Dunne’s bottom lines


Untied Future leader Peter Dunne spent three terms supporting Labour, is in his second term supporting National and is showing he could go left or right after next year’s election.

However, he’s got some bottom lines:

. . .  Mr Dunne said he would need Labour to abandon its plans for a capital gains tax, higher taxes for higher income earners, abolition of the Families Commission and opposition to the establishment of the Game Animal Council.

I wouldn’t give him much chance with the first two conditions.

Both Labour and the Green party want more taxes and higher taxes, even though those they’re promoting will do more harm than good.

The Families Commission has yet to justify its existence and the money it costs but it’s not particularly significant in the grand scheme of things. Nor is the Game Animal Council.

Dunne might get the two little things he wants but he would be much safer sticking with National which would give him the bigger ones – no capital gains tax and no envy taxes for higher earners.

Families different and diverse


New Zealand families today: a brief demographic profile published by the Families Commission is a summary of  facts about New Zealand families which reveals significant changes in our social fabric.

The Commission’s Chief Research Analyst, Dr Jeremy Robertson said the statistics reveal trends over several decades including fewer people marrying with more of those who do so marrying later and living together first.

“. . . The facts also correct some common misconceptions. For example, despite the belief that divorce is on the rise, there has actually been a recent fall in divorce rates, with the rate declining since 2003.”

He says, “With the increasing age of the population we are seeing a reduction in the proportion of households with children. Couple-only and one person households appear to be the fastest growing household type.”

More children are living with one parent. In 1976 10% of children were living with one parent, but by 2006 the figure was 28%. It is estimated that over a third of children will have lived in a sole parent family by the time they reach the age of 17.

Dr Robertson says. “Our household composition is changing and our experiences of family life are changing. Past patterns of family formation and child bearing have changed, with a wider diversity of pathways into family relationships. Children are also experiencing a greater range of living situations than the past.”

“These kinds of changes have implications for business, social policy, family services and local government” he says. It’s important to know what’s really happening in families today so we can provide the education, health and other social services that families, whānau and their children really need to prosper.” . . .

Key findings:

 Over the past 20 years couple-only and one person households have become more common.
• The rate of growth in the proportion of households headed by a sole parent may be levelling off.
• An estimated third of children will have lived in a sole parent family for a period of time by age 17.
• In 2006 57% of all adults aged 16 and over were living with a partner. The majority of these were married (76%), however a growing proportion of New Zealanders now live together without formally legalising their relationship.
• Since the early 1970s there has been an almost uninterrupted decline in the general marriage rate.
• Evidence that some people are delaying marriage is seen in the increasing median age of those who marry. The median age of women who married for the first time has risen from 20.8 years in 1971 to 28.2 years in 2010. The median age for men marrying for the first time has increased by about 7 years.
• Divorce rates have increased until recently (there has been a drop-off since the mid 2000s). The proportion of people who marry for a second time has increased.
• The median age for women giving birth is now 30 years, compared with 26 years in the early 1960s and just under 25 years in the early 1970s. Fewer New Zealand women in their teens are having a child compared with the 1960s.
• The proportion of ex-nuptial births is now nearly 50%.
• Between 1991 and 2012 the proportion of women holding a post-school qualification increased from 32% to 50%. The gender gap has been steadily closing – from 12 percentage points in 1991 to 3 percentage points in 2012.
• The average weekly hours spent by children in licensed ECE settings has increased from 13.3 hours in 2000 to 20.4 hours in 2011.

The full report is here.


Refocus for Families Commission


The Families Commission was a post-election coalition trophy for United Future and I have never been convinced it did anything of sufficient value to justify its existence.

However a new focus announced by Social Develop Minister Paula Bennett could change that:

The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor Professor Sir Peter Gluckman has identified a gap in monitoring, evaluation and research in the social sector.

“This restructure will see the Families Commission take on a new role providing for independent monitoring, evaluation and research to measure the effectiveness of initiatives for families and society,” says Mrs Bennett.

Of the $32.48 million funding the Families Commission receives over four years, the Government will reprioritise a minimum of $14.2 million over four years to set up a new Social Policy Evaluation and Research Unit (SuPERU).

This unit will provide independent monitoring, evaluation and contracting of research on key issues and social sector programmes and interventions.

“There will be a single Commissioner, down from the original seven and the organisation will be governed by a board comprising public sector, philanthropic and academic representatives,” says Mrs Bennett.

