Parliamentary Hide and seek

Ask Rodney Hide a Parliamentary question with an infuriatingly obvious answer, and there’s a fair chance you’ll be given the infuriatingly obvious answer.

That exactly what Labour’s Brendon Burns was given when he asked Local Government Minister Rodney Hide:

Can he explain what he meant in telling the New Zealand Community Boards Conference in Christchurch last Friday that the new drinking-water standards being implemented are “ridiculous” and under review by the Government?

Hon RODNEY HIDE (Minister of Local Government) : Of course I can.

Burns succeeded in extracting more information with his follow-up question. But not much.

Does the Minister maintain that it is “ridiculous” for rural communities such as Cheviot in the Kaikōura electorate to expect safe drinking-water, when Canterbury’s medical officer of health has warned that he will declare a public health emergency if the township’s supply is not urgently improved?

Hide didn’t give Burns the yes or no he might have been hoping for.

On taking over the job as Minister of Local Government, what I found to be “ridiculous” was that representatives of local government were coming to see me complaining about the tens of millions of dollars of cost being imposed on them by the previous Government. When I went back to Ministry of Health officials, they disputed those costs up to an order of magnitude. I have undertaken to get a proper assessment of the costs, as I think is prudent, and they will be put before us by 9 April. I have also written to the Minister of Health and said that, in the meantime, we should put this on a moratorium. I think that is quite reasonable. It is ridiculous to impose this cost without knowing what it will actually cost.

Finally, Burns asked if Hide could confirm whether the Government will maintain the $136 million in funding to be provided over the next 10 years to assist small communities to achieve safe drinking-water standards?

Hide replied:

One of the problems we have with that is that it is another promise that the previous Government made without setting aside any of the money. The second problem is another one that we have constantly come across: the money that has been promised is woefully inadequate, because the costs that local government has cited total $700 million—for example, $56 million in Taupō, $20 million in Thames-Coromandel, and $20 million in Hauraki. What I am saying is that before proceeding we should get an assessment of what this will cost and what will be required.

So Burns didn’t get the yes or no he wanted on that one, either.

The frustration would be enough to drive one to drink – and Alf suspects Burns would have been looking for something stronger than water.

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