The Dim-Post

May 22, 2011

Labour mistakes the map for the territory

Filed under: policy,Politics — danylmc @ 9:59 am

For most of Labour’s term in opposition we’ve heard about Labour Deputy Leader Annette King’s grand plans for child welfare, which will be a key policy strategy for Labour in the election. Yesterday at the Labour Party congress she announced:

There should be a Minister with responsibility for Children sitting at the Cabinet table.

I have had a hugely positive response to that suggestion. It is now clear from feedback it needs to be a Senior Minister.

After the 2011 Election, a Labour-led Government will have a Minister for Children.

So. A Minister for Children. Apparently there was going to be an additional policy announcement but it was ‘postponed’ in the wake of the budget. I wonder why? It can’t be because of the deficit – that was signalled well in advance. Surely not on the basis of the optimistic growth projections? Was it postponed, perhaps, because the budget allocated half a billion dollars towards Early Childhood Education targeted at low income Pasifica and Maori children, and King was about to promise something similar?

Whatever the reason, after eighteen months King’s sole contribution to social welfare policy is to promise the creation of a new Minister of Children, who – so far – has no actual policy to implement but will, according to King’s speech, perform much refocusing on and enabling of children – presumably along-side the Minister of Social Welfare and the Children’s Commissioner and the Minister of Youth Affairs, who are all already charged with the same duties.

This is a classic case of confusing the map for the territory. Ministers and their departments exist to implement policy and run departments. They are the means to an end. But the creation of a new Minister without any new policies signals (to me) that Labour views the creation of new portfolios and the expansion of the state as an end unto itself; that more government is not the instrument through which new solutions are delivered – more government IS the solution.

Will a ‘Minister of Children’ work politically? I really doubt it. People like children – but they don’t really like politicians, or bureaucracy. They’re willing to tolerate them as a necessary evil in order to achieve desired outcomes, but only a party hopelessly adrift from the general public and its own values could ever try and campaign on the idea of more government for its own sake.


  1. As a matter of interest does Labour have another Roger Douglas in them in time for 2014 and some fat jovial talker to front it?

    Comment by Simon — May 22, 2011 @ 10:21 am

  2. Shades of Bill Rowling’s Baby Bonus..

    About all I took out of it was scrapping Peter Dunne’s Family Commission in retaliation for his committment to National post the election.


    Comment by JC — May 22, 2011 @ 10:26 am

  3. Its quite disappointing from King, who has disappointed a lot in opposition despite her formidable reputation as a good administrator. Unfortunately, this type of thinking – not evidence or solutions based but big on feel good and symbolism – is still symptomatic of the approach of many of the Labour caucus such as King, Ardern and Chauvel.

    But I may be mistaken. I Look forward to being proven wrong when I listen Phil Goff’s big speech today, albeit with some trepidation…

    Comment by DT — May 22, 2011 @ 10:37 am

  4. I dunno. I’m not sure about a Minister of Children because we seem to have a lot of agencies devoted to that. But I do think there is a good argument that if there is no Minister in the cabinet (or opposition) who holds a particular portfolio then that issue gets almost no attention by politicians at a national level and so it falls into dissaray. A good example is Urban Design or Urban Affairs or whatever you want to call it… An issue that’s had almost no attention at a national level so successive councils have just done whatever with the result that our cities (mostly) look hideous, are hard ot get around, and are poorly designed.

    Comment by LucyJH — May 22, 2011 @ 10:57 am

  5. @LucyJH: I agree that there is no harm and probably much benefit from requiring specific consideration of impacts on children for all government policy decisions as a matter of course, to prevent it from being overlooked. Just not sure that another Ministerial title is the best way to ensure that. Having a new section in all Cabinet papers that look at what impact on children a particular policy proposal will have will piss bureaucrats off (the tail end of writing those papers is full of things like that which for most policy papers are irrelevant – human rights, womens, disability etc issues), but other than that there is no cost and it could help to highlight the issue. Its not a bad idea and may help to overcome the concern that you have.

