Order Paper and questions

Questions for oral answer

4. Benefits—Adequacy of Current Levels

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4. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports, if any, has she received on the adequacy of current benefit levels?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : I receive regular reports on how vulnerable New Zealand families are doing. Although I closely monitor benefit levels, I am equally concerned at the tough times facing working families in this recession. I do not want to see benefit numbers increase.

Hon Annette King: Is it still the Minister’s position that she does not want to “see benefits going up, at all”, as she stated in the New Zealand Herald today and on Television One last night; if not, what changed her mind?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Let me be quite clear that although it did not bother the former Labour Ministers, I do not believe that more people on benefits is OK. I am not prepared to write off families by leaving them trapped in endless welfare dependency. If I made a faux pas in the statement yesterday, it was that I meant I do not want to see increasing benefit numbers. We are legislating for CPI increases. After years under Labour when increases did not happen, we will be legislating for those CPI increases—end of story.

Hon Annette King: What explanation has Nick Smith given for not telling the Minister that he was negotiating with the Māori Party to increase benefit levels at the same time as she has been publicly telling New Zealanders that she will not increase benefits because we are in a recession and tough decisions have to be made?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: That is simply not true. The Māori Party has continually raised with us its concern for low-income families, and we take that concern seriously. Members can see it in the policies that we make. Alongside the Māori Party, we understand that employment and job opportunities for Māori will make a difference for those families. We will fight for that every time.

Tim Macindoe: Supplementary question—

Hon Member: The one-armed man!

Tim Macindoe: Stop slinging off. Has the Minister seen reports of how low-income families would deal with the cost of an emissions trading scheme?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes. I have seen reports saying that they would fare much better under the National Government’s emissions trading scheme, which would cost each family only half as much as the scheme the previous Labour Government wanted.

Hon Annette King: Is it not true that although she is the Minister for Social Development and Employment, negotiations with the Māori Party on crucial decisions that impact on the expenditure of her portfolio were left to Nick Smith, and she only found out about it from the media at 2 p.m. yesterday when she was coming to the House? What does that say about who is running her portfolio?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: As the member desperately clutches for relevance, she will see that there is no big story here. Negotiations have been going on over the emissions trading scheme, which her party could not engage in in a responsible, good-faith manner. So now there is desperate clutching to try to find a story somewhere else where there simply is not one.

Hon Annette King: Who got it right: the Māori Party, which said it is negotiating a benefit increase; or the Minister, who said there is not one on the table? Is this not a return to the Auckland governance legislation, where the Māori Party was left with a clear impression that the Government would back Māori seats and then at the last hour was left out in the cold?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think members will find that the CPI increases will be happening to benefits and that will be locked in under this Government via legislation, which was not done by the previous Government. It will mean an increase in benefits and puts us on the same table and in the same book that the Māori Party is in, and I am quite proud of that.