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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 4 December

Today's questions of the day concerned: Business Confidence – Criminal Libel – Regional Development – Cancer Treatment – Numeracy Teaching – Canterbury Nurses Strike – Criminal Libel – Anthrax Testing – Criminal Libel – Major General Dodson And Ron Mark’s File – Alexandra Flood Protection – Tariana Turia’s Workload (and Fantasy) – Inquiry Into Decile Funding.

Questions Of The Day - Tuesday, 04 December 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 for Ministers

Question 1.

MARK PECK (Labour) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: What reports has he received on the state of business confidence in New Zealand?

A: I have received a number of reports, all showing remarkably bullish sentiment considering the global downturn.

Q: Why so bullish?

A: The Wellington Region survey still expected considerable growth. And this was lower than many other parts of the country.

Q: Was the main concern in the Canterbury Manufactures poll the Kyoto Protocol?

A: Since no major measures in relation to the protocol will take place till 2008, at least we can say that Business is taking a longterm view.

Q: What about the NZIER report on the Kyoto Protocol?

A: My response is in technical language, ego.

Q: What about the Buy NZ campaign?

A: I think it is important that low to middle income NZers also have access to cheap imports.

Q: What credibility does he put on the confidence surveys?

A: Plenty. Many US pundits are now picking an earlier US pickup than they had been.

Question 2.

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

Q: Does her Government still intend to proceed with its criminal libel provision following receipt of a letter signed by 16 senior media representatives which said "the media in New Zealand is united in its opposition to this move by the Government" and will she agree to meet these media representatives to explain her Government's decisions?

A: No.

Q: When she agreed to reinstate the criminal libel provisions did she advise of the practical consequences? And will she undertake to drop the provision.

A: The member should have listened to the first answer.

Q: Why is she dropping the provision?

A: We have listened to concerns. And while we do not consider them legitimate, we do not consider it worthwhile to pursue it further.

Q: Stephen Franks (ACT): Given the Attorney General’s duty to protect free speech, what would it take for her to lose her confidence in her?

A: We take collective decisions in this government. And I say again the AG is a far more eminent lawyer than that member will ever be.

Q: Has the conduct of this provision been ethical?

A: Most certainly it has been. The caucus is now overcome with the Christmas spirit.

Q: Can she tell us whether this mess is the work of Margaret Wilson, or is it her fault?

A: As I said before. We do not think it is worth pursuing the matter.

Question 3.

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

Q: What reports has he received of economic development policies that will make a positive difference to the New Zealand economy?

A: Last week’s Regional Development conference produced more than 1000 good ideas. On the subject of Rotorua I have seen a report about Max Bradford MP who said yesterday on the radio that most NZers do not know which direction Bill English is taking the National Party.

Q: Tony Ryall (National): Would he like to repeat his comments pillorying the foreign owned press in NZ?

A: The comment I was making to the conference was that the main urban daily media and the foreign owned TV3 were not at the conference. And that they seem to be more interested in reporting bad news than good news.

Q: Did he see Tony Ryall listening at the conference?

(Speaker – that question is not in order.)

Q: What cost benefit analysis has been done to show that the obsession with signing the Kyoto Protocol will not be bad for NZ?

A: I have seen lots of cost benefit analysis. One of the pluses at the conference in Rotorua was the National Party announcing their support of Regional Development.

Question 4.

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

Q: Does she stand by the answer given on her behalf last week, that "where patients had radiation treatment commenced in Australia prior to 6 September 2001 and were in Australia on that date, their circumstances will be considered with compassion, on a case by case basis, by the Ministry of Health and district health boards"; if not, why not?

A: Yes.

Q: Is it coincidental that following her office receiving notice of today’s question, that Sandy Taylor was called to be told her claim for reimbursement had been accepted? And is this adhoc treatment of cancer patients fair and acceptable?

A: My office had no intervention in the case of this woman. It is my understanding that this case was raised last week. I have no idea why she received the answer she did at that time.

Q: When will she respond to my urgent letter regarding a Tauranga woman? And how does her inaction on this case square with her promises?

A: I have already signed out a letter to the member on this case.

Q: Has she seen any reports on building capacity in this area?

A: Yes. In July this year a report was released on this. I draw a conclusion from this that the so-called working party report referred to by the member was buried and covered up by the last government.

Q: How many approvals have been given?

A: I understand it is a small number.

Q: What about the failure to inform patients about the risks of stronger dose therapy in Auckland?

A: It is not my job to take up complaints.

Question 5.

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

Q: What progress is he making to improve numeracy in New Zealand?

A: We have extended a successful programme this year to many more teachers. The number of children needing extra attention has reduced significantly. Bill English however seems to have some problems as 49 + 10 is not more than 60 (half of 120) and never has been. This has always been a minority government.

Q: What will the Minister do about Metropolitan College in Auckland?

A: There will be at least two alternative units set up to deal with the kids who were not getting a quality education at that school.

Question 6.

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

Q: Will she reimburse the Canterbury District Health Board for any extra costs it has incurred because of the recent nurses' strike; if not, why not?

A: No. DHBs are responsible for industrial matters including costs incurred.

Q: Will she heed Ruth Dyson’s advice to increase funding?

A: I would imagine in any strike there are costs and savings. In the Canterbury strike the nurses have said that this problem is one of 10 years in the making, and any issues of funding are ones that will be dealt with between the DHB and the government.

Q: What about patient safety?

A: In response to letters of concern I received, I asked the DG of Health to meet with physicians in Christchurch and I am pleased to report that safety issues were minimised during the strike.

