Garth George
Garth George is a Herald columnist

Garth George: Give frontline services what they need

Organisations such as Plunket and Parents Inc are on the frontline helping families. Photo / Thinkstock
Organisations such as Plunket and Parents Inc are on the frontline helping families. Photo / Thinkstock

I intended this week to comment on last week's Budget, but when it was delivered and analysed, I discovered there is nothing to say. The first reaction to any Budget is always "What's in it for me?" and it very quickly became apparent that the answer was "Nothing".

I'm not a beneficiary of Working for Families, do not participate in KiwiSaver, nor do I have a student loan. I am, however, a recipient of National Superannuation, which didn't even get a mention. And that's the way I like it, thank you very much.

I would have had no objection had the Budget raised the qualifying age to 67. I worked quite comfortably until I was 67, and over the course of my working life had to wait five years longer for the pension than I would have if the age hadn't been increased in stages from 60 to 65 starting in 1992.

Not that I minded. I would have kept on working anyway. Anyone with half a brain must have known that Robert Muldoon's massive election bribe in 1976 of 80 per cent of the average wage at age 60 was in the long term unsupportable.

I wouldn't have minded, either - in fact I would have cheered - if the Budget had announced the opening up of large areas of the nation for mining exploration.

If anything is going to drag us up out of the economic doldrums, and even give us a chance of catching up with Australia, then it is the exploitation of the vast mineral wealth under much of our land and beneath our seas.

All it needs is a Government with the intestinal fortitude to get on and do it. The tree-huggers and slug-fanciers who scream loud and long at any such suggestion are, after all, a tiny minority of the population. Most Kiwis would welcome the uncovering and sale of these immensely valuable resources.

What did take my eye in the political landscape this week was Labour Party's announcement at its annual conference it would establish a Ministry for Children and do away with the Families Commission to pay for it.

Now I have no objection to doing away with the Commission for Families, set up by the Labour-led Government in 2004 as a sop to keep Peter Dunne onside. I thought the appointment of people like Bruce Pilbrow, Christine Rankin and Kim Workman would have seen the commission lift its game, but so far it hasn't.

Nor will it if, as Labour's deputy leader and social policy spokeswoman Annette King puts it, it is "folded" into a new Ministry for Children. Because the results will be the same - endless surveys, reports, debates and advocacies and no one taking any notice.

Ms King devoted 2000 words of her address to the convention to the question of children. The task of the Ministry for Children, she said, would be "to make sure children are a priority, not just in theory, but in practice".

"It will be tightly focused and will lead policy, research and monitoring our whole-of-government approach, and integrated approach to service delivery. It will also monitor the agreed set of indicators for child health and well-being we promised last year, including our commitment to eradicate child poverty in New Zealand."

You get the idea? Another bureaucracy running round in circles getting nowhere until it disappears up its own backside, as the Families Commission is about to do.

We don't need any more research, any more theorising, any more consultation, any more debates or any more policies. We know what the problems are with far too many of our poorest and least-educated families and, furthermore, we know how to deal with them.

It is being done all over this country every hour of every day by frontline services whose personnel are fully aware of what they are facing and how to deal with that. But all of them are short of funds and could do a lot more with a bit of a cash injection.

Some of these organisations receive financial help from the Government to supplement the vast amount of private money that is donated to them. But it isn't enough.

There are dozens of them working to save families from disaster - and they are succeeding. Think Plunket, Parents Inc, the Open Home Foundation, just to name three. Daily they are out there in the front line, teaching parents how to parent, keeping watch over children's health, and setting up homes in which pregnant youngsters and their partners can together learn what it means to have a baby in the house.

This is where the real work is being done and literally hundreds of children are benefiting from the often sacrificial activities of the staff of these and many more charitable organisations.

This is where Government money - heaps and heaps of it - should be going, not into establishing yet another turgid, self-important bureaucracy.

- NZ Herald

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