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Labour says Govt has failed to make children a priority

May 21st, 2011 Top News

By Peter Wilson

A Labour government would have in its cabinet a Minister for Children running a department funded with money that now goes to the Families Commission, deputy leader Annette King says.

She told the party’s annual congress in Wellington today the Government had failed to meet its promises to make children a priority.

“In a 2009 OECD report New Zealand ranked 29th out of 30 countries for child health and safety,” she said.

“In fact some New Zealand disease patterns among children are closer to those of developing countries…we have an appalling rate of child abuse, known to lead to poor health, learning outcomes and behavioural problems.”

Ms King said it was essential to have a senior minister with responsibility for children in the cabinet.

“The time has come to disestablish the Families Commission and fold some of that work back into a small Ministry for Children,” she said.

“It’s current budget is $7.7 million a year. I believe we can establish a Ministry for Children with enough left over to hand some funding back to the Minister of Finance for other priorities in children’s policy.”

Ms King said Labour would also bring together major players at an annual Children’s Summit, an event attended by policy makers, practitioners, community groups and the media.

“It will be a place for open, warts and all assessment of not only the Government’s performance but a place to thrash out what’s working and what’s not,” she said.

“We will be there to listen and learn.”

Ms King said she had tried to find agreement with other parties on a plan for children and a long-term strategic direction.

“Most other political parties are willing. The pooper at the party is National — John Key has refused to allow his party to join such an approach,” she said.

Under Labour, all government departments and agencies would have to undertake Child Impact Assessments on new and changed policies, and there would be legislation setting out long-term commitments, actions and accountabilities for all agencies.

Ms King was scathing about Social Development Minister Paula Bennett’s suggestion a month ago that there should be “a national conversation” about child welfare, and the minister’s intention to draft proposals after that.

“Child abuse is a serious issue…after three years as a minister we are to get a green paper, followed by a white paper, and sometime in the future a policy.

“We don’t need more papers, the work has already been done. Now is the time for action.”