Q: What reports has he received about humanitarian assistance going into Afghanistan?

A: Last Friday I received a report from the World Food Programme. It is upbeat and suggests the situation is improving. It says around 2000 tonnes of food is being delivered each day to Afghanistan.

Q: What are you doing?

A: Last month NZ paid $1 million to the consolidated appeal for Afghanistan. We are now exploring providing more aid. This could consist of a C130, a medical team or an engineering unit.

Q: Does he agree with media reports that the Alliance is furious that the humanitarian package has been painted in the media as a boost to the war effort?

A: There was a newspaper last week that got it wrong. The Alliance has always stressed that it wants to balance the military effort with a humanitarian effort.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Is the humanitarian effort more designed to assist the Alliance at their conference this weekend, or the Afghan people?

A: The assistance is, as its name implies, intended to help people in Afghanistan.

Q: Keith Locke (Green): Does he agree that our assistance will be received less enthusiastically by Afghanis because we are involved at the same time in an assault on Afghanistan and the killing of innocent civilians?

A: I would think that some Afghanis would be delighted that someone is trying to get rid of the Taliban under whom they have suffered.

Question 3.

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

Q: Did her department recommend to her 15 names for the Employment Relations Authority before she rang Ms Susan Bathgate to check her availability for membership of the Authority; if not, what is the correct sequence by which Ms Bathgate came to be appointed a member?

A: Yes.

Q: Does she stand by her answer of 30th October when she said she referred the matter to the department and assumed the normal processes would take place, if so how can she reconcile that with the fact the normal process had already been completed?

A: The process had not been completed. The process is set out in SSC guidelines approved by Simon Upton. They say that in making the decision on appointments ministers will rely on the advice of others including several groups. Leave is sought to table the document. (Granted)

Q: What process was followed?

A: I received recommendations from the DOL. I was not satisfied that the mix of skills was right. Accordingly I reviewed the CVs of all candidates and directly approached Ms Bathgate who had been shortlisted for the chief’s job but who had not applied to be a member of the Authority.

Q: Simon Power (National): What was the “separate process” she referred to in an answer to a written question?

A: I cannot recall the exact wording of the questions. The normal process would have been that the department would have interviewed her again if it considered it necessary.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Which paper sets out the guidelines that proposes that people should have their snouts in three troughs simultaneously.

A: I know of no such document.

Question 4.

Hon PETER DUNNE (United Future NZ) to the Minister for Economic Development Jim Anderton:

Q: Is the Government planning to spend an additional $250 million a year on new roads to offset the effects of a global recession?

A: No. The government through the National Roads fund is currently spending $314 million on new capital roading projects. The government is also considering a number of land transport funding measures.

Q: Does he mean that the statement on Morning Report this morning was incorrect, or second, that there is no intention to build Transmission Gully early?

A: Neither of those things are correct. Major roading announcements will be made in due course. No decisions have been made about Transmission Gully yet.

Q: Has he received any reports?

A: I have a report from the MED that says our economy is well placed to weather a global downturn. This shows how this government’s economic management is better than the oppositions. There has been no rejection of a proposal. Dr Cullen is considering a wide range of advanced capital expenditure.

Question 5.

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

Q: Why did the Ministry of Health's chief medical advisor state last week that the guidelines for radiation treatment of breast cancer patients are for treatment within 12 weeks of surgery, when the Ministry of Health's July 2001 report Improving Non-Surgical Treatment Services in New Zealand states that the maximum acceptable time is for treatment to start within four weeks?

A: I am advised that Dr Feek was saying that medical opinion is divided on the safe waiting period. At present Ministry of Health policy allows a four week delay between referral and therapy.

Q: Has clinical medical approval been granted to treble the waiting period?

A: No Dr Feek has not been given that approval. Waiting times for radiation treatment have shown a slight improvement from July to September.

Q: Can she name one other OECD country that accepts 12 weeks waiting for post-operative radiation treatment?

A: No I cannot. It is not the Ministry’s recommendation nor mine either.

Q: What then is her response to statements made by a specialist oncologist that a wait of 12 weeks is downright dangerous? And does she support the change?

A: I have read the transcript. In no way did he change it to 12 weeks in what he said. He was pointing out what some international evidence suggests. I agree that 12 weeks is too long. However the blame here rests firmly on the opposition.

