Parliamentary Question Time

A lot of people have noticed that Labour does not actually answer question in the house any more. It’s been one of those things on my “to do” list to actually go back and see if things have changed, and I finally got around to it today. (Thanks Whaleoil)

Compare Helen’s answers today to a random question time in 1994.

It’s hard to know which is the harder question – a failing policy or closing a hospital.

The best answer is not even close.

First, Today:

1. JOHN KEY : Does she stand by her statement that “20 hours free education a week will be able to be provided for 3 and 4-year-olds at any licensed teacher-led service in New Zealand from July 2007.”; if so, what did she mean by “free”?

HELEN CLARK : Yes; 20 hours free means the regulated standard is free.

John Key: Did the Prime Minister mean the regulated standard could have added to it top-up fees and all sorts of surcharges; if so, when will she admit to Kiwi mums and dads that her promise of 20 hours is actually not free—it is free for a fee?

HELEN CLARK: I am simply amazed the National Party continues to attack this policy, which will save parents thousands of dollars a year.

John Key: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Prime Minister did not answer the question. I did not ask whether it would save New Zealand parents thousands of dollars. The question was whether it would be free under her regulated service; if not, when would she tell New Zealand parents that it will not be free, or is that because she knows it is not free—it is free for a fee.

HELEN CLARK: My advice to the member is to stop digging into a ditch on this one. This is the biggest extension to free public education since the first Labour Government introduced free secondary education; also, no doubt, opposed by the National Party.

Tim Barnett: Has she seen any reports relating to the 20 hours’ free early childhood education policy?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes; quite a lot from the National Party in attacking it, so I assume its policy is to drop it and cost our parents thousands of dollars a year. That is yet another reason for not voting National.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Does the Prime Minister agree that paying early childhood centres what they had been previously charging, or what they would like to charge, would be an open cheque-book policy—particularly for the private sector—that no responsible Government could ever entertain, and that the source of the difficulties the policy has confronted has been some ill-considered pre-election rhetoric?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member is absolutely right to finger that the National Party would pay, presumably, whatever a provider wanted, which is an utterly irresponsible way to handle public money.

John Key: Are we led to believe that if McDonald’s this afternoon decides to adopt her definition of “free regulated service”, New Zealanders will be able to rock up to their local McDonald’s and get a Big Mac for free, only to find they have to pay three bucks for the box?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am not aware that McDonald’s provides childcare services. Perhaps the member could enlighten us further.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister agree with Wayne Wright, chief executive officer of Kidicorp, who says: “It’s not free. It’s subsidised”—

Trevor Mallard: “Key-burger!” Half-pie and half-chicken.

JOHN KEY: There will be no free McDonald’s at his stadium, because they are not building it, actually, mate—for the record, if he missed that little one. [Interruption] I did not realise he was back from Valencia, sorry.

SPEAKER: Would the House please settle. It has been almost impossible to hear both the questions and the answers. Would we please keep the level down, otherwise we will be having questions and answers in silence.

John Key: Does she agree with Wayne Wright, chief executive of Kidicorp, who says: “It’s not free. It’s subsidised 20 hours for all 3 and 4-year-olds. Unfortunately, it was presented as a free programme. It’s not free.”; and who does she think she is kidding by trying to maintain that free means free?

HELEN CLARK: Kidicorp has been a very good supporter of this policy. It is coming in and will comply with it.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister remember receiving a letter, on 15 June 2007, from John and Bridget Kidd who, like so many parents, expressed that their local provider will not be able to opt into the system because it is not free; what response does she have to them when they said in their letter: “We challenge you to phone around central Wellington ECEs and find another that is opting into your policy. If you find any, then we challenge you to ask how long their waiting list is.”; and is it not true that the Prime Minister just does not want to admit that her Government has broken yet another election promise?

HELEN CLARK: The member is going to be terribly disappointed when he sees how many centres are signing up.

Now read this one from 2004.

2. Hon. JIM SUTTON (Timaru) to the Minister of Health: Did the Government, or any Government agency, give any undertakings last year with respect to the future of surgical services at Oamaru Hospital; if so, what were those undertakings?

BILL ENGLISH (Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Health), on behalf of the Minister of Health: I am not aware of any undertakings given by the Government last year in respect of surgical services at Oamaru Hospital. However, the member for Waitaki held a public meeting with people in Oamaru in June 1993 at which Healthcare Otago announced the services that would be available locally at Oamaru Hospital, and they included day surgery. That meeting resulted in the June 1993 accord. The accord is an understanding between the local community and the Crown health enterprise. While the Southern Regional Health Authority was invited to the discussions as an observer, neither that organisation nor myself is a signatory to an agreement. However, I can understand the view of the North Otago community leaders that the accord is the basis on which health services for the people of Oamaru district must be planned. I consider that it is something the Southern Regional Health Authority and Healthcare Otago will need to take into account when they consider how services should be provided in Oamaru.

Hon. Jim Sutton: How does the Minister reconcile that answer with the announcement by the member for Waitaki that 70 percent of surgical services in Oamaru were assured for the future with the blunt announcement yesterday by Crown health enterprise officials—who apparently did not realise that reporters were present—that all in-patient and day surgery services at Oamaru would end in December, and with the statement made by the Prime Minister on 9 July that the Government would not intervene and the regional health authority would be left to make its own decisions?

BILL ENGLISH: The report of the meeting held last night was built on comments made by the regional health authority and the Crown health enterprise about who would pay for day surgery. The member for Waitaki has ensured that so far the accord is largely fulfilled in that the original proposal was that no medical or surgical services would be provided at Oamaru Hospital. Now a full complement of medical services will be provided, and the issue of day surgery will be further discussed.

Alec Neill: Is the Minister able to confirm the future of day surgery at Oamaru Hospital?

BILL ENGLISH: The majority of surgical procedures at Oamaru Hospital are performed as day surgery. The current funding agreement with the Southern Regional Health Authority does not give notice of any intention to withdraw day surgery. The matter is being negotiated by the member for Waitaki, the mayor’s working-group, the regional health authority, and the Crown health enterprise. No decision has been made.


  1. I suspect that, under a National-led Government, the possibility of free childhood education will not even come up, because it will all be privatized! Parents will probably have to pay the full costs for their children’s early childhood education without any help from the Government even being considered, yet the opposition is attacking the current Government’s attempt to help in this area.

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