In the lead-up to Christmas when most New Zealanders were winding down and looking forward to a well-earned break, two stories in the media about child suffering stood out.
The first was the release of a Children’s Social Health Monitor study showing there were about 2000 more hospital admissions in 2009 compared to those in 2007 for children with medical conditions that occur more frequently in those living in poverty.
The second was a heart-breaking story of an Auckland girl suffering horrific child abuse.
The unnamed 9-year-old is said to have been regularly beaten at home over nearly two years and even subjected to physical torture. This allegedly occurred under the noses of a host of government agencies, which were meant to be working closely with the girl’s family in order to fix a range of troubles.
Not much more can be said about the specifics of the case while it is before the courts. But it raises many troubling questions.
Some of these – specifically how government agencies missed the abuse – may well be answered by a Child, Youth and Family investigation, which is expected to be on the Social Development Minister’s desk by the end of this month.
A wider probe into how CYF operates has been ruled out by the Minister but Children’s Commissioner John Angus has signalled he may take a deeper, structural look at the sector. This may reveal more answers.
But when all the reports have been compiled and any recommendations enacted, the only things that are likely to change will be operational. The ambulance at the bottom of the cliff might get a new set of wheels.
Labour believes a much wider and deeper change is required; one which fundamentally alters the way government invests social spending by implementing an integrated package of policies that focus on the development needs of Kiwi children in their early years. Such a comprehensive focus on child development is brand new to New Zealand.
Over the past two years, I have led a team of experts, including doctors, academics and frontline workers, to put together a set of connected policies with this aim. These policies are based on the most up to date research available and an understanding of what works.
There’s an old saying: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. This new philosophy would mean tilting social spending towards the first six years of life – when children’s physical, cognitive and emotional development have the greatest implications for later life.
The productive gains for the country are obvious. Research suggests that targeting resources towards this stage of life results in better health throughout life, better education and jobs, improved social skills and less contact with the criminal justice system.
It’s not about government raising kids – that’s the job of families and wh?nau – it is about the government and the community supporting the work of all families by providing tools and services that build on their strengths and the resilience of parents and caregivers.
For example, during years 0-2 recognising that caring for young children in families is a valuable contribution; and that parents need decent work and care choices.
Resourcing will be provided to give parents the time to care, including for grandparents who undertake care.
Another example is enrolling babies at birth with a Well-Child provider to give new parents support and guidance, particularly in the early months, and making parenting programmes available to all New Zealand families.
In the 3-5 years age, providing every child with access to good quality, free early childhood education, and using early childhood education centres and schools as hubs to support early intervention and community engagement.
Changes will also be made to the benefit system, particularly the DPB which no longer does what is needed. It doesn’t provide properly for the needs and development of children affected, particularly in long-term benefit families.
But rather than blaming young parents for their situation, Labour believes they and those with older children need support to transition them back into work by providing training and education early, backed up by quality childcare and intensive case management.
Our policies are a response to our firm belief that New Zealand should be the best place in the world in which to raise children. As a country we often say such things; but is it really true or can we do better?
I believe we can greatly improve the chances of all our children getting the start in life they deserve if we take a longer term view. The shift can’t happen overnight – but it can and must happen for us to truly reach our potential as a country.
Labour’s new social policies, the first of which will be announced during the next two months, will spell out how this goal can be achieved and how it will be paid for, and in the knowledge that a sustained commitment is required across at least two political terms to get the system working properly.
Politics too often has a short-term perspective where not enough dots are joined. This is failing many of our children and it is time it changed.
I thought Annette did us proud yesterday with this tribute to the Pike River miners. Text version for those who prefer to read:
Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour): The Labour Opposition joins all parties in this House in sending our sympathy to the families and friends of the 29 men who perished in the Pike River Coal mine disaster yesterday. We are also thinking of the people of the West Coast who have woken this morning to the reality of the loss, knowing that all hope of life has been extinguished.
Not a day goes by that we do not hear or read of a tragedy somewhere in the world from natural or human causes—earthquakes to floods, famine to fire—and we watch the passing parade of pictures on our television sets. We feel sad at their loss and we shake our heads at the enormity of their tragedy, but nothing hurts like the death of your own. Twenty-nine men have died, and although five of them are from other countries—Scotland, Australia, and South Africa—they now lie alongside our men and they too are now New Zealanders.
