Social Security (Clothing Allowances for Orphans and Unsupported Children) Amendment Bill - Second reading

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

STUART SMITH: As this is the first opportunity I have had to speak in the House since Cyclone Pam, I would like to take just a brief moment to acknowledge the hardship that has gone on, particularly for the people of Tanna island. In my electorate there is a close affiliation with Tanna island. A lot of the recognised seasonal workers have come from Tanna island and it has been quite devastated there. I note that there is quite an effort going on in Marlborough to put together a 40-foot container with building materials, generators, and other things to help those people get back on their feet. They make a valuable contribution to our economy and their work, in turn, makes a lot of valuable contribution back to their own GDP. I would like to take just a moment to acknowledge that, so thank you.

It is a great pleasure to speak to the Social Security (Clothing Allowances for Orphans and Unsupported Children) Amendment Bill. Tracey, like everybody else, I would like to pay tribute to you for putting this together. It is a fantastic bill and it is a really important issue to bring forward to people. Unfortunately I was not on the Social Services Committee, which looked at it, because I was not elected to Parliament at that time, but I am now on that committee and I really am enjoying the work that we do there. So I look at this with different eyes from those I would have had prior to the election, so thank you and well done.

I would also like to say that as part of my election campaign I spent quite a bit of time going around places like the Salvation Army, Bread of Life, and Barnados looking at the sorts of issues that this bill attempts to cover. It is really quite a big issue out there when there are these sorts of people.

We are really talking about the unsupported child’s benefit, which is only available when the family breaks down—and who knows what sort of circumstances have gone on behind that; perhaps the parent or parents have gone to jail or something like that—or the orphans benefit, where the parents have died or cannot be found. That is a pretty traumatic thing for a child to go through and then to have them supported by their kin or as kin carers. There is a heck of a lot going on for them to put up with and to adjust to, and to then go through financial difficulties as well would be pretty traumatic.

This bill attempts to alleviate that, so well done on that. I note that there is no income or asset test for this particular benefit and I think it is important point that the families that are going through this do not have to go through the added difficulties of having to apply for that. This particular bill is trying to fill another hole—I realise that—but I will come to that a little bit later. I also note that the child automatically qualifies for a community services card, and, depending on how the benefit is applied for, there may well be an in-work tax credit for some of the beneficiaries, which I think is also a very good thing to do.

When we are talking about kin carers we are really talking quite often about grandparents. I thought we could, just for a moment, turn our minds to that. It was a common practice for grandparents to have quite a role in bringing children up in the past, perhaps two generations ago. That really has changed a lot today. The big difference we note today is that when a grandparent is looking after and bringing up a child, they will be much older than they would have been two generations ago. People start their families now in their late 20s and 30s, and sometimes late 30s, whereas going back two generations ago it would be in their 20s. So there is a much bigger age difference between the grandparents and the grandchildren, and that is pretty difficult to deal with sometimes. H

aving three children of my own, I know how difficult it can be, without being a grandparent, trying to look after them. When we are talking about clothing allowances for young children in particular, being, as I said, a parent, I know how hard kids can be, particularly boys, on their clothes. It is an expensive business trying to buy school uniforms for them and to keep that up to date, let alone all the other clothes they wear—sports uniforms and all that sort of thing.

In regard to the implementation of the bill being pushed out to 2018, when you are talking about gathering tax from taxpayers and redistributing it to people in need or to provide the goods and services that Governments provide on our behalf, you really have to walk a delicate line. If you go too far and tax people too heavily, they will put too much effort into trying to minimise their income tax liabilities. That has been shown many times around the world to have a perverse effect on the economy and to drag the economy down and hold everybody back, and we cannot do that.

Being in Government, being leaders, and being members of Parliament, we have to make tough decisions about how we balance out the needs of people and our ability to pay. The demand for Government funds is limitless but our ability to pay is very much limited, and we have to take those things into account when we pass laws. The Government is quite rightly taking a sort of whole-of-Government approach in looking at its welfare policies and how they might be implemented, and I think that is a really smart thing to do. So that is why there is a delay. We really need to do it properly, because simply bolting more things on in an ad hoc manner is really not good Government, and that is what is driving the implementation of this bill.

I noted Poto Williams talking about Whānau Ora before and the other sorts of policies that go around. Those are fantastic policies and they are all going to hit specific needs in different ways. The likes of Children’s Teams is another policy that is working very well in that way, and, I am proud to say, in Marlborough, which is the fourth place in New Zealand for Children’s Teams to be introduced. I believe that it is going to work very well and that it will help in this sort of area, particularly because those children will often be the ones that will need those services. When I was going around those various community groups, it struck me that there is quite an overlap in services and that often those people will grab a bit of service from here and another bit from another area, and it is not necessarily in the best interests of that particular child. So I think that having an overall approach is needed.

I am certainly supporting this bill and I think it will go through. The delay is needed because of the balancing all the policies up and making sure that they all work together. But I do commend you Tracey for all the hard work that has gone into it, and it is a great pleasure to actually commend this bill to the House. Thank you.