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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 28 November

Today's questions of the day concerned: Tax Rates – Major General Dodson And Ron Mark – Stress In The Alliance Party – Regional Development – Criminal Defamation – Keeping Kids Safe – Cuba Street Evictions – Cancer Treatment – Government Internet Portal – Susan Bathgate – ACC Code Of Rights – Laila Harre And Distribution Workers Union Letter

Questions Of The Day - Wednesday, 28 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.


Question 1.

Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (ACT) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: Given the McLeod Tax Review statement that "The 39 percent rate above $60,000 sends a negative signal to mobile, highly-skilled taxpayers", and "since the Government moved to increase the top personal marginal tax rate ..., the Australian Government has moved its corporate rate ... to 30 percent", why is he not moving to reduce the top rate of tax as recommended by the review?

A: Firstly in relation to Australia, the top personal rate of tax is 47%. Secondly in relation to migration, the number of skilled migrants to NZ is now so high the points level has had to be raised. Research the member opposite relies upon has been completely rubbished by Treasury.

Q: How could the money from the ACT tax cuts be replaced?

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A: More taxes could be put on the poor. Is that ACT party policy?

Q: Wouldn’t tax cuts be better than super saving?

A: If the member is implying that we should transfer the super savings to operating expenditure then that would have a different impact than he thinks. There is a difference between capital expenditure and operating expenditure, even Bill English understands that.

Question 2.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (NZ First) to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:

Q: Has he been assured by Major General Dodson that he has not passed on, either verbally or otherwise, any information gleaned from his having accessed Ron Mark's files more than once, to any person to whom he should not have passed it on?

A: (Phil Goff on behalf) Major General Dodson is being interviewed this afternoon on this. He will be asked why the records were accessed and whether information was passed on to people not entitled to it.

Q: Why didn’t he ask this question of Mr Dodson five weeks ago?

A: Yesterday I invited the member to provide any information he had. I understand the inquiry spent two hours this morning with Mr Mark. If Mr Peters has any information he should pass it on. The reason for the inquiry is to establish whether or not there was good cause to access the records. And also, we believe it is good that, like Mr Mark, given the seriousness of the allegations, that Mr Dodson be able to have a lawyer present. I expect the inquiry to report next week to State Services Commissioner Michael Wintringham. He in turn will report to the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Defence Force.

Q: Why doesn’t he just ask Mr Dodson about threats made to Mr Mark concerning his record?

A: After the allegation was made yesterday by Mr Jennings I sent him a note inviting him to provide…

(Winston Peters - He is raising a smokescreen again… he is not an inquiry…why should he ask us to provide information.

Michael Cullen - This is absurd. Mr Jennings is in fact asking the Minister to be an inquiry.

Richard Prebble - He shouldn’t be asking Mr Jennings to answer his own question. He has known about this for five weeks and he is being asked why he didn’t ask a question about this.

Phil Goff – Yesterday was the first I had heard of these allegations.

Speaker – final warning to Gerry Brownlee.

Roger Sowry – the Minister was using a point of order to provide an explanation.

Speaker – I do not like being incessantly interrupted that is why POOs are heard in silence. It is not up to me to question how ministers answer questions. He is addressing the question.)

A: …. If he has any evidence I would like him to provide it to the inquiry?

(Gerry Brownlee – you don’t have to be an inquiry to ask a question if you are the minister. He is refusing to answer the question.

Speaker – no he isn’t)

Q: Are we to believe that the Minister knew about this for five weeks, said he had added it to the inquiry then, but only wrote the terms of reference yesterday?

A: The Minister raised the matter with the inquiry team five weeks ago. The terms of reference were set down in written form because of the emerging controversy. They are for clarification.

Question 3.

Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: Will her proposed new fines for workplace stress and fatigue apply to Ministerial Services and the Parliamentary Service; if so, has she received any reports on how much, if any, each is expected to be fined on an annual basis?

