Post-Cabinet Press Conference: Monday, 19 December 2005
PM: We’ve finished the last Cabinet for the year, and had a long Business Committee meeting to clear the decks for Christmas. The Cabinet will be back for its first meeting of the year on Wednesday 25 January—that’s after Wellington Anniversary Day, and after the Ratana commemorations near Wanganui on the 24th.
Quite a lot of decisions today. Some will be announced this week, others through the summer period. Rick Barker has issued the latest decision on funding around the regeneration of the township of Matata. This is about contributing a further $3 million, following a further consultation with the Whakatane District Council, and it’s estimated that this will bring the Government’s total expenditure on response and recovery and risk mitigation for the Matata area to more than $20 million. So it was a weather event of considerable magnitude, which is very, very costly to respond to.
Tomorrow Rick Barker will be releasing two reports, which have been commissioned on tsunami risk and preparedness for New Zealand. We have finalised a marine protected areas policy—an implementation plan. That’s work done by the Minister of Conservation, Minister of Fisheries, and their ministries, and that’s likely to be released in the summer period. Also taken policy decisions on drafting a local government law reform bill for next year. These bills tend to be a grab-bag of things that need to be done, and one of the features of this one is legislation around the improved rates rebate scheme, which was a key election pledge for the Labour Party.
We have agreed to release a draft national drug policy for the 2006-2011 quinquennium. That will go out for consultation in Jim Anderton’s name in January. We’ve also done more work on drafting pandemic legislation for introduction next year. Decisions have been taken on the minimum wage review, and Ruth Dyson will make an announcement about that later this week. We are releasing for consultation a draft report on national guidelines under the RMA on electricity transmission—that’s in the name of the Minister for the Environment. We have made policy decisions on a review of the Financial Reporting Act 1993, and there will be law changes drafted to go in a business law reform bill next year. There’s also a discussion paper to come out from customs on the review of funding of customs goods clearance activities. Nanaia Mahuta will be looking to release that later this week.
There is a Government response approved to the report of the Constitutional Arrangements Committee, and Mark Burton will be tabling that. There are decisions due for announcement this week on the review of climate change policy. There is an insolvency law reform bill, which has been approved for introduction. There’s been consultation running on that for some time. Policy decisions were taken a while ago, and now the bill is ready for introduction, and tomorrow there will be decisions on Auckland rail funding and Government arrangements announced by Michael Cullen. Apart from that, in the coming week we have a major report out from MAF on the situation and outlook for New Zealand agriculture and forestry for 2006, and I understand Jim Anderton has also announced a market development grant scheme for the forestry industry today.
I have two announcements. One of them, again, is around a key Labour election policy, which was on the changes to the older drivers’ licensing system, and we have now got the process in train to be lifting the mandatory age-based driver’s test at age 80 at the end of next year. There is a long and careful process to be gone through in changing transport rules, but the decisions have been taken to get on course for that, and we can say that the mandatory age-based on-road test for the 80 pluses will cease from the end of December next year. There is in the statement information about extra funding for expanding a Safe with Age classroom road safety course with the aim of reaching about 8,000 drivers a year, and other new educational information and packages for older drivers and their families. A medical certificate for a driver licence indicating fitness to drive will be required for drivers to re-licence at 75, 80, and at 2-year intervals thereafter. As we have always said, a doctor will have the ability to refer drivers of that age for the on-road test if they think that is necessary.
I have on the display board the design for the New Zealand memorial, which is to be erected in the corner of Hyde Park in London, close to the Duke of Wellington Arch. This is an announcement today of the winning design, which is by a Palmerston North sculptor, Paul Dibble, in association with Athfield Architects of Wellington. This is a project that has been in the planning for some time. It becomes very apparent when one visits London that New Zealand, despite its very substantial contribution to the defence of Britain and fighting alongside Britain in a range of conflicts from the South African War through two World Wars, the Malayan emergency, etc., does not have a memorial to its efforts in London. Canada does, Australia does, the countries of South Asia do, there is an African memorial, and also a Caribbean one, and I recommended to the Cabinet several years ago that it was time for New Zealand’s contribution to be recognised, so we have been going through a process of getting permission. It is quite complicated because of the range of British authorities involved, from city council to Royal Parks and English Heritage. We held a competition for the design. The design, of course, has to be approved by the relevant planning authorities in the UK. They have pronounced that they are happy with it, and we are in a position to proceed now with the project. I think it is going to look absolutely stunning. It is very evocative. The designs on the pillars are distinctively New Zealand designs and it is designed so that one can walk in and around and among the statues. It is also reminiscent of military formations, as you can see on the picture shots underneath. So I think it is going to be a very stunning memorial for New Zealand in London.
