As is clear from the clip above there is some history. Labour members are unhappy with the casual approach to facts of some senior government ministers especially at question time. John Key in particular has an Abbott like approach to the truth.
Anne Tolley challenged Sue Moroney’s word when she was in fact quoting Tolley’s own figures. Tolley was just plain wrong but worse she implied that Sue had made up the figures or used them out of context.
The Speaker has been taking a careful but positive role in trying to get the situation sorted out.
His comments to Tolley led to her apology below. Pretty much ritual humiliation for a Minister. Hopefully she will not have a reckless disregard for for the truth again.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education) : I was advised that the funding of over half of early childhood education services is unaffected. I have also received advice suggesting that funding reductions to affected centres are likely to be between $8 and $30 for children attending for around 20 hours a week, and around $15 to $40 for a child attending full-time. Fee increases are impossible to predict, because early childhood centres are independent bodies, which set their own fees.
Sue Moroney: Has she seen the estimates from early childhood education providers that show that the cost to parents could be as high as $60 per child per week?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: No, but I have seen estimates from that member predicting the cost to be $60. It is pretty poor maths to multiply the figure for 20 hours by two to make the figure for 40 hours. As I have explained, the subsidy for 40 hours is different from the one the member is quoting. But those services have almost 9 months in which to make the changes they need to make in order to absorb the changes.
Sue Moroney: Does she agree with the statement made by the Minister of Finance, Bill English, about the funding cuts on Television One’s Q+A programme on Sunday, when he said: “Personally, I think providers are unlikely to have to pass it on.”; if so, is she telling kindies and childcare centres to reduce the quality of the education they deliver to children by sacking staff and cutting wages?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Yes, I heard what the Minister of Finance said. This is a particularly well funded sector. It has received treble the amount of funding in the last 5 years. It has received three times the amount of funding for an increase in participation of less than 1 percent-in other words, almost three times more funding for the same amount of children. I think it is unlikely that most centres will pass on those costs, because they are able to change their staffing, they are able to change their services-they are able to do a number of things in order to make those changes.
Louise Upston: What provision was there in last week’s Budget for increasing participation in early childhood education?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Last week’s Budget allocated an addition $91.8 million over 4 years for a package to boost participation of Maori and Pasifika children and children from lower socio-economic backgrounds. This Government recognises that we have to spend our money differently to get better results. This package will build on the very successful intensive, community-focused projects currently under way in Counties-Manukau.
Sue Moroney: Can she confirm that the top two subsidy rates for 20 hours’ early childhood education will be cut from 1 February 2011, dropping the top 20 hours’ early childhood education subsidy rate from $12.45 per child per hour down to $10.88 per child per hour-a broken promise?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I challenge the member’s figures and I challenge the assumption she is making. This Government has made it very clear that we have set early childhood centres an 80 percent target for qualified teachers. In Budget 2010 we are now removing the incentives for centres to go above that 80 percent.
Hon Trevor Mallard: If she is challenging the figures given by Sue Moroney, why did she publish them in her documentation with the Budget?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Because I challenge the context in which those figures were given. Budget 2010 changed the two top rates for subsidies to centres, not the 20 hours.
Sue Moroney: I seek leave to table a document from the Ministry of Education outlining the early childhood education funding changes that shows the top two subsidy levels for 20 hours’ early childhood education being dropped on 1 February 2011.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We now have a problem, and it is one on which we have corresponded and on which I have got into some trouble in the past for challenging answers. But I ask you, Mr Speaker, what an Opposition can do when a Minister challenges figures that she has published and that members are relying on for supplementary questions. We are in a very hard position in trying to hold Ministers to account.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept that the member has raised an issue of real concern. I appreciate his letter to me on the matter, and I am giving it quite a lot of consideration.
I think that what the member did today is exactly what members can do. The member believed that the Minister may have, in his view, challenged figures that he believed to be correct. The member asked a very blunt question, and I think he included the fact that the figures had been included in the Minister’s own statements. That is a pretty powerful thing to put on the record of the House.
Members are not allowed to use points of order to litigate answers, but when a member believes that an answer is incorrect, the member can ask point-blank, in the way that the member did just now, for the Minister to justify the answer or repeat the answer. I want Ministers to listen to this carefully, because concern about the accuracy of answers is an issue that comes up frequently. When a Minister, while answering a supplementary question, gives an answer that may be disputed, it is very hard to argue that the Minister has misled the House, because the circumstance may be one in which the Minister is talking about one issue but throws in a matter that is peripheral to it and may include information that another member believes is wrong. But when a member-and I want notice to be taken of this-questions a Minister particularly over information given, and in reply to a very clear question gets a repeat of the same information, which can later be shown to be false, then that is a rather different situation. That is starting to get close to where the bar is set around issues of privilege. I am concerned that information should not be used recklessly in this House.
I am not saying that that is what has occurred today. I am just using the point the member has raised to make the point that it is very difficult, when members disagree with an answer, to expect me to do something about it when it has been given as part of an answer to a supplementary question. The remedy, in my view, lies in the hands of the questioner to ask very specific questions about the information the member believes is incorrect. If a Minister then repeats what can be demonstrated to be incorrect information, and therefore may mislead the House, and if that can be shown, that is a rather different situation. To me, that is a better way to handle it. Rather than try to litigate answers by way of points of order, members should use supplementary questions to pin a Minister down. When Ministers repeat what can be demonstrated to be false information, that is a very serious situation.