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.