A: It applies to employees but not MPs. Stress is already covered, and no prosecutions have followed. I am confident that Ministerial Services and Parliamentary Services will be good employers.

Q: What about Alliance staff members who are calling in sick because of a campaign to winkle out traitors?

A: It will be applied in the same way as it would be to any National Party employee who takes stress leave.

Q: How much stress has there been as a result of the National Party leadership change?

A: I don’t know. But I am sure that if the question is put then I will have to answer it. Matters relating to employment of Parliamentary staff should be referred to the employers. I have no knowledge of that as Minister of Labour.

(Winston Peters – these are the worst answers I have ever heard in my time in Parliament.

Speaker – I want there to be a point of order.

Winston Peters - Mr Prebble asked a question. An answer was read when she didn’t know the question in advance. If the answer is Rhubarb that is what she should say.

Speaker – I didn’t think so.)

Q: What about low pay as a cause of stress in Parliament?

A: In some circumstances low pay can contribute to stress. I have no responsibility for pay rates in Parliament.

Q: Bill English (National): Can the Minister answer the simple question. Would her legislation cover Alliance employees, and could Jim Anderton be sent to jail?

A: At the risk of repetition. Of course they are covered. My understanding is that if they were employed by Mr Anderton personally then he would be covered, but as they aren’t he isn’t.

(Trevor Mallard – leave to ask a question about a staff member of Bill English – refused.)

Question 4.

Hon DOVER SAMUELS (Labour) to the Minister for Industry and Regional Development Jim Anderton:

Q: What reports has he received on support for regional development?

A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) I welcome a National Party U-Turn in this area. The Labour Alliance Government has introduced a host of programmes in this area. A major conference is currently underway on this. I am pleased to hear today that National will now hold onto Air NZ, another part of our Regional Development strategy. Unemployment is now at its lowest in 13 years. West Coast has had its highest growth level for many years in recent years.

Q: What is the government doing to protect the regions?

A: We can’t inoculate against a global downturn, but we can minimise the damage by maintaining policy stability. That is very different from National which has had u-turns on heaps of things lately.

Question 5.

Hon GEORGINA TE HEUHEU (National) to the Associate Minister of Justice Margaret Wilson:

Q: What involvement did the Prime Minister have in the decision to introduce the criminal defamation provision into the Electoral Amendment Bill (No 2)?

A: The PM was present when the clause went through both Cabinet and Caucus.

Q: Why then did the PM’s spokesman refuse to explain the provision to the news media?

A: I have been talking to the media about this issue. The substantive part of the question is whether I have discussed this with the PM, I have, she has experience with this provision and her contribution was a useful part of the debate.

Q: What about talkback radio?

A: I am confident that the news media will cover the election debate responsibly, just as they have done in the past.

Q: Is the new amendment consistent with the Bill of Rights Act 1990?

A: Yes.

Q: When she said yesterday this was important in relation to the ownership of media. What did she mean?

A: Those were my views, not cabinets. There is a general recognition however, with the spread of the Internet, that that is something that needs to be addressed too.

Q: Shouldn’t the public be allowed to make submissions on this?

A: This matter arose precisely because of a number of submissions about deliberate denigration were made.

Q: Is she responsible for this mess?

A: This was a clause that went through the proper processes. No I didn’t in fact myself insert this clause myself. It was inserted by the Cabinet after the agreement by the Caucus.

Question 6.

TAITO PHILLIP FIELD (Labour) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: What reports has he received on community partnerships to keep children safe?

A: Newspapers today contained reports on Building Tomorrow. There is also a website and a TV programme on this tonight. This initiative is a challenge to adult NZers to nurture children better.

Q: What resources have been provided to this?

A: Last week I provided $3.8 million in funding increases to community providers. This is an example of our healthy partnership with the community.

Q: What about repealing section 59 of the Crimes Act?

A: The government is considering this as we speak in relation to UNROC.

Q: What is the department doing in relation to this TV programme?

A: They are working with the organisers of this initiative, and the producers of tonight’s programme. Extra staff will be on duty to deal with inquiries.