The restructure will see the Families Commission’s core function, which is to advocate for families, streamlined through a leaner, more focused structure.

A new Family Status Report will be developed to measure how New Zealand families are getting on.

A further $4 million over four years will be redirected to fund extra parenting programmes and relationship education in schools and the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health programme.

The Government also announced the transfer of responsibility for managing the Growing Up In New Zealand longitudinal study to the new unit.

The study will receive an additional $1.8m from Vote Social Development 2012/2013 financial year.

A focus based on science rather than feel-good factors is a good place to start in ensuring the Commission achieves something worthwhile and gives value for the money it costs.

Families Commission sees sense on PPL


National  has got support  from an unexpected quarter for announcing it will veto any extension to Paid Parental Leave.

Families Commissioner Carl Davidson has said the country probably can’t afford it:

Until recently the Families Commission has helped lead the campaign for increased paid parental leave. It argued strongly under its former boss Rajen Prasad – now a Labour MP – for a full year’s paid parental leave and reaffirmed its position in 2010.

But Mr Davidson, appointed that year by Social Development Minister Paula Bennett, told the Weekend Herald that the commission’s 2007 proposal should now be seen as “the gold standard”, which had to change because of the worldwide economic recession.

He said paid parental leave encouraged people to start families, which was socially and economically desirable but had certain limits.

Has anyone seen any research on this? Does PPL really encourage people who wouldn’t otherwise have had children to have them and if so in sufficient numbers to justify the cost?
Does it make a significant difference to parents taking time off work after a birth and to breast feeding rates or would they have done it anyway?
We don’t want to get too carried away of course because that argument could be extended to infinity.

“I mean, wouldn’t it be great if none of us had to go to work and we could just stay at home and raise our kids and get paid for it?

No-one disputes the benefits of time off work to establish and continue breast feeding, to bond, to adjust to the demands of parenting not least of which is too little sleep.
A case for having at least one parent at home for a few weeks, months or even years could be easily made.
But does the public need to pay PPL to enable this?
Even in the best of financial times that’s debatable. It shouldn’t even be considered when we’re running deficits and there will be other more pressing priorities when we get back into surplus.

UF support at a price


National has a supply and confidence agreement with United Future:

Under the deal, Mr Dunne will remain Minister of Revenue and associate Minister of Health, as well as picking up the portfolio of associate Minister of Conservation.

Mr Dunne has also won new gains including investigating a free, annual health check-up for over 65s, no sale of any part of Kiwibank or Radio New Zealand.

He has also secured the retention of the Families Commission.

The question of this deal was never a matter of if but when and at what cost.

Even though Dunne won only his seat, I suppose he had to get something to show for his vote.

The Families Commission might be small beer in the context of overall government spending but given Bill English says we’re facing spending constraints for the foreseeable future the its retention is an expensive and unproductive luxury.

“Balancing the books and returning to  surplus is one of the most important things the Government can do to  build a stronger and more competitive economy,” Mr English says. . .

But getting back to surplus won’t be easy. In many ways, restraint in the public sector has only just started.

“The Government is committed to meeting this challenge. We’ve taken steps to control spending and get on top of debt, while putting in place  policies that build a more competitive economy and more real jobs.

When the need for restraint is so great, it’s a pity that axing the commission, which is an obvious way of cutting costs with little or no impact on anyone but those who work for it ,is no longer an option.

I wonder what the cost-benefit analysis of it would show and how all concessions made to minor parties since MMP was introduced would fare under similar scrutiny?

The confidence and supply agreement is here.

We don’t need another ministry


Labour intends to disestablish the Families’ Commission and replace it with a Ministry for Children.

Few people would lament the end to the commission, but we don’t need another ministry, we’ve already got far too many of them.

The one good thing about this policy is it highlights the big difference between National and Labour.

National is focussed on saving, investment export-led growth and the important part reducing the burden of the state plays in that.

Labour is focussed on adding to the burden through taxing, spending and redistribution.

Merging commissions first step


Peter Dunne is calling for the Families’ and Children’s Commissions to be merged:

“Rolling the Office of the Children’s Commissioner into the Families Commission just makes sense,” Mr Dunne said.

“Much of what the two agencies do overlaps and is inter-related. The interests of families and children deeply entwined, and I believe a merger would strengthen their combined advocacy role, while maximising their value for money.”

. . .“The well-being of our children is dependent above all else on the strength of our families,” he said.