There will be very few people in New Zealand today who do not feel a sense of loss and deep sadness as we look at the faces of the family members, the rescuers, the community leaders, and the clergy, all grief-stricken at their loss and frustrated at their inability to save those lives. As the headlines in our newspaper said today, it is “Our darkest hour”. So many words have already been said and written over the past 6 days, and no doubt many more will follow. Eventually, the stories of this tragedy will also become part of the West Coast legend.
On Friday the Mayor of Grey District, Tony Kokshoorn, who has shown incredible leadership, said that there was a little bit of the West Coast in all of us. I think he is right. But there is a little bit of the coalminer in many of us, as well. My old dad started his working life at 14 years of age in the Owen River mine, 13 miles north of Murchison. His dad worked in the mine too. And his dad before him worked in the Denniston mine, where he broke his back in a mining accident. And his dad was a miner from Jarrow, County Durham, who came to New Zealand for a better life—and my generation got that better life. That will be a familiar story for thousands of New Zealanders whose family grew out of a mining tradition on the West Coast, or in Southland, Huntly, or Waih?.
When most of us think of working in a coalmine, we think of dirt and dust and darkness, hard labour, and danger. But for those who go down the mines it is a way of life. Few other jobs build the sense of brotherhood and loyalty to each other that miners have. The West Coast reputation of stoic, strong fighters arises out of that mining tradition. Now all that strength of character and fighting spirit are going to be needed in the days ahead. As John Crowley, a West Coaster writing in the Dominion Post said today, “what will tomorrow bring … It will bring a heavy blanket of abject sadness.”, until the region rises again from this devastating experience. It will rise again, and they will not be alone.
This morning I was talking to Rick Barker. He is a boy from Runanga, who has spent the last 5 days in Greymouth. He said what a close-knit community it is. In one street in Runanga, Ranfurly Street, two grieving mothers live just a short distance apart. Many others in that street are connected to the miners who died. Rick said there have been 5 days of dread, 5 days of hope, 5 days of courage, and 5 days of great leadership, but now is the time to mourn, and to focus on retrieving the bodies of the men so that there can be closure for their families. Then there will be a time to find out what went wrong.
We all want better coordinated and connected services, especially for at risk families. Labour was absolutely committed to that. But look what we’ve ended up with.
Today Annette King has said the billion dollar figure Tariana Turia was bandying about gave the impression that Whanau Ora would be a major shift in social policy. Instead National’s stumped up just $134 million over four years.
“The Maori party calls it the first wave of funding. I’d call it more of a trickle,” Annette said.
It’s finally been revealed today that the Government will fund Whanau Ora from the Pathways to Partnership programme.That fund was set up by Labour to fully fund 800 Non-Government Organisations to deliver social services in communities. So where’s the major shift? And where’s the funding to back it up?
There’s a range of expressions one could use. A trickle. Not much chop.
But I personally prefer the damp squib. Growing up, I always imagined it as a damp, grey and slightly smelly dishcloth. But below is actually what it is. Seems appropriate, coz when it’s damp it doesn’t go off.
A squib is a miniature explosive device used in a wide range of industries, from special effects to military applications. They resemble tiny sticks of dynamite, both in appearance and construction, although with considerably less explosive power. Squibs can be used to generate mechanical force, as well as to provide pyrotechnic effects for both film and live theatrics. Squibs can be used for shattering or propelling a variety of materials.
Opposition is a time for rethinking. One of a number of policy areas getting this treatment is child poverty. Social Development spokesperson and deputy leader Annette King in the current Listener:
There is an issue we’ve got to address now…One hundred and thirty thousands kids were lifted out of poverty by Working for Families, but our work’s not finished. We’ve got another group of kids who haven’t benefited from that at all. And that’s people who are on benefits. We’ve got to rethink our policy in terms of how do we have an element of universality for our children in the way we give it to our old people. It’s unfinished business.
Readers will know this policy area was a difficult one for the last Government. Getting people into decent jobs was the cornerstone of our social development policy. It was incredibly successful too. And the in-work tax credit which was part of Working for Families was an important part of making it worthwhile for people to move off benefits and into jobs. But the in-work tax credit was for those in work, and kids growing up below the poverty line without a mum or dad in work were left that much further behind.
I am glad to see my colleague leading a re-think on this issue. Children should be at the forefront of our policy thinking. And reducing child poverty should be a litmus test of a decent government.