Q: What about unallocated cases?

A: There are no children involved in child abuse among those cases.

Q: Will new funding be provided in a transparent manner?

A: Over the last six months CYF have changed their mechanism for funding, and I understand a partnership is flourishing.

Question 7.

SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Transport Mark Gosche:

Q: Why has Transit New Zealand issued eviction notices to tenants in 12 Transit New Zealand-owned heritage buildings in the path of the proposed Wellington inner-city bypass before it has applied for construction funding to build the bypass?

A: Transit is issuing the notice in order to move the buildings to a new heritage precinct. This work will ensure the future of these buildings. The Environment Court has required the preservation of these buildings.

Q: Is Transit being responsible in doing this before it has even applied for funding?

A: Obviously they are behaving as the board of Transit requires them to, and as the Environment Court requires them to.

Q: Is the bypass subject to additional scrutiny?

A: An independent review of the project has found that it is well within the benefit cost ratio. It required some aspects of this to be further reviewed, and they are as part of the detailed design phase.

Q: Belinda Vernon (National): What benefits will flow from the bypass?

A: It will reduce congestion and that will help the environment.

Q: Can he confirm there has never been an environmental or social impact study on the bypass?

A: There were recommendations from the peer review on that, and they are being looked at by Transit at the moment.

Question 8.

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

Q: Will the Government instruct cancer centres to reimburse those cancer patients who travelled to Australia for radiation treatment which commenced prior to 6 September 2001; if not, why not?

A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) Where patients had treatment in place prior to that date their circumstances will be assessed with compassion on a case by case basis?

Q: Will the assessment criteria be disclosed? Or is it arbitrary like the cut off date?

A: My understanding is that general parameters are being applied. In relation to the cases raised yesterday I am confident one will receive funding. The other will be reassessed.

Q: Why is someone who began treatment in November being refused funding?

A: I invite the member to raise the case with my office.

Question 9.

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

Q: What steps has he taken to improve access to Government information and services via the internet?

A: Cabinet has agreed to the development of a new government portal as a main plank. The portal will be a centrally managed website designed to operate 24 hours a day.

Q: What will the impact of this be on compliance costs?

A: The portal will provide easier access to information and faster access to information.

Q: What about increasing costs of genealogy information?

A: The charges that have gone up are for photocopies not online services.

Q: When will the portal be up and running?

A: It is scheduled to be live in July next year. But I will make no promises on that.

Question 10.

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

Q: Does she stand by her comment on 15 November, regarding Susan Bathgate, that "There is no blame attached to her in this. Really, it's resulted from a lack of clarity so it could have happened to anyone in that sense."; if so, why?

A: My comment related to the contents of the AG’s report which attributed no blame to the DOL or Ms Bathgate. However I have sought legal advice on this and will report on it to cabinet on Monday.

Q: Is Ms Bathgate in the right even though she signed a statement that has been described by officials as “inconsistent with the facts”.

A: I intend to follow legal advice. If the member opposite chooses to believe otherwise that is his business.

(Gerry Brownlee – Is she saying Mr Chetwin is lying?

Margaret Wilson – I will be following due process. My comment on Mr Power is that he is free to have his own opinion and no detrimental inference was intended.)

Q: Why is she hiding behind the investigation?

A: I have been prepared to follow the process laid down to hear all sides on this issue. That is why adjustments have been made and compensated for. If there are other matters then they are matters I am currently addressing through taking legal advice. I would prefer to use that process than rely on statements in this house.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Why won’t she simply admit that her friend, whose job she secured…

(Speaker – she has said she is not a particular friend. That statement has to be accepted.

Richard Prebble – she said she only met her once. But it was a long pleasurable dinner. And that does not mean she is not a friend.

Margaret Wilson – I have met Ms Bathgate, once in the past two years, for an hour and a half for dinner. I meet lots of people at functions. I have no special relationship with Ms Bathgate. She was appointed as she has qualifications for that position. I recommended all the members who were appointed. I went through the correct processes.

