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PQ 5. Prime Minister—Government Policy

5. Prime Minister—Government Policy

[Sitting date: 31 July 2014. Volume:700;Page:5. Text is subject to correction.]

5. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by all his Government’s policies?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister : Yes, particularly the policies that are leading to a stronger economy, a better community, balanced Government books, the rebuilding of Christchurch, and building a platform for further sustained growth for higher incomes and more jobs in New Zealand.

Metiria Turei : When I asked the Prime Minister about the 205,000 New Zealand children who are now living in severe poverty—that is, in families living on less than half the median income after housing costs—he answered that he “questions my facts”; what facts was he questioning?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : He was questioning just the shift that we have seen from that member, where the number used to be 270,000. But I think from question time last week to this week it has dropped by 50,000, which simply shows that one can select any measure of income that demonstrates there are thousands of people below it. What the Prime Minister does stand by is the persistent and increasingly successful effort by this Government to address the worst aspects of long-term hardship and dependency. These are complex intergenerational problems, and this Government has done more than any previous Government to address them directly, in a way that may lead to sustained solutions.

Metiria Turei : Is the Prime Minister saying he disagrees with the finding in the household income survey at table F5 on page 135 that says that 205,000 New Zealand children are now living on less than 50 percent of the median wage after housing costs?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : I think the Prime Minister would accept that there is any number of official measures of what income level a household lives on and how many thousand people there are below it. What the Prime Minister finds difficult to understand is the member’s very strong focus on measuring the problem, with almost no suggestions about how to deal with long-term hardship, persistent deprivation, and long-term welfare dependency. This Government is producing an increasingly complex, assertive, and successful set of policies—for instance, the investment approach in welfare, which is mobilising more Government support for our beneficiary population than has ever occurred in the past. I invite the member to support those efforts rather than spend all her time measuring the problem yet again.

Metiria Turei : So does the Prime Minister agree with the findings in the household income survey, also on table F5 of page 135, that under his watch, in the 6 years he has been Prime Minister, there are now 35,000 more children living in severe poverty on less than 50 percent of the median wage after housing costs than before he took office?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : It simply shows the limitations of this endless re-measurement of the problem. The Prime Minister’s response would be, for instance, that there are 30,000 fewer children in benefit-dependent households now than there were 5 years ago. But whatever numbers you use, this Government’s interest is in which children, in which household, in which community, and what measures are we specifically taking to work with those children in that household in their community. We are increasingly able to do that.

Metiria Turei : Does the Prime Minister then also disagree with the findings of the household income survey on table H5 on page 159 that 37 percent of all New Zealand children in poverty have parents who are in full-time work, an increase from 28 percent on the previous year?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : I can only repeat my previous answer. We can debate forth and back any number of measures. Overall, the measures show that there is no increase in inequality in New Zealand in the last 15 years or so. It is flat. In fact, the most recent statistics show it falling. But, in any case, the real question is: what are we doing about particular children in particular families with the particular challenges that they have? Increasingly, this Government is addressing those problems at an individualised level, backed up with smart policy and sometimes more funding where that is required. We invite the member to move on from 58 different ways of measuring it—the Government employs an army of people who can measure the problems—and join those, like this Government, which is trying to find sustainable solutions for people who need them.

Metiria Turei : Seeing as the Prime Minister will not engage with the facts from his own official data, will he commit to watching the Nigel Latta documentary—

Hon Member : “Lat-ta”.

Metiria Turei : —Latta, thank you—where Talasia and Sio explain how as parents working two jobs under his Government’s watch they still cannot afford to feed their kids lunch every day?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : The Prime Minister is much more likely to engage with those parents than he is with the statisticians, whom the Greens seem to be mostly engaged with. The fact is that the official data shows that in most of the dimensions that enable people to get out of poverty we are now making progress, person by person. The number in long-term welfare dependency is dropping. The number of young people going through our courts is down 25 percent in the last 3 years. The rate of prison reoffending is dropping. The rate of educational achievement is rising. The rate of immunisation is rising. On any number of measures New Zealand is making progress because we are addressing particular families, particular children in their communities, and supporting them to get out of the cycle of dependency perpetuated by the kinds of ideas that that party pedals.

Metiria Turei : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very specific: will he commit to watching the documentary where these families describe their circumstances as the working poor?

Mr SPEAKER : I ask the member to go back and have a look at her question. Her question started with the words “Seeing as the Prime Minister will not engage with the facts”, etc., and the Minister answering on behalf of the Prime Minister immediately said that the Prime Minister would rather engage with the people who have the problem than engage with statisticians. He addressed that part of the question. As I have frequently said to the member, if you have a specific question, ask it, and I can help.

Metiria Turei : So is the Prime Minister continuing to deny the poverty statistics produced by his own Government agencies and also ignoring the families who are suffering from that poverty, because he would rather play golf on “Planet Key” where poverty does not exist, let alone require #Team Key’s efforts to solve the serious national crisis?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : I do not think that the member realises just how mean her personal attacks on the Prime Minister sound, actually. It does not help demonstrate the warm-heartedness of the Greens. The Prime Minister is absolutely well aware of it, and, in fact, his initiative to bring in the Fresh Start programme for our youth in 2008-09 will lead directly to closing a youth prison, probably in the next few months. That is just one small measure of the focus that he brings to these issues, but I have to say he is a bit more practical and a bit less statistical than the member.

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