    Comment by DT — May 22, 2011 @ 11:13 am

  6. Another Ministry, that’s the kind of initiative we’ve been waiting for. Jesus wept.

    And don’t forget that a lot of voters are also parents. Many of us dislike intensely the messages we get from Labour and the Greens that the nation’s parents are a bunch of sad sacks of shit who just aren’t up to the job of taking their children’s interests into consideration. In this case, I’m not wringing my hands and saying “Thank you Labour! At last, someone’s thinking of the children!”, I’m giving King the finger and saying “Yeah, and the horse you rode in on.”

    Comment by Psycho Milt — May 22, 2011 @ 11:49 am

  7. “perform much refocusing on and enabling of children – presumably along-side the Minister of Social Welfare and the Children’s Commissioner and the Minister of Youth Affairs, who are all already charged with the same duties.”

    What about the Minister of Education?

    Comment by Michael — May 22, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

  8. Ah excellent, Goff at least did something right in his speech. Bringing in agriculture to the ETS earlier is a good thing, as the effective subsidy they receive by not being in actually has no impact on national agricultural output. Similar for virtually all of the free allocation under the ETS – imposing the ETS without free allocation doesn’t have much impact on output at all (will farmers walk off the land because of the charge? No, there will still be cows in them there paddocks).

    I’m not well informed about the research tax credit though – are there any figures available for how much NEW r&d this will incentivise? Or will it simply be rewarding existing planned r&d? Anyway, overall a good announcement, even though Connor English and Don Nicholson will claim (against all of the modelling, of which I know a fair bit on this issue) that this will be terrible for agricultural output and exports (patently wrong).

    Comment by DT — May 22, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

  9. Funny how a single item should be identified for ridicule. Especially in this case since we have the appalling child abuse record. If such a commitment outlined by King makes a difference by saving a few kids lives surely it would help to find out just how it would work – before judgement. Wait and see.
    In the meantime “Standing up For Kids” is OK by me.

    Comment by Ianmac — May 22, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

  10. How about focussing on “$15 minimum wage within a year” as announced by Phil Goff?

    Comment by Ianmac — May 22, 2011 @ 2:58 pm

  11. “How about focussing on “$15 minimum wage within a year” as announced by Phil Goff?”

    Did I miss the announcement that Darryl has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Labour Party?

    Comment by Tinakori — May 22, 2011 @ 4:18 pm

  12. WTF is Darryl, Tinakori? You’ve been talking about him for ages.

    Comment by greg — May 22, 2011 @ 4:54 pm

  13. greg: It is what you say when you are thirsty for information.
    “Roll out the Darryl,
    He’ll be a barrel of fun,
    Roll out the……

    Comment by Ianmac — May 22, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

  14. Well, I suppose we have a couple of choices. Perhaps Darryl is Danyl’s long lost evil twin. Perhaps Tinakori is referring to the odd trio from the long defunct Bob Newhart Show, where two of the brothers were named Darryl. Or maybe it is simply poor Tinakori not reading properly.

    Comment by David in Chch — May 22, 2011 @ 5:19 pm

  15. I had pithy observations, but they were derailed by ianmac’s comment.

    @ ianmac – PLEASE read the entire post and most comments again! King’s ‘commitment’ to a new Ministry is slammed for the token nonsense that it is – totally without evidence it will make any improvement in child abuse stats. With ineffectual Labour trolls like you, no wonder Goff despairs.

    That off my chest, I thought the same as JT – it was just petty Labour vengeance on Petty Peter (though Dunne truly deserves it).

    There is a disturbing underlying trend that Pyscho Milt highlights though – the gulf between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parents, with the state increasingly funding and doing the parenting for ‘bad’ parents. Tie King’s kiddy ministry with Labour’s laws letting the child and state counsellors and medicos decide on under-16 abortions, etc, not to mention Len Brown in Auckland pushing the John Walker Find Your Field of Dreams Foundation (we parent cos you’re too lazy too), there is a pattern emerging.