Q: Ken Shirley (ACT): Will she concede that funding shortfalls have caused this strike?

A: All I can assume is that the new ACT policy is that whenever there is a strike they will pay up.

Q: Will the government reimburse nurses for lost wages during their attempts to deal with underfunding in health?

A: No. But the government and the DHBs will work with nurses to improve wages and conditions over a number of years. This is not something that can be dealt with in one year. People are not dying through lack of funding by this government.

Q: Does she agree nurses are worth more?

A: Yes I do. That is why they are being offered more.

Question 7.

STEPHEN FRANKS (ACT) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: In relation to her reported comment on the proposed criminal defamation provision, "It's not anything that's been driven by me or any particular person, it's been a general concern", what specific groups or individuals had raised it with her as a concern, and when?

A: General concern was raised by colleagues.

Q: Did any of those colleagues urge that criminal defamation exclude radio and TV? Or was that simple incompetence on behalf of the minister?

A: Colleagues think that candidates are vulnerable in the lead up to elections to defamations that can destroy their livelihood. We think the response of the media was disproportionate to this measure. But caucus, acting in the Christmas spirit, has decided not to proceed with this.

Question 8.

DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Labour) to the Minister for Biosecurity Jim Sutton:

Q: Where in New Zealand are suspected exotic disease samples tested, and how secure are the facilities doing that testing?

A: The highest security laboratory is in Upper Hutt. Its security measures have recently been assessed by security services, and it has been assured as secure.

Q: What would we have done without this facility?

A: We needed it for the anthrax scares recently. Without it we might have had to ship samples offshore.

Q: What is the Minister’s explanation for MAF dithering on the painted apple moth?

A: The facility at Wallaceville has nothing to do with that. I utterly reject the offensive remarks made concerning MAF’s handling of the laboratory.

Question 9.

Hon PETER DUNNE (United Future NZ) to the Associate Minister of Justice Margaret Wilson:

Q: Does she agree with the chairman of the freedom committee of the Commonwealth Press Union that the proposed new anti-defamation law "not only constrains media freedom, it constrains freedom of speech and that affects everyone"; if not, what were the reasons she gave to the Cabinet and the Caucus for proposing the amendment?

A: (Phil Goff on behalf) All anti-defamation laws, including the Defamation Act constrains freedom of speech. The amendments were to discourage people from publishing statements they knew to be untrue during elections to influence voters.

Q: What about media ownership?

A: The reasons for change were as explained in the original answer.

Q: Will the bill be passed this week?

A: It is important that the bill be published swiftly, but its passage will depend on progress on other matters.

Q: Why did the minister ignore her officials on this?

A: Ministers take responsibility for making decisions. They listen to official’s advice but they do not have to slavishly follow it.

Question 10.

Hon MAX BRADFORD (National) to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:

Q: Will he express confidence in Major General Maurice Dodson; if not, why not?

A: I have confidence in all three service chiefs and their ability to secure the defence of NZ.

Q: Will the minister give an assurance that nobody in the army passed on information from Ron Mark’s file to Communications Trumps?

A: That matter is being inquired into.

Q: Can he provide an assurance that matters relating to the file of Ron Mark were referred to the SSC in October?

A: Yes on the 8th of October.

Q: In the event the inquiry finds that either MG Dodson or his staff gave details to Communications Trumps, will he continue to have confidence in Mr Dodson?

A: I will not engage in hypotheticals. However if this were so it would be a serious matter and I would deal with it appropriately.

Question 11.

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

Q: How has the Government contributed to the construction of the flood protection scheme for Alexandra?

A: The government has delivered on its promise, and work will be completed ahead of time and under budget.

Q: Why has the project been successful?

A: It has been an example of Government working well with local communities. There was early involvement by the Deputy PM and Finance Minister in achieving a resolution.

Q: Wasn’t work on this in fact started by the National Government?

A: No. I am very much aware of the work by the Deputy PM and of meetings and papers put before our government.

Question 12.

Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National) to the Associate Minister of Health Tariana Turia:

Q: Does she consider that her activities as Associate Minister of Corrections have distracted her from acting effectively in her delegated responsibilities in the Health portfolio; if not, why not?

A: I do not consider my responsibility has distracted me in health.

Q: How then can she justify her failure to rapidly classify Fantasy and GHB, given the powers given to her to do so?

A: We have been waiting for a report from a committee on that. This morning that matter went before a cabinet committee.

Q: What has she been doing recently?

A: I was pleased to attend the 13th Commonwealth Health Ministers conference recently where much progress was made on several matters.

Q: Is the minister’s only explanation for not acting on this the fact she set up a committee?

A: It was Parliament that set up that committee. It is very important that decisions are evidence based. We now have the evidence and a decision has been made.

Q: How can she claim she was not distracted, when she claims in this house to represent only Maori?

A: I have never claimed that. I represent anyone who makes representations to my office. And people make representations to me from all over the country.

Q: Given that rapid classification was the reason for this Act, does she accept that Cabinet is dawdling over dangerous drugs?

A: No.

Questions to Members

Question 1.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National) to the Chairperson of the Education and Science Committee Liz Gordon:

Q: What progress has the committee made in its inquiry into school decile funding?

A: We have made excellent progress. We have received a very interesting report from the department. We have called for submissions recently.

Q: Did she write to the Minister recently seeking support from the Ministry for the inquiry? And did he refuse?

A: I have asked the Minister again and he has agreed to allow us assistance from Ministry experts once budget work is completed.


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