Media: What is your response to the findings and the criticisms that the Auditor-General’s made about health contracts?
PM: I have only just come straight out of a very long Cabinet Business Committee meeting. I am aware that it is on the wires. I have not actually had a chance to look at it. But, from the headlines that I have seen, I think the Auditor-General is right to give a rap over the knuckles, and I think the system can learn from it.
Media: One point that they raised was that there was basically no documentation and that ministry staff had prepared files for the purpose of the inquiry. Is that a practice that you would support?
PM: I think that the ministry should heed the Auditor-General’s advice on how to do these things properly.
Media: On the driving tests, who is going to pay for the medical examinations that they are required to have now?
PM: My understanding is that older citizens have paid for them in the past, but we have got quite a good deal of information to go out with the announcement. I understand that, in the past, people have paid for their medical assessment. They have to get a medical certificate now in order to be able to be fit for driving.
Media: On the flood relief package, the community has been struggling for 4 months, or longer now, and they are saying it can still take 2 years. Do you think this $3 million will make a difference?
PM: It certainly will, and obviously we’ve been working with the Whakatane District Council to get the information that we need to make a decision on this, but this is certainly the news the community’s been waiting for.
Media: ———-slowdown by treasury, did the Cabinet discuss this at all, and have you any particular concerns about this hard landing of the economy?
PM: We haven’t discussed it today, but obviously we follow the Treasury updates, the Reserve Bank updates, the consensus of forecasts. My recollection would be that the Treasury has its phasing of growth patterns perhaps a little different from that of the Reserve Bank. I tend to look at the consensus of forecasts. Everyone knows we’re coming off the peaks of growth. We’ve got skill and infrastructure constraints and we’ve got a balance of payment constraint and the Reserve Bank governor’s trying to deal with the balance of payments and domestic inflation constraints. Overall, I remain very optimistic about the medium term outlook, but the Government’s been intent on endeavouring to navigate through a soft landing rather than a hard one.
Media: So do you think that perhaps that Treasury’s of say 1.7 percent growth in 2007 may not actually come to pass?
PM: I think one needs to look at a consensus of forecasts. They’ll have good reasons for forecasting as they have. The reality is over the past 6 years, the economy has tended to surprise in the upside rather than the downside.
Media: President Bush spoke today about the progress in Iraq. What is your view of progress being made there in the past 3 years?
PM: I think on the constitutional process, the setting up of the interim governments, the series of elections that have been held are the good news and hasten the day when Iraq’s in full control of its own affairs again.
Media: And the current situation?
PM: Obviously the security situation’s not good. We get it highlighted with events like a hostage who was New Zealand-based being taken. There are a lot of very serious security incidents week in, week out. It is a difficult situation.
Media: Did Cabinet discuss, or the Business Committee discuss, the Air New Zealand situation?
PM: No, we haven’t discussed that today.
Media: Just on the WTO round, are you a bit disappointed but it has made some progress?
PM: I think because expectations were so low for the Hong Kong meeting it probably did rather better than people expected. It could have been a complete failure. It wasn’t. It does give some hope that in the first 3 to 4 months of next year, there might be a framework for detailed negotiations agreed, but there’s going to have to be a lot of work done between now and then. I thought the signals on what was possible on export subsidies were very promising. I think from the point of view of the developing world, the emphasis on development is very promising, but it’s all going to have to come together with major players still showing more flexibility. The EU, as we’ve been saying for some time, needs to show that flexibility on market access. The major developing country block led by Brazil and India needs to show flexibility on services and industrials. If the two can move, I think there’s a chance of a deal.
Media: Are you going away for a holiday break, and if so where?
PM: I’m going to exercise my right to the 3 weeks’ statutory minimum. Yes.
Media: Are you going overseas?
PM: I’ll be having a holiday offshore, yes.
Media: In the Northern Hemisphere or the Southern Hemisphere?
PM: I have an 87-year-old father-in-law in the United Kingdom, who is in poor health, and that will be one of the places I am.
Media: On the drivers’ licensing changes, are you certain that for any driver aged over 75 that there will be no extra costs?
PM: I’ll come back to you on that Audrey. I don’t seem to have the whole statement here with me.