Speaker – The member should not allege that the Minister is protecting Ms Bathgate.)

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Does she admit that her distant dinner mate…(objection)… Susan Bathgate.. has had all four feet in the trough and her snout, or are there special rules for the sisterhood?

A: The last time I saw Ms Bathgate she had two feet.

Q: If the myth around Susan Bathgate has come simply from a lack of clarity, why did Mr Chetwin make the comments he did to the select committee?

A: All that information I presume was before the AG. That is why I have accepted the AG report.

Question 11.

HARRY DUYNHOVEN (Labour) to the Minister for Accident Insurance Lianne Dalziel:

Q: What progress has the Government made with the development of a Code of ACC Claimants' Rights, as required by the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Act 2001?

A: Legislation requires targeted consultation takes place. Key stakeholders are being consulted today. I believe the process and code itself will restore confidence in the scheme.

Q: What principles are proposed for the draft code? And can they be changed?

A: We have several principles, (listed), and of course they can be changed.

Q: How will the code change the rights of Gold Coast resident claimants?

A: Given the timing of their moving to the Gold Coast that member raises a very interesting question. The code comes into force next year. I can assure that member that I am working hard to prevent abuse of the scheme.

Question 12.

Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: Did she, or any Minister or staff acting on her behalf, receive any representations from the National Distribution Union in relation to criminal charges faced by officials of that union following an incident at the premises of Carter Holt Harvey; if so, were any steps taken which led to the decision to withdraw those charges?

A: No. Superintendent Ted Cox has confirmed the decision was taken without any interference.

Q: Will the minister confirm that the “Dear George” letter was copied to Laila Harre as Acting Minister of Labour, who used to be the legal advisor to this union, and would it have been appropriate for her to make representations to the police?

A: I have no knowledge of those matters.

Q: Does the Minister of Labour have a role in this?

A: No. The police decided the matter should be addressed in the employment court?

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Would it have been appropriate or not for the former legal advisor to have made representations?

A: Of course it would be inappropriate, and that is why Ted Cox has confirmed no such action took place.

Q: Has she asked the Associate Minister about this?

A: I have no personal knowledge about any letter going to the acting minister.

(Murray McCully - the letter has been tabled for two weeks. For the minister to give the final supplementary answer, that she hasn’t even checked with the Acting Minister when she is clearly identified in the letter, is this acceptable?

Speaker – the minister addressed the question as set down.

Richard Prebble – there are rulings on adequacy of replies. This is an outrageous reply. How can a minister say she had no knowledge of the receipt of this letter.

Michael Cullen – is he raising a breach of privilege. There are lots of documents tabled in this house that Ministers don’t spend lots of time looking at.

Speaker – Ministers cannot be told how to answer questions. They can be criticised for how they do so.

Murray McCully – I would ask you to guide us on the limits on the principle you have just outlined. It would be possible for a Minister to refuse to look at a report he has been asked about under your ruling. There must be a middle ground.

Michael Cullen – I suggest you start from the very long series of rulings that say you are not responsible for the quality of answers. This is a dangerous demand from the opposition on its face.

Speaker - I am not the arbiter on the quality of answers. I have insisted on more from ministers than many speakers.

Richard Prebble – New point of order. I refer to your ruling on 22nd of February on Associate Ministers. When you have a letter that went to an Associate Minister can we then put down a question to them?

Speaker – a good try. But no. The Minister is answerable. You cannot put down a question to an acting minister.

Winston Peters – In relation to question 2. The Minister told this house that he was aware of the meeting with Ron Mark, how did he know about that unless State Services investigators reported to him. Perhaps you can explain that to us.

Speaker – That is not a point of order.

Phil Goff – I do not know the content of what took place at the meeting. I know that the meeting took place because I wanted to be sure…

Speaker - I would like to think we can make progress if we can. This is not a point of order as Mr Sowry says.)


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