“A single commission focused on promoting the needs of families will, by definition, have a positive effect on the lives of children in New Zealand.”

What would have made even more sense would have been not to waste money on the Families’ Commission in the first place. 

But if it’s not going to disappear altogether merging it with the Children’s Commission is better than leaving it as a separate agency.

With luck the merger will be a first step towards its eventual disappearance.

Spot the contradiction


The Families Commission wants us to fund the expansion of Paid Parental Leave for new fathers to four weeks to enable them to spend more time with their babies.

Isn’t there more than a slight contradiction between that and subsidies for child care, paid for by us, to enable parents to leave their children while they work?

P.S. Lindsay Mitchell has a better idea.

Potential for savings confirmed


Paul Holmes interviewed someone on Q&A this morning.

I didn’t catch her name, I’m not sure of her title and the interview isn’t online yet. But she was from the Families Commission.

The interview confirmed my contention that the multi-million dollar budget allocated to would be better spent on other initiatives which make a positive difference to families.

And that was before Paul asked her why the Commission made a submission calling for Maori seats on the new Auckland council.

The interview will be online here soon.

UPDATE: The interviewee was Dr Jan Pryor, the Families Commission’s chief commissioner.

A few questions about the Families Commision:


1. What do we know about the other family commissioners?

2. Does it matter?

3. What do they do?

4. What have they achieved?

5. How much has it cost?

6. Would families have got greater benefits if that money was spent elsewhere?

7. Would the taxpayer get a better return on the investment if that money was spent elsewhere?

8. Do we need a Families Commission?

If you’re struggling with any of the answers, pop over to Cactus Kate for assistance.

Rankin & Pilbrow new family commissioners


Christine Rankin, former Social Welfare head, and Bruce Pilbrow, CEO of Parents Inc  have been appointed to the Families Commission.

Their appointments may well result in a change of direction and tone but doesn’t change my view that it would be better to disestablish the commission and direct the funding to organisations like Plunket which work directly with families.

Families Commission finds world’s not flat


Is it news to you that the environment where children are raised has a great impact on brain development and their ability to acquire social and moral skills?

I suspect not and that it won’t surprise you that this:

. . . in turn, affected how well they picked up everything from language and writing to important social and moral skills, such as knowing how to control their emotions and desires, and have empathy for others.

“In loving, nurturing environments the child’s brain will develop normally, said Charles Waldegrave, a well-published researcher based at The Family Centre.

“But recent developments in neuroscience and child development show that ongoing experiences of neglect, abuse or violence can seriously damage development in children, leading to long-term impairment of their intellectual, emotional and social functioning.”

But it appears to have come as a surprise to the Families Commission or they wouldn’t have needed the 61 page report, healthy families, young minds and developing brains: enabling all children to reach their potential .

That’s 61 pages for the authors Charles and Kasia Waldergrave to state the bleeding obvious and come up with four recommendations:

1. Accessible information on the importance of healthy neural and cognitive development in children and the risks of developmental impairment be produced in popular formats, firstly aimed at a target group of families who are at risk of abusing or neglecting their children and the key groups that work with them, and secondly at the population as a whole.

And information will do what to counteract the alcohol and drug abuse, multiple partners, poor literacy and numeracy,  low income and other factors which creates the environment that leads to neglect and abuse?

 2. Access to high-quality ECE continues to be increased, particularly where children are at risk of violence, abuse or neglect.

High-quality ECE is a laudable goal, but it’s putting band aids on bleeding arteries because it will do nothing to stop the neglect and abuse the children return to at home.

 3. Policies that focus investment on lifting children and families out of poverty be extended to ensure adequate income, decent housing and affordable access to healthcare for all New Zealand families.

 Would that be aimed at higher benefits which increase dependence or better productivity, increased employment, education and other initiatives which foster independence?

4. Further research be commissioned to track: the effects of impaired development in children so targeted policies can be implemented the numbers of children at risk; the effectiveness of enhanced environments in restoring potential development for those whose development has been impaired; the effectiveness of public education programmes in preventing children from becoming ‘at risk’ and promoting safe, secure and loving family and educational environments.

Is there just a teeny wee bit of self interest in that recommendation given it comes from people likely to be employed to do that research?

And what would do more for those must at risk and in need: more research or more money for front line services like Plunket?

We don’t need research to state the bleeding obvious. We know that being brought up in loving families doesn’t guarantee healthy emotional and social development nor does childhood neglect guarantee failure.

