Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Labour proposes dedicated 'Ministry for Children'

Labour Party deputy leader Annette King says the party will set up a Ministry for Children. File photo / Mark Mitchell
Labour Party deputy leader Annette King says the party will set up a Ministry for Children. File photo / Mark Mitchell

Labour will dis-establish the Families Commission in its next term in government and instead set up a Ministry for Children, with a senior "minister for children" sitting at the Cabinet table.

The party's deputy leader Annette King outlined the new policy in a speech to the party's election year Congress in Wellington this afternoon.

She said Labour would also have an annual "Children's Summit" with MPs, researchers, social agencies and academics.

She said Labour would pay for the new initiative from the current budget for the Families Commission of $7.7 million a year - more than the Ministry of Women's Affairs' $4.5 million.

She believed that $7.7 million was enough to set up and run the new ministry with some left over to be used by other departments on policies affecting children.

"It still astounds me that in New Zealand we have a minister for race horses, a minister of the Rugby World Cup, a minister for senior citizens but no minister for the most vulnerable in our community, our kids."

Ms King also gave Labour's backing to the Maori Party's Whanau Ora scheme for service delivery. She said while it was simply the latest in a long strong of similar programmes to integrate service delivery, it was time to stop changing it constantly. She said Labour would strengthen that proposal.

Legislation would also be passed to require all government departments to meet targets and put every new or changed policy through a "child impact assessment" similar to those currently done for human rights.

The Children's Commission would be reviewed and have its independence strengthened and Labour would also review the Children, Young Person's and their Families Act, which she said was not working for many families anymore.

The new ministry would be "tightly focussed" and lead policy and research as well as monitor how other government departments' work affected children. It would also monitor child health, wellbeing and poverty - all areas in which Ms King said New Zealand under-performed in the OECD tables.

Ms King last year proposed extending paid parental leave and increasing Working for Families for families with very young children. However, at her speech today she indicated it was reconsidering the extent to which Labour could now make such promises.

She said she had initially intended to announce a major childrens' policy at the Congress this week. However, the Budget's deficit meant the time was not right for that.

Labour would not announce any costly policies before it could show how it would pay for it.

She said the focus on young children remained at the heart of new policy, and would include extra parental support and Wellchild checks for under-2s as well as better early education for under-5s.

She criticised Paula Bennett's proposal for a Green Paper review on child abuse, saying it was a costly option which would take too long.

"We don't need more papers. The work has already been done. Now is the time for action."

Labour leader Phil Goff said he would also make a policy announcement tomorrow. While it was a "costly" policy, he would also outline what changes Labour would make to pay for it.

He said it was important to do so for credibility. He said Labour would also make it clear before the election whether Labour would reverse, or partially reverse, National's changes to the KiwiSaver scheme.

He said National had broken a promise by cutting contributions to KiwiSaver and that would undermine confidence in it.

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