With 10,000 fewer families receiving childcare support, the Government should be doing more to ensure New Zealanders are moving into work, rather than left on a benefit, National’s Early Childhood Education spokesperson Nicola Willis says.
“The Work and Income Assistance Programme provides subsidies to lower-income families to help them meet the costs of early childhood education, after school and holiday care. In June 2019 only 33,072 subsidies were handed out, down from 42,989 in June 2017.
“Childcare costs can be a major barrier for families wanting to move from welfare into work, so it’s concerning to see there are fewer and fewer families receiving income-related childcare subsidies under this Government.
“The number of New Zealanders on the jobseeker support is up 27,000, and the number of children growing up in benefit-dependent households is up 15,000. This is a time when there should be more childcare subsidies being handed out in order to move New Zealanders off a benefit.
“Childcare costs can be the difference between someone choosing to work or choosing to stay on the benefit. Fewer childcare subsidies means fewer people choosing to move off a benefit and into meaningful work.
“We know the growing cost of living is hitting struggling Kiwi families hard. The childcare subsidy is there to help struggling families out by reducing the costs of taking a job or increasing work hours.
“National is aspirational for New Zealanders, it’s better to be independent and working, rather than receiving a benefit, and it’s important Kiwis are supported when they move into work.
“Fewer families getting this subsidy means fewer families getting a hand up into work, and more people left languishing on the dole.”
The Ministry of Education (MOE) today confirmed that the Government has failed to deliver on the Prime Minister’s 2018 promise to reduce early intervention waiting times for young children, National’s Early Childhood Education spokesperson Nicola Willis says.
“The Ministry confirmed at the Education and Workforce Select Committee today that children are now waiting an average of 101 days for early intervention support.
“In April 2018 the Prime Minister promised to reduce waiting times from an average wait of 74 days, saying ‘in the life of a little three or four year-old child who's hungry to learn, that's 74 days too long’.
“The Bay of Plenty has a waiting time of 134 days and children in Taranaki, Whanganui and Manawatu are having to wait 155 days.
“What’s worse is that the Ministry could not even provide a date by which waiting times would be back under 80 days again.
“Early intervention times were trending downwards under National but despite bold promises by the Prime Minister things have just gotten worse under Labour.
“The Prime Minister promised an additional 1750 children would get help last year, but the Ministry today confirmed only 626 received this assistance.
“This is a huge let-down for thousands of families and teachers who had their hopes raised that their children would get extra help sooner. What matters to parents is the services their children receive – not the PM’s empty promises.
“The earlier we help young children out with services like speech-language therapy and physical therapy the better those children will do at school. Every day matters in a young child’s life.
“The Ministry of Education’s response at Select Committee today confirmed that there has been no real plan to deliver the shorter waiting times.
“That’s not good enough. It’s simply not acceptable for the Prime Minister to make specific promises without the robust delivery plan to make them possible. Our kids deserve better.”
The National Party is today launching a petition to bring forward construction of a second Mt Victoria tunnel as part of a balanced transport plan for the capital, Wellington-based National MP Nicola Willis says.
“Wellingtonians don’t want to spend another decade wasting their lives in gridlock while politicians fail to deliver the infrastructure our capital city needs.
“By pushing back construction of a second Mt Victoria Tunnel, the current Government is consigning Wellingtonians to more years of going nowhere.
“The Let’s Get Wellington Moving project identified the second Mt Victoria tunnel as key to unlocking the Basin Reserve chokepoint that has dogged Wellington for years.
“Unlocking traffic-flow on this important section of SH1 needs to be done alongside planned improvements for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users.
“The Government was told another tunnel should be prioritised to improve traffic flow on SH1, allow for growth and alleviate the increased congestion that construction of Wellington’s mass transit network will create.
“By ignoring officials, and bowing to the wishes of Julie Anne Genter instead, Transport Minister Phil Twyford has delivered a gut-punch to Wellingtonians who are crying out for action on transport.
“We’re calling on Kiwis to make their voices heard by signing our petition by email or online.
“If elected in 2020, National will build the infrastructure that Labour is neglecting and give motorists something in return for all the extra tax this Government is hitting them with.”
National’s petition can be found here
National will consider the proposals made in the Early Learning Action Plan, but is sceptical this is yet another unfunded wish list from a Government with a record of non-delivery, National’s Early Childhood Education spokesperson Nicola Willis says.
“The Government’s Early Learning Action Plan contains a big disclaimer that Cabinet is yet to agree on its individual actions, or put aside any funding for them.
“This is just another wish list. The Government hasn’t funded these promises and may still drop them.
“Education Minister Chris Hipkins has failed to take meaningful action on the widespread teacher shortages impacting early childhood education services, deferring instead to yet another plan.