    What would be good is if Labour and Greens started pushing stronger families by, say, mandatory Plunket checks on kids up to school age, and sorting truancy databases with a nationwide truancy service, and parenting courses (that judges could send offenders on, as well as voluntary attendees). That kinda thing for a start. One can hope.

    Comment by bob — May 22, 2011 @ 5:20 pm

  16. I had wondered if it was some kiwiblog-esque attempt to somehow make fun of someone by intentionally getting their name wrong. You know, like you’d expect 14 year old boys at a single sex school to come up with.

    Meanwhile, more importantly – what’s the reaction to labours announcement of an actually interesting policy?

    Swapping the agriculture exemption to the ETS for r&d funding. My main concerns are firstly around how they expect to invest that r&d money (since govt is normally ah, patchy at successful investment); secondly a niggle that it’s not industry exemptions as well (aluminium etc) getting the cut.
    What was that number, $1.8b between ag and industry ETS subsidies? Wouldn’t it make sense to claim all that back?

    Comment by greg — May 22, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

  17. It’s such a fucking stupid idea in terms of branding, too. The whole benefit of have a *Commissioner* for Children/the Family is that they can be perceived as influential without being too horribly partisan or subject to the whims of the present administration. Also they sound a lot cuddlier and less horridly authoritarian than a Minister for same.

    But hey, maybe Labour’s embarking on a brave new strategy of “well saying we WEREN’T a nanny state government didn’t work, and John Key’s managed to be nanny-state-ish without fallout, so … INCREASE NANNY-NESS!”

    Comment by QoT — May 22, 2011 @ 6:35 pm

  18. Yes, the nanny-state angle worries me. All this tracking and data collation and identification of at-risk parents and children can be seen as sensible co-ordination of precious resources, or malign state over-reach.

    Comment by Stephen Judd — May 22, 2011 @ 6:58 pm

  19. So Labour is only thinking about the children, eh? So why did they throw so many of them onto the scrap heap with abolition of youth rates?
    Ianmac @ 10. “How about focussing on “$15 minimum wage within a year” as announced by Phil Goff?”
    Yeah, why don’t we focus on that, since we have such a low level of unemployment?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — May 22, 2011 @ 6:59 pm

  20. @Greg – they don’t invest it, it’s a tax credit back to companies for whatever qualifying R&D they undertake themselves.

    Upping the powers, budget and legislative options of the Children’s Commissioner might have been better IMO but geez I wonder if you’re auto-Labour-sneer has overdone it a bit here Danyl. I suspect this will get a degree of traction given the ongoing levels of media around child problems and she claims to have a list of Childrens Policy from last year for this Minister to own (Labours website has ZERO policy on it though so I don’t know).

    Me, well I agree it’s a bit of a miss the point distraction but it could get some traction if they box smart against the inevitable nanny state claims.

    Comment by garethw — May 22, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

  21. “I had wondered if it was some kiwiblog-esque attempt to somehow make fun of someone by intentionally getting their name wrong.”

    like referring to John Key as ‘Neville’?

    I was never sure whether that was absurdly childish, or whether it was a clever and subtle literary reference that I was too ignorant to get.

    Comment by Kahikatea — May 22, 2011 @ 7:49 pm

  22. Greg et al, you are obviously all fired up after the conference and leading the singalong to the Gambler

    Comment by Tinakori — May 22, 2011 @ 8:46 pm

  23. And what of the fact that fundies-for-hire Christine Rankin and Bruce Pilbrow are on the Commission (both appointed by La Collaborateur Paula Bennett).

    Comment by DeepRed — May 22, 2011 @ 10:49 pm

  24. So Danyl, looking at your title – did you ever read the Pawns of Null-A or the Word of Null-A? Good old Alfred Korzybski, eh?