(Roger Sowry – leave to table three documents – granted)

Question 6.

JUDY KEALL (Labour) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: What reports has she received recently about improving management of health information?

A: Last week I released a report on information management. I have now established a group to work on standards, a key recommendation in the report. The project was established by the DG of Health after I imposed a moratorium on IT spending in May of last year. I imposed that because the country under the free market health system wasted millions and millions of dollars on incompatible IT systems.

Q: Roger Sowry (National): When are cancer patients going to receive information on who is entitled to treatment in Australia?

A: Soon. It would have helped if the previous government had done a better job. I have no information that information has been misused from a privacy perspective.

Q: Why doesn’t she just pay the money necessary to get these people to attend to the cancer problems in NZ?

A: If it was simply a matter of money then the problem would have been resolved. Unfortunately you still have a problem of a shortage of people.

Question 7.

Hon TONY RYALL (National) to the Minister of Police George Hawkins:

Q: Does he accept reports that Police have admitted to a growing problem with substandard work in court cases due to mounting pressure in areas of high population growth, such as Auckland; if so, what is he going to do about this problem?

A: The commissioner is responding to these issues, and I support him in his work.

Q: Does he support the bar association criticisms that say it is all down to funding? And will he explain to Mr Banks that there are shortages in Auckland police staff?

A: The bar association spokesman said that police work standards had declined over the past decade. However I can assure the member that the police are doing a good job and that in over 100,000 prosecutions a prima facie case was established in 99.9% of cases. I have seen a statement that says that Tony Ryall’s statements on station closures are untrue. It is time Mr Ryall started supporting the police.

Q: Ken Shirley (ACT): What about educational and community programme withdrawals by police?

A: I want to quote from what the commissioner said today. Allegations about closure of stations by Tony Ryall are untrue.

(Speaker – will the Minister please answer the question.

Hawkins – I was addressing part of the question.

Ken Shirley – I am happy to ask the question again.)

A: In this judgement we put more money into youth crime and solving youth problems. And they are working.

Q: Nandor Tanczos (Green): Is he concerned at growing criticisms of police practice?

A: I have confidence in the commissioner of police sorting these problems out.

Q: Tony Ryall (National): Has he discussed with the commissioner what he meant when he said the number of stations in Auckland was unsustainable?

A: I am pleased to tell that member that this government is spending $50-$60 million on capital works compared to $1 million under National.

Question 8.

CHRIS CARTER (Labour) to the Minister of Immigration Lianne Dalziel:

Q: How long do refugee status claimants have to wait from the point of applying for refugee status before being interviewed by the New Zealand Immigration Service's Refugee Status Branch, and how does that compare with previous years?

A: An average six to 12 month wait of now has been achieved from an average 3 year wait in the past.

Q: How has this result been achieved?

A: We provided $1.952 million in resources over three years. This fall in waiting time is a direct result of this funding. I am very pleased with the results and would like to congratulate the branch.

Q: Marie Hasler (National) How long will the 10 stowaways who arrived recently have to wait for their refugee status to be established?

A: The member is referring to an article that claimed 10 people had arrived. I am aware of only three refugees. I remind the member that the member always has the option of putting down a question instead of ringing my department behind my back.

Q: Why are resources being put into refugees when there is a crisis in the health system?

A: When I became the Minister of Immigration there were 3000 status claims on hand. There are now 1600 claims on hand. We hope to get the backlog totally dealt with by the end of this financial year.

Q: How come 47 Afghanis remain in the queue?

A: We are working through cases, country by country. The real problem with the backlog was that we had a situation that people were abusing the system.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Why is she spraying around fictional figures which are at odds with the PM’s figures?

A: There are a variety of figures depending on the dates that are used. The member constantly confuses things. What the house needs to bear in mind is that because people are waiting…. (interrupted.)

Question 9.

Hon MAX BRADFORD (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: Does she agree with the former United States Ambassador to New Zealand, Carol Moseley Braun, that New Zealand no longer existed in a "benign strategic environment" and could not afford to be complacent about security because of its distance from the world's conflicts; if not, why not?

