Key Points:

A $200,000 Families Commission "summit" due to be held in February has been axed after Social Development Minister Paula Bennett declared it a waste of money.

The commission yesterday cancelled its February summit for 150 people at Waipuna Lodge after Ms Bennett said the price tag was inappropriate in the current economic times.

The summit was approved by former Labour social development minister Ruth Dyson.

But Ms Bennett said she was surprised the commission had continued with plans for the conference after the change of government and National's repeated warnings that it wanted careful spending of public money.

She learned of the cost of the summit in the commission's briefing to her as the incoming minister.

"As you can imagine, sipping my tea at 11 o'clock at night reading that made my face turn blue," she said.

"I then suggested quite strongly they may like to revisit that in the current economic times. I told them I didn't think the New Zealand public would see this as a good spend."

Last week, Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee stopped advertising for the Buy Kiwi Made campaign, saying it was not priority spending.

Prime Minister John Key has also warned department chief executives he did not want to see expensive conferences on the Government books.

Ms Bennett acknowledged the Families Commission conference was proposed a year ago in good economic times by its previous commissioner, Rajen Prasad.

"But I think they need to recognise the times we are in now. I struggle to see the direct result it's going to have in making a better life for families."

The commission's chief commissioner, Jan Pryor, said she was surprised at Ms Bennett's stance at such a late stage, as it was well-known that the commission had been planning the summit for more than a year.

The commission had tried unsuccessfully to find sponsors to finance the conference, and had moved toward changing the agenda to focus more on responses to the developing economic crisis.

"There is an increasing need for government agencies to keep an extremely tight lid on all spending ... It is clear that the summit is not the most appropriate way to proceed at this point."

The commission initially proposed reducing the conference from 150 to 100 people at a cost of $180,000.

But Ms Bennett told it that price was also unacceptable.

The "Making New Zealand the Best Place for Families" summit was to have been held at Waipuna Lodge in Mt Wellington over two days.

People invited to attend it would have paid for their own travel and accommodation.

They included Warehouse creator Stephen Tindall, Business NZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly, Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly and the Family Court's head judge, Andrew Boshier, as well as government department heads and the chief executives of Plunket and Barnardos.

Its agenda included "financial stability", "supporting family relationships" and "creating a thriving environment for families".

The future of the Families Commission came under scrutiny during the election campaign in October as National began to eye questionable government spending.

The commission was set up in 2003 under Labour's governing arrangement with United Future.

United Future leader Peter Dunne's new agreement with National ensured it was saved in October's change of government, although it is likely to be merged with the Office of the Children's Commissioner to share administrative resources.

June, 2008

Te Puni Kokiri, or The Ministry of Maori Development, comes under fire for spending more than $240,000 on staff conferences in less than a year.

The spending was revealed during parliamentary questions and showed the biggest-ticket conference for staff of the ministry was a "relationships and information national hui" for 132. It cost $69,000.

The three-day conference last July was at the New Zealand International Campus at Trentham, near Wellington. Another hui for 46 support staff at a hotel in Methven cost about $35,000.

May, 2008

It is revealed that Housing New Zealand's "property improvement team" spent more than a quarter of a million dollars on six conferences at expensive resorts.

The ministry told the then Housing Minister Maryan Street that there would be no more conferences at those locations because "reasonable caution in spending" will be observed and "high-profile venues" are off the list.

July 1999

WINZ faces criticism for spending $165,000 on chartering planes to fly 140 staff to a training course at the luxury Wairakei Resort Hotel in Taupo.

A manager was suspended and a second conference for 120 was postponed.

- With NZHERALD STAFF