    Comment by Vibenna — May 23, 2011 @ 8:54 am

  25. I think you missed a lot in the speech Danyl, which built on last year’s Conference speech.
    (btw there’s a lot of policy on the Labour website garethw, everything from GST of fruit & vege, Stop Asset Sales & the like campaigns highlighted on the front page, to speeches and media releases going through the details that have been announced).

    A Ministry of Children would be small, but would ensure policy across depts would not get “silo-ed” and children would not fall through gaps. It would not be so easily co-opted and sidelined as the more expensive Families Commission currently is (eg Christine Rankin etc).

    But this was not simply a bureaucracy improvement. Amongst other things the policy includes compulsory enrolment with well-child providers, so all children are known about along with where extra care is needed. It includes rolling out parenting classes so they’re available to all – witness how many new parents complain how their little ones “don’t come with an instruction manual”. It also does include more funding for Early Childhood Education targeted at low income Pasifica and Maori children like National have promised.

    But also the ‘It’s About Our Kids’ policy isn’t about what works politically, it’s about what’s right. It’s based on some excellent research, particularly here, but also overseas. If we get things right for our kids in their very early years it stands to make a huge difference to our society when they’re adults. It won’t produce results in 3 years’ time to get re-elected, but sometimes that’s not what politics is all about…

    Comment by Ben Clark — May 23, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

  26. Oh-oh: “well-child” providers. Sounds like newspeak.

    “the ‘It’s About Our Kids’ policy isn’t about what works politically, it’s about what’s right. ”
    This reminds me of:
    “We’re talking about people [liberals] who basically judge themselves and each other based on intentions, not on results.” John Goodman

    Comment by Clunking Fist — May 23, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

  27. Well Child providers already exist – the biggest is Plunket. It isn’t newspeak sorry, even if the policy to make sign up compulsory is doubleplus good.

    This isn’t being asked to be judged on intentions, the results of the policies are clear, based on extensive long-term research. It’s just that the results will only be seen in 15-20 years’ time.

    Indeed with my science background I’m all about the evidence-based policy, here and elsewhere. Much prefer it to the ideology and intentions of National, who promise us 170,000 new jobs and growth just around the corner in every budget.

    Comment by Ben Clark — May 23, 2011 @ 3:59 pm

  28. “Indeed with my science background I’m all about the evidence-based policy, ”

    We’re talking the emotive issue of raising children here. Strangers will be judging my efforts at raising my children. The Ministry will be using standardised guidlines rather than skilled expertise. I was involved in an early childhood education facility that was told in an ERO review to get more computers, have children use computers more. The parents at this decile 1 facility had a different idea: they were keen to see social interaction. The children had access to (ministry, indded gummint, mantra) “technology” at home, the last thing they needed was more computer time. This same paint-by-numbers review skill will be applied to (using that creepy expression) “our” children and my parenting skills.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — May 23, 2011 @ 8:23 pm

  29. …that creepy expression) “our” children…

    That one really gets on my wick. “Our” children? WTF? The “our” in “our children” consists of two people – anyone else gets to say “your children.”

    Comment by Psycho Milt — May 23, 2011 @ 8:52 pm

  30. Psycho, that’s my reference to the fact that many do-gooders back when we were all shouting about smacking would often refer to the children of NZ as “our children” there was also a Sanitarium advertisement that said it was doing its part to build-up “our” children. Amongst my admittedly rigt-wing friends, this use of “our” was deemed creepy when used by state agencies.
    And I agree: a state agency should say “your” not “our”.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — May 23, 2011 @ 9:10 pm

  31. @ Ben Clark

    What a lovely, folksy, well modulated flack job.

    My favourite bits are.

    ‘A Ministry of Children would be small.’
    ‘But this was not simply a bureaucracy improvement.’

    Comment by Gregor W — May 25, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

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