(Nikkei: March 17, 2015 – p. 4)
Following is the gist of Diet debates held on March 16 at the Upper House Budget Committee:
Hata Yuichiro, Secretary-General at the Upper House caucus of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)
Hata: The government has remained old-fashioned in its policymaking for regional revitalization and it is still forcing local authorities to followed its proposals.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: We want to encourage local authorities to come up with ideas so we can assist them through budget and taxation. We will lay the groundwork for them to play an active role in carving out their future.
Hata: The termination of the income compensation program will prompt rice farmers to quit farming.
PM Abe: The average age of Japanese farmers tops 66 years old. To protect the agricultural industry, we should waste no time in carrying out drastic reforms. The income compensation program discourages farmers from consolidating farmland. Money should be allocated to make farmers more resilient.
Hata: Why do you think that the reform of agricultural cooperatives can help raise farmers’ income?
PM Abe: We will turn agriculture into a growth industry through such measures as the cultivation of new demand with a focus on overseas markets. We will decentralize agricultural cooperatives so they can better respond to local needs and increase their originality.
Money and politics
Hata: Cabinets ministers should be barred from receiving corporate donations (via party chapters) while in office.
PM Abe: We are dealing with the issue in accordance with the law. It is not necessary to revise the law.
Toshio Ogawa, DPJ
Money and politics
Ogawa: Why is it that the party chapter [you head] receives annual membership fees of Hakuyukai in the form of donations?
Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura: The donations are registered as political funds. The party chapter asked a contact person for donations. We receive cooperation from members [of the Hakuyukai] based on their understanding.
Ogawa: Real wages have fallen for the 19th month in a row.
PM Abe: Wages have increased for eight months in a row if the impact of the 3% rise in the consumption tax is not included. Wages are getting closer to the 2% inflation target, but they are still behind the tax increase.
Ogawa: Saying that wages have increased if the tax increase is not factored in is deception.
PM Abe: You are absolutely wrong. It is important to know whether gross employee income without factoring in the tax increase is in positive or negative territory. The chances of the index turning into positive territory compared to a year ago are high, as there will be no tax increase this April.
Ogawa: The mainstream policy should be concentrated on increasing the number of full-time, regular workers.
PM Abe: We will fine-tune systems and law to better respond to a range of working styles. We should secure regular positions for those looking to work full-time. And for those who opt for working part time, we aim to revise the laws to better protect them.
Renho, DPJ Acting President
Renho: How will you cope with the population decline?
PM Abe: That is a pressing issue, because it may destabilize our social security foundation. In particular, regions may take a direct hit, as the issue affects the existence of local communities. It is necessary to promote reforms to create an environment friendly to women in terms of marriage and child-rearing.
Empowerment of women
Renho: Your policy may widen the gaps between women.
PM Abe: Our goal is to create a society where all women can make use of their abilities. It is important to change the situation in which there are not many female executives at listed companies. At the same time, we must build a society that rewards these women. There are many women working part-time or not in regular positions. We must help build better working conditions and help them improve their skills.
Renho: There is a strong tendency for children from single-parent families to be poor. It is a major problem that children are forced to begin at different starting lines just because of their families.
PM Abe: We should not allow single-parent children to give up receiving higher education just because of their family circumstances. Detailed support is needed. Securing money for child-rearing support is critical. We still recognize it is necessary to secure more than 1 trillion yen to finance [child-rearing support].
Chuichi Date, Secretary-General, LDP Upper House caucus
Relationships with China and South Korea
Date: How do you envisage building ties with neighboring countries?
PM Abe: I want to improve bilateral ties with China and South Korea. We have made progress in improving ties with China through holding a summit. We will deepen dialogue at various levels and from a broad perspective we will develop stable, friendly ties to better meet the expectations of the international community.
Japan and South Korea will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties this year. Because Japan and South Korea face difficult problems, the leaders of the two countries should engage in frank discussions without preconditions. We hope to facilitate cooperation and improve ties when the foreign ministers of Japan, China and South Korea meet soon.
Date: Constitutional revision is needed for Japan to fulfill its international responsibility.
PM Abe: We need to include [in constitutional revisions] environmental protection and stipulations concerning new human rights, such as paying consideration to victims of crimes, so we can better respond to the changing times. It goes without saying that we should maintain the fundamental ideas of popular sovereignty, fundamental human rights, and the basic principles of pacifism, but I believe that we should make needed revisions to the Constitution.
Unregistered, paid nursing care homes
Date: Those facilities must be registered and the government should urge them to do so.
Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Yasuhisa Shiozaki: Prefectural and municipal authorities oversee the matter. As of October 2013, 911 facilities are not registered. We will urge nursing care facilities to register and coordinate with local governments to abide by relevant laws.
Kuniko Inoguchi, LDP
Japan’s international PR efforts
Inoguchi: Japan’s international PR efforts are not well understood globally.
PM Abe: This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. I would like to broaden Japan’s messages internationally using such occasions as the UN general session in autumn and various other international conferences that I may attend.
Visit to the U.S.
Inoguchi: I am looking forward to a future-oriented joint statement to be issued by the leaders of Japan and the U.S.
PM Abe: I have received a formal invitation from the U.S. My visit to the U.S. will serve as an extremely important occasion to convey the message to the rest of the world that Japan-U.S. alliance is rock solid. I want to use my visit to the U.S. to deepen Japan-U.S. ties and express Japan’s commitment to contributing more to world peace.
Inoguchi: Japan should use the Bandung Conference (a meeting of Asian and African states), which will be held in late April, as an occasion to stress its steady efforts in the postwar period.
PM Abe: I will stress Japan’s development cooperation to developing countries and its contribution to global and regional peace and development, as well as express its commitment to contributing more under the vision of proactive pacifism that is based on the principle of international cooperation.
Junko Mihara, LDP
Tax avoidance by multinational businesses
Mihara: How will the government cope with the issue [of tax avoidance by multinational businesses]?
PM Abe: As members of society, businesses should be responsible for paying taxes. The late Konosuke Matsushita once said that paying large amounts of taxes is a testament to patriotism. With many shareholders going global, we will work to create a taxation system in cooperation with other governments.
Kiyoshi Ejima, LDP
Promotion of fishing industry
Ejima: I want the government to present a future vision for Japan’s fishing industry.
PM Abe: The task of expanding the sector into a growth industry will become extremely important. The number of people engaged in the fishing industry has been diminishing and the aging of those workers is also becoming serious. We will adopt measures to better manage [marine resources] for sustainable development, make fishing more profitable, and promote aquaculture.