Bill English answering for John Key yesterday exposed the gap between the rhetoric and the facts when he confirmed that they knew that 3,000 jobs would be lost when they cut the Enterprising communities scheme in the budget.
The savings average about $8m over 4 years. Seems silly thing to do especially when compared to the $50m no jobs so far cycleway to nowhere.
1. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader-Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in the Minister for Social Development and Employment?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes the Prime Minister does, and he has a lot more confidence in the Minister than a certain Charles Chauvel had in a former Minister when, as president-
Mr SPEAKER: The question did not ask “if so, why”, it simply asked whether the Prime Minister had confidence in the Minister.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That question was open-ended. I am allowed to give reasons, comparisons, analogies, and anecdotes that back up my answer. Surely you are not going to rule that out.
Mr SPEAKER: The Speaker is the sole judge of those matters, and where the Speaker perceives that it will lead to disorder the Speaker may ask the member to desist.
Hon Annette King: Did the Minister for Social Development and Employment advise the Prime Minister that her decision to cut the Enterprising Communities scheme would lead to 3,000 job losses; if so, how can he have confidence in a Minister who is creating more job losses than job opportunities?
(further points of order)
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes
(further points of order and other supplementary questions and answers)
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why did Cabinet decide to cut the Enterprising Communities scheme, given the fact, as the Prime Minister has told us today, that there will be 3,000 job losses?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the course of the Budget, Cabinet looked at a whole range of schemes, including many misguided and ineffective schemes put in place by the previous Government. Given the fiscal constraints, we have made decisions about priorities, and we stand by those decisions.
Twenty five years ago today the Lange government was first elected. Annette King, Jim Anderton, Peter Dunne and I were elected as Labour MPs, Lockwood Smith for National. Annie and I had a three year voter imposed break from 1990-93, Jim and Peter went party wandering. Lockwood’s tenure is unbroken.
I’m doing a bit of writing at the moment on ECE changes this century and don’t intend to do anything tonight but record a few anecdotes.
As new MPs we arrived were herded into Lange’s office where he greated us for all of a minute and a half and off we went to the caucus room to elect the new cabinet. It is a matter of record that the right of the party were so afraid of Helen Clark they arranged the votes for Peter Tapsell and Margaret Shields to be elected. My newly elected mate from Hamilton East the late Bill Dillon ran. It was an exhaustive ballot with all those getting fewer than five votes dropping after the first round. Bill did. I reckon he only scored the same way as John Terris did on his regular attempts to get into Cabinet – one – his own.
Early one morning during the first week I was wandering along the ground floor corridor in the main block with one of my pre school kids when Muldoon (still PM) came the other way, by himself, no escorts or DPS in the buildings in those days. “Daddy, daddy there’s piggy muldoon she yelled.” The old fellow was generous enough to give her one of his famous grunty chuckles and say hello.
Shortly afterwards in the Members and Guests dining room (now Copperfields) where lots of MPs had breakfast Muldoon pointed at me and using his stage whisper asked (now Sir then whip) Don Mckinnon who I was. “That’s Mallard Prime Minister, he beat Minogue.” Muldoon responded “Ah we had better send him a bottle of whisky then hadn’t we.” It never arrived.
As I was writing this I glanced at my photo with the President of China then ’82, and recalled meeting Gromyko in 1989.
It was reshuffle day today – slightly bittersweet because the loss of my two closest friends in caucus forced it. We’ve lost lots of intellectual grunt and experience with Helen and Michael – the good news is that the new lot are the most talented group I’ve seen – even better than the ’84 crew of which Annie and I are the only survivours still in the Labour Party.
I’m really happy about getting Education back – I think it is one of the big three with Health and Finance and it is the one that can make the biggest long term difference to the country. I’ve had some great feedback including from people who I thought weren’t that supportive a few years ago.
I will take a variety of approaches with the current Minister – if I support what she is doing I won’t hesitate to say so – even if that makes me unpopular with some in the sector and my mates. If I think Nat policy can be tweaked to make it work then I will work with her to tweak it so we will have less to change when Labour regains the Ministry. And if it is just plain wrong I will oppose and propose alternatives.
It has been good reading articles and opinions over the last few weeks – thanks to those who have sent them to me – you will realise now why my interest was restimulated.
These are the voices of Labour MPs on issues that we care about - and we'd like to hear what you think too. What you’ll read are the individual opinions of MPs. We won’t always agree with each other and sometimes our opinions may change.