But we also know the earth’s not flat and that the risk factors are well established: children raised in dysfunctional  homes are a lot more likely to follow their parents’ bad example just as those by loving and nurturing families are likely to follow theirs.

Reports aren’t going to solve the problems in dysfunctional homes and we don’t need more of them.

If the Families Commission was really serious about  addressing the causes of neglect and abuse it would disestablish itself and request that the funding it gets is redirected to where it will make a positive difference.

Should the government borrow?


Should the government borrow:

* to enable middle and upper income families to buy luxuries?

* to buy and maintain high country farms?

* to fund the Families Commission?

* to support a bloated public service?

The survey  commisioned by the Business for Sustainable Development didn’t ask those questions, it just asked if the government should borrow to fund tax cuts.

But if the previous government wasted so much money on these and other money wasting projects the current one wouldn’t have to borrow to fund them now.

Had the previous government  not overtaxed and overspent we’d have had tax cuts long before now.

If it had spent more on policies which promoted economic growth instead of those which stifled it we’d be in a much better position to meet and recover from the recession.

But it did which leaves this government to clean up the mess and get the economy growing again.

Because the previous administration spent the lot, this one has to borrow. That’s not bad in itself as Adolf at No Minister points out:

. . . just so long as the borrowing is funding capital expenditure and only sufficient tax is taken to fund operating costs and service the debt over the lifetime of the asset.

That’s what prudent people and businesses do and it’s not imprudent for governments to do it too.

Plunketline funded for 24/7 service


National has delivered on another election pledge with today’s announcement that Plunketline will be funded to enable it to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

A media release from Health Minister Tony Ryall says:

The extended service is being funded through a grant of $3.75 million over 15 months to the end of March next year ($3 million per annum). By that time, a review of Well Child parent information programmes will have been completed and new contracting arrangements will be in place.

The parent information review could extend support services to include e-mail and online information and chatrooms.

The help line is an invaluable service for parents and caregivers of young children and the 24 hour/seven day service from Plunket nurses is much better than the general health helpline which the previous government funded instead.

There may well be a place for on-line asssistance too but any of these services must be in addition to not a replacement for home and clinic visits.

If that much over and misused word icon could be applied to any institution in New Zealand it is Plunket.

For more than 100 years it has provided an invaluable service to families and one of its strengths is that Plunket nurses go to every home which gives them an insight they couldn’t get in a clinic.

Equally important, because they provide a universal service to every home and every child their is no stigma about their visits in the way that there might be with other agencies such as Public Health or welfare.

I’m delighted with the Plunketline funding and hope it is just the start of policies which will not just maintain but strengthen the services and support provided to families from Plunket.

If, as is inevitable, this will cost more then funding could be diverted from the Families Commission.

Dear Peter


Hon Peter Dunne

Parliament Buildings



Dear Peter


I have only a vague understand of the rationale behind the Families Commission and I think that is because there is nothing more behind it than a vague, feel-good attempt to do “something”.


But ‘something’ isn’t good enough and if the ideas behind the Commission are vague so are its achievements. I have yet to see any concrete proof of anything it has done to justify its $50m budget and the news that the commission was going to waste $200,000 on a summit confirms my views that it isn’t worth the money we’re spending on it.


Paula Bennett has made a very good start to her tenure as Social Development Minister by getting the Commission to can the summit.


Dumping the Commission itself will be more difficult because of the government’s support agreement with you, but it’s not too late for you to be sensible about it.


Could you put your hand on your heart and say that existing agencies like Plunket wouldn’t do much more for families at a fraction of the cost of this bureaucracy?


No. So it wouldn’t hurt you to swallow a dead rat and admit that it was a bad idea which has failed to prove its worth.


The families of New Zealand and the taxpayers will all be better off if you do.


Yours in hope,


Time for a cull


When feed is getting short, sensible farmers do a bit of culling. In light of comments by Fran O, Sullivan, Colin James, John Armstrong, and Rod Emmerson’s cartoon that Cullen is leaving the paddock bare, where should an incoming Government, in whatever form that might take, start its cull?


National has said it will not increase the number of core bureaucrats. I’d go further and get rid of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Families Commission altogether.


Welfare may be the only way to assist low income families but it’s ridiculous to turn those on the upper tax rate into beneficiaries so Working for Families would be adjusted.


 Oh, and any position which has a job description in anything but the plainest of English  would go too.

But of course I’m not trying to get elected nor am I courting coalition partners.

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