[Sitting date: 10 May 2012. Volume:679;Page:2164. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]
JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the
Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by her statement that “Welfare is having the biggest reforms that this country has seen for decades”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development)
: Yes, I stand by the part-quote, but in its context the full quote was “Let us be clear. Welfare is having the biggest reforms that this country has seen for decades, and the Opposition spokesperson cannot even get a main question in the House on it, and when we actually have a question she gets one supplementary question and she stuffs that up.” So I congratulate—
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have previously said that when primary questions are, as in this case, very straight questions about standing by a statement, the Minister answers the question. The Minister went on to talk about what primary questions a member has had. It is completely irrelevant.
Mr SPEAKER: I take it, though, that what the Minister was doing was completing the quote, and that seemed to be reasonable, because—[Interruption] Order! I am on my feet. I think it is not unreasonable for a Minister to feel that a very small part of a quote can give a misleading impression, and that is why often they will stand by their statement but say it was part of this longer quote, which is what I thought the Minister was doing. The fact that the rest of the quote may not have been that appealing to the other side of the House is not something I think I can intervene on, because the member chose to use this part of that quote. Where I would be concerned is if what the Minister has just said to the House was not part of a passage where this bit that is quoted came
from. But it seems that she has indicated that it is part of that passage. I will hear further from the member, who appears concerned.
Grant Robertson: The problem is that the extra bit that the Minister was quoting probably should have been ruled out yesterday, because it began speculating on whether or not the member who was asking the questions had been allowed to get previous questions. This was a question about the magnitude of welfare reforms. I do not see that the Minister bringing in that material was relevant at all.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear the member’s concerns, but when members choose to ask whether Ministers stand by a very few selected words from a quote, they run the risk of more of the quote being referred to. On this occasion, OK, I have some sympathy with the member; maybe with the answer yesterday—if it was yesterday—I was a bit slow in dealing with it. But it may well have been that the question that was being responded to may have had some provocation in it; I cannot recollect back to yesterday. But I think at this stage I cannot stop the Minister from referring to some more of that quote.
Jacinda Ardern: Given her view of the magnitude of these reforms, why did she give organisations only 14 days from presentation to bid on a $150 million package of youth services?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Because we had the Welfare Working Group go out and do extensive submissions. We then had it going through the House many times. We have had—
Jacinda Ardern: 14 days for a tender.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: No, it was 4 weeks for the tender. It is 4 weeks for people to tender. Actually, out of that we have had 255 applications for that, so the NGO sector was quite capable of getting its tenders in.
Jacinda Ardern: Given her view of the magnitude of these reforms, why did the Ministry of Social Development have no answers for more than 20 of the 185 questions asked by tenderers, including what a parenting course should include, when contracts are meant to start in just 8 weeks?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Because they are currently working that through with providers, so we want a degree of flexibility to discuss it with them. Actually, we have more faith in that sector and what it can do than, obviously, that member does. We believe that it knows these young people better than we do in this House, because it works with them every day, and it will be able to provide the kinds of services. We are giving the sector a degree of flexibility around that.
Jacinda Ardern: Given her view of the magnitude of these reforms, why was she unable to provide an answer on
Q+A when asked how many young people not in employment, training, or education would be affected by her reforms?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: That was actually not the question I was asked by that reporter; it was completely different. What we are seeing, though—and let me give the member some of the statistics—is that in the last 18 months we have seen unemployment for young people reduce significantly. At its height we had 23,500 on the unemployment benefit; we now have 14,000. There is a lot of work to do, we admit that, and that is part of these reforms.
Jacinda Ardern: I seek leave to table the transcript from the
Q+A programme last Sunday, which demonstrates that was—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member knows that we do not table transcripts from recent TV programmes. Does the member have a further supplementary question?
Jacinda Ardern: Given her view on the magnitude of these reforms, why was she unable to provide an answer to written question No. 01112, which asked the average time spent on the DPB—a figure that is surely important to the design of her reforms?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I cannot remember that question in its solidarity, because I get a number of them, but it would be quite fair to say that the member’s questions do not often make sense and so I have to actually—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am on my feet. The Minister will get to her feet and withdraw and apologise for that, because there is absolutely no justification when answering a question to accuse another member of their questions not making sense. That is unreasonable. I ask the member to withdraw and apologise.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I withdraw and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the Minister.
Jacinda Ardern: Given her view of the magnitude of these reforms, why was she unable, when asked by media, to produce any evidence to support her claim that the reforms would save $1 billion?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: As I described to the member yesterday, we have the Ministry of Social Development and we have Treasury, and they have been doing the modelling on this. They have got evidence of how they have done it. But, as I say, yes, this is new territory—this is new territory, ladies and gentlemen. We are doing the best modelling that we can on the facts that we have, but there are a number of factors outside of our control. We believe that $1 billion will be saved over 4 years. I personally think that there is a good chance it will be more than that.
Jacinda Ardern: Given these answers, when will she admit to New Zealanders that her reform package has been rushed, that she does not know much how it will cost or save, or how many people it will affect, and that she has little interest in the front-line view of what she calls “the biggest reforms that this country has seen for decades,”—or is it all smoke, mirrors, and camouflage?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Always a bit of camouflage—roar! A bit of westie camouflage going on there. It would be fair to say—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the Minister. I ask the Labour Party, which asked the question, to interject a little less, because I want to hear the answer. I am most interested in the answer to this question.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I am actually thrilled that the Opposition spokesperson has finally woken up to the fact that there are welfare reforms going on. We have been discussing them for more than 2 years. We have actually been out there publicly. We have had the Welfare Working Group come out and discuss them. I mean, it took the member 6 months to actually remember that I am no longer the Minister responsible for employment. It actually took 6 months for her to wake up to that. She was still sending me questions. It is nice that you are back, it is nice that you are getting on board, but actually welfare reforms have been discussed by this Government for the last 3½ years.