“A recent survey I conducted of more than 2000 people in the early childhood sector confirmed the severe teacher shortages, with more than 600 respondents struggling for more than six months to find an ECE teacher.
“The Government campaigned on a promise of 100 per cent qualified teachers and lower teacher ratios. This plan does not fund those promises, which they are failing to deliver on.
“There is also a risk that, left unfunded, the cost of these promises will fall on families who will be forced to pay higher fees for the education their children receive.
“The 100 per cent qualified goal remains unrealistic. There are about 10,000 experienced educators currently working in ECE without formal teaching qualifications. It makes no sense to exclude them when there is such a dire lack of educators available.
“I’m concerned that the proposals to incentivise 100 per cent qualified teachers will have the negative effect of making it even harder for centres struggling to find teachers, as they will face a further funding disadvantage.
“Education Minister Chris Hipkins is dropping this Action Plan to look like he’s busy, but in reality it’s just an unfunded wish list.”
National is focused on lifting the quality of early childhood education, National’s Early Childhood Education spokesperson Nicola Willis says.
“It’s important our children receive quality education in their early years as this sets them up for primary school onwards. Most early childhood education (ECE) services do a great job, however there is evidence that some are not meeting the quality standards parents expect.
“National is looking to implement a programme of unannounced spot-checks of centres to ensure they are meeting the required standards. Where ECE services are found to be breaking the rules, National proposes that they be put on notice and parents informed. If problems aren’t fixed quickly, services will risk losing their license to operate.
“We want parents to feel confident that when they leave their child in a Government licensed early childhood service, they know they will be well looked after. These proposals are designed to give them that assurance.
“National knows good teachers are at the heart of quality ECE. We're concerned by the growing shortage of qualified early childhood teachers and the issues around pay and workload.
“We’re looking to address this by creating scholarships and voluntary bonding measures to attract more people into early childhood teaching, and we propose additional funding for teachers in the first two years after graduating to assist with getting full registration.
“We have also listened to parents and teachers concerned about the long wait time for early intervention support for children with additional needs and we propose a new approach, which includes a 30 day wait limit for a first-time assessment.
“National supports high quality ECE that allows families to choose the care and education arrangements that suit their circumstances and support their children to thrive.
“We are committed to lifting the quality of ECE across the country and welcome feedback on the proposals in our discussion document.”
The Ministry of Education must ensure children enrolled at Manurewa West Kindergarten are safe and, if necessary, suspend the Kindergarten from caring for children while investigations are underway, National’s Early Childhood Education spokesperson Nicola Willis says.
“The incident involving Masua Tusa is incredibly disturbing. A young, vulnerable child has had an unexplained accident, leading to awful injuries, medical care doesn’t seem to have been sought and parents have not been pro-actively informed.
“The Ministry of Education must assure parents that Manurewa West Kindergarten is a safe place for them to be sending their children.
“The Ministry should conduct a thorough investigation into this matter including working with WorkSafe and the NZ Police if necessary. If that investigation requires an interim suspension of the Kindergarten’s service, then so be it.
“Parents don’t expect this to happen in a Government licensed and monitored early childhood education (ECE) service.
“All Mums and Dads rely on the Government to ensure laws and regulations are being enforced in licensed ECE services. We expect good systems and processes are in place to keep our children safe. It appears massive failures have occurred here.
“All families with children at Manurewa West Kindergarten deserve to know whether their children are safe in its care.
“Most ECE teachers and services do an incredible job and parents are confident about the education and care their children receive. The Government must act decisively when incidents of this nature occur so that parents can be assured their confidence is well-placed.
“The key priority right now is the safety of children, and the Government must act as openly and transparently as possible so that parents have the information they need to ensure their children are safe.”
The Minister should make the MMR vaccine available to early childhood teachers so that our most vulnerable children are protected from the risks of measles, National’s Early Childhood Education spokesperson Nicola Willis says.
“Children under five are the priority for receiving the measles vaccine across the country because they’re the most vulnerable to the risks of the disease.
“Many ECE teachers will belong to the cohort of adults who are significantly less likely to have received an MMR booster when they were children, because these weren’t introduced until the 1990s.
“Measles combines being both serious and being highly infectious. Some young children who may be immuno-compromised and attending early childhood facilities could be put at risk if their teachers aren’t protected.
“There’s no sense in vaccinating only under-fives and not the adults who come into contact with young children every day.
“Julie Anne Genter hasn’t acted fast enough on measles and has been dismissive of the both the scale of the outbreaks and the scale of the vaccine shortage.
“But vaccinating early childhood teachers would provide even more safeguards for the hundreds of thousands of under-fives who attend early childhood facilities every day.
“This Government also scrapped health targets which, under National, resulted in improved vaccination rates that safeguarded Kiwis’ health.