A: I refer the member and the former ambassador to an External Assessments Bureau document that says NZ is not threatened by any other nation. That document also acknowledges the threat of terrorism as a trans-national threat.

Q: Can she point to any part of the strategic assessment that anticipates September 11th?

A: If anybody’s assessments had foreseen 911 there would have been time to head it off. I think that anyone who reads an assessment saying we are not threatened by any nation is entitled to describe the security situation as benign.

Q: Can we take her rejection of the former ambassador’s assessment to mean that NZ can afford to be complacent?

A: All the member can take from my comments is that I chose the EAB assessment over that of Ms Moseley Braun who is now a pecan farmer.

Q: Keith Locke (Green): Does she agree that we can help by using our forces as peace-keepers?

A: I think forces in East Timor, the Solomons and Bougainvillle have done a very good job not only on behalf of NZ but on behalf of the entire South Pacific.

Q: Given her low regard for Ms Moseley-Braun, does she accept her statement that no-one can afford to be complacent?

A: In case the member hasn’t noticed NZ has placed its support behind the War Against Terrorism precisely because we face a transnational threat.

(Max Bradford - Leave to table a Dominion article – granted.)

Question 10.

DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister of State Services Trevor Mallard:

Q: Has he received any reports on human resource capability in the public sector; if so, what are the main findings?

A: The SSC’s main findings are (listed.)

Q: What does the rise in core public service numbers imply for the future?

A: It implies that the public service will provide better career opportunities to NZers, and that the government will rely less on the services of the Association of Consultants and Tax dodgers for advice. It is a policy of the government to rely more on core public service advice.

Q: Liz Gordon (Alliance) Given women’s superior academic performance for the past three decades, why are they still paid less?

A: Continuity of service will be part of the reason. I note however that the gender pay gap has narrowed from eight to six percent once the occupational distribution is taken into account.

Question 11.

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

Q: Did she sign a CAB 50 form to nominate Ms Susan Bathgate as a member of the Employment Relations Authority; if so, will she table it?

A: Ministers do not sign individual CAB 50 forms. I did sign another document, an appointments and honours paper, and that has been released to Max Bradford under the OIA.

Q: Simon Power (National) When she signed those papers, with the salary stated, how then can she claim that payment is the responsibility of the department?

A: Renumeration was not stated in the papers. It was a matter for the Higher Salaries Commission and the department.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Will she provide us with one skill or attribute that Ms Bathgate has that Mike Loftus hasn’t got?

A: I was looking for people with experience. Mr Loftus did not have investigative experience, I felt that was what was required.

Q: Will she desist from making personal appointments to crown positions given this is the second one to go sour?

A: I never make personal appointments. They always follow the correct procedure and I stand by that.

Question 12.

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

Q: Is he removing work-testing for domestic purpose beneficiaries; if so, what is his evidence that work-testing has not worked?

A: Both the Labour and Alliance policies recommend that we replace the work-testing system. An evaluation conducted under National also recommends removing the system.

Q: Is he pandering to the beneficiary unions?

A: What the evaluation actually shows is that DPB beneficiaries are highly motivated if dealt with in the proper manner. The current system is arbitrary. National provided insufficient support for DPB recipients and did not inform them of their entitlements when it was provided.

Q: What is the difference with his new contract based approach and the old approach?

A: Yes there will still be a sanction. But it will not be a sanction against a work test. Beneficiaries need supportive case management. As a government we value parenting. We intend to help parents improve their circumstances.

Q: Why are resources being put into DPB beneficiaries when they could be put into unemployed people, people who are not looking after young children?

A: We have put lots of resources into that already. That is why unemployment is so low.

Questions to Members

Question 1.

KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee Graham Kelly:

Q: What draft amendments to the Terrorism (Bombings and Financing) Bill have been proposed, and will all members of the public have an opportunity to make submissions on these proposals?

A: (Chris Carter on behalf) Amendments to the bill are currently being drafted and remain confidential in the meantime. The minister is keen to extend the period for submissions. In the meantime he will put into place interim measures.

Q: How many members of the public and organisations have informed the committee they want to make submissions?

A: That will come before the committee on Thursday and is a matter for the committee to decide.

Q: Lockwood Smith (National): What about Mr Locke’s breach of confidentiality?

A: That is an ongoing matter for the committee to decide.


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