Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Child welfare policies gain support

Film-maker finds most MPs back extended parental leave and mandatory rental housing warrant of fitness

Film-maker Bryan Bruce's survey has found that only the Act Party is totally opposed to both ideas. Photo / Thinkstock
Film-maker Bryan Bruce's survey has found that only the Act Party is totally opposed to both ideas. Photo / Thinkstock

Extended paid parental leave and a mandatory rental housing "warrant of fitness" are close to winning majority backing, a survey of MPs has found.

The survey by film-maker Bryan Bruce has found that Act is now the only party in Parliament totally opposed to both ideas.

He has also found that Colin Craig's Conservative Party would support both extended parental leave and a rental housing warrant of fitness, although with a phased timetable.

"So, on the whole, children's policies would be better off in a National/Conservative partnership than a National/Act partnership, but not as well off as under a coalition of the left," Mr Bruce said.

Mr Craig confirmed that his party's "pro-family" approach would support mothers to stay home with new babies for longer than the present 14 weeks of paid parental leave.

Mr Bruce surveyed all 121 MPs plus Mr Craig on five ideas to reduce child poverty, which were proposed in his 2011 documentary, Inside Child Poverty, and again by an expert group appointed by Children's Commissioner Russell Wills last year.

He said he was heartened by the results.

"There is an awareness and a shifting in Parliament now towards these issues in a way that there was not two years ago," he said.

National's May Budget announced a trial warrant of fitness applying first to state houses "and then to other social housing providers".

"Policy work will be undertaken on applying the WoF more widely," it said.

That puts National, along with NZ First, in the "maybe" camp for a general warrant of fitness. The idea is aimed at reducing housing-related child illness and is endorsed by Labour, the Greens, the Maori Party, Mana, United Future and independent MP Brendan Horan. Mr Craig said he would support it if tenants and landlords could opt out by agreement in the first few years.

National said it will veto Labour MP Sue Moroney's bill to extend paid parental leave from 14 weeks to six months.

But Finance Minister Bill English told Mr Bruce: "When finances permit, the National-led Government may consider extending paid parental leave."

Labour MP Jacinda Ardern told Mr Bruce that Labour would extend paid leave to a year eventually.

The survey found less support for free lunches in low-decile schools. United Future MP Peter Dunne opposed them and Mr English said National supported only a charitable breakfast scheme run by Fonterra and Sanitarium.

Labour's policy, in a bill by former leader David Shearer, is to support charities to supply unspecified "food" to low-decile schools which want it and need it "using such indicators of need as the Ministry (of Education) specifies". On a generous reading, that may mean free lunches.

- NZ Herald

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