“Now there’s an opportunity to do the right thing and ensure that the health of the most susceptible Kiwi kids doesn’t continue to be put at risk.”
The Government must act to address a severe shortage of early childhood education teachers before centres are forced to further compromise on quality, National’s spokesperson for Early Childhood Education Nicola Willis says.
“I have surveyed early childhood teachers and managers to measure the severity of reported shortages of early childhood educators, and the results are compelling.
“More than 2000 people across New Zealand responded to my survey, with 94 per cent reporting a shortage of early childhood teachers.
“More than a third reported spending more than six months looking for an appropriate qualified early childhood teacher to hire, with more than 260 respondents looking for more than a year. More than two-thirds of respondents say they’ve been forced to hire less qualified staff than they would have liked.
“35 per cent of respondents have had to reduce the number of educators in their centre as a result of teacher shortages. This means kids are missing out on the attention and support they deserve and their parents expect.
“The problems are most acute in Auckland where 79 per cent say they’ve been forced to hire an unqualified teacher.
“I’ve been told about increasing reliance on relievers, rapid turnover of staff, stressed teachers working over-time to cover gaps and children not getting the consistent care and relationships they need. It’s no wonder the Ministry of Education has seen a jump in complaints from parents.
“Those surveyed made many suggestions for immediate and long-term action to support high quality early childhood education, and have made it clear they are sick of being treated as the ‘poor cousins’ of education.
“I want to thank everyone who took the time to make their voice heard - your work matters and deserves recognition. I’m calling on Chris Hipkins to sit down with me so I can share all of your feedback.
“Labour came into office promising a 100 per cent qualified early childhood education workforce and lower teacher: student ratios. It has failed to deliver on those promises and is instead overseeing a brewing crisis.
“The Minister has stalled on this issue for long-enough. He must stop playing the political blame-game and take action.”
The survey results can be found here.
Reports of underhanded tactics used to force a political deal on Wellington’s transport plans show they were gutted for the sake of the Labour-Greens relationship, Wellington-based National MP Nicola Willis says.
“Wellingtonians will be rightly shocked by reports of manipulative tactics used against city councillors to secure their support for the Government’s preferred Let’s Get Wellington Moving plan.
“First we have Green MP Julie Anne Genter using her Ministerial role to write secret letters pushing her personal political demands about what should be in and out of the plan. Now we learn that local representatives were led to believe that same Minister had veto-rights over the final Let’s Get Wellington Moving plan.
“Councillors are charged with advocating for the people they represent, but it appears they felt they had no choice but to accept the package as dictated by Genter and Transport Minister Phil Twyford.
“This reveals an appalling politicisation of what was billed as a collaborative and consultative process between central and local government. It calls into question the legitimacy of the $6.4 billion package and the sequencing of projects within it.
“It shows the transport priorities that were decided for Wellington were more about coalition politics than what the people really wanted.
“It’s also clear the Government has been misleading the public by claiming the Let’s Get Wellington Moving plans have universal support.
“We’ve now heard councillors at both WCC and GWRC vent frustrations, including Labour’s regional councillor Daran Ponter who said: ‘the things that have arrived on Wellingtonians' plate … are certainly not the things that they identified as projects they wanted’.
“Wellingtonians deserve better when it comes to their transport future.”
An official investigation has been launched into Julie Anne Genter’s refusal to release her secret Let’s Get Wellington Moving letter, National MPs Chris Bishop and Nicola Willis say.
“The Associate Transport Minister’s excuses for keeping her letter hidden from the public have worn thin to the point where the Chief Ombudsman is now investigating her conduct,” Mr Bishop says.
“I gave Julie Anne Genter the opportunity to come clean and read the first few paragraphs of her letter in Parliament today, but she doubled-down and thumbed her nose at the public.
“It’s extraordinary that she continues to argue her letter to Transport Minister Phil Twyford, which we believe convinced him to push back construction of Wellington’s second Mt Victoria Tunnel for at least a decade, isn’t in the public interest.
“It took repeated questions and some stern comments from the Speaker of the House for her to even admit it was written on her ministerial letterhead. Getting openness and transparency from this Government is like getting blood out of a stone.”
Ms Willis says she is pleased the Chief Ombudsman has listened to her complaint and will investigate whether the letter can continue to be withheld under the Official Information Act.
“I’m confident the Chief Ombudsman will agree with what Chris Bishop and I have been saying for weeks now; that Wellingtonians deserve to know how much Julie Anne Genter was responsible for pushing back plans for a second Mt Victoria Tunnel to beyond 2030.
“She now claims that because she is a Green MP she isn’t subject to the public disclosure requirements normally faced by Ministers. She is wrong. Her confusion shows an appalling lack of understanding of the public accountability that comes with her Ministerial warrant.