Is the future of the ambitious Growing up in NZ Study in doubt?
Renegotiations over the terms of this country's most ambitious study, on what it's like to grow up in New Zealand, has sparked fears millions of taxpayer dollars will be lost and its data rendered useless.
The Growing up in New Zealand Study is a 21-year project lead by Auckland University, following 7000 families from within 12 weeks before a child's birth to their 21st birthday.
The study provides information about what shapes a child's early development and how interventions might be targeted early, to give every New Zealand child the best start in life.
The Government has poured tens of millions into the funding it; the continuation of its contract was agreed by government agency SuperU (formerly the Families Commission) in February this year.
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However the contract has been re-opened for negotiation, with Opposition fears it will lead to a drastic reduction in the number of children being studied.
Under a grilling from Labour children's spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern, Associate Social Development Minister Jo Goodhew confirmed negotiations had been reopened, but refused to provide more detail.
Reading from a statement, Goodhew cited commercial sensitivity for being unable to answer questions.
"I can confirm that SuperU is currently in contract renegotiations with University of Auckland, to ensure maximum value from the Crown's investment, in the Growing Up In New Zealand study.
"As these renegotiations have not yet been concluded, and the details of the contract negotiations are commercially sensitive, I'm unable to provide any further details."
That meant following along Ardern's line of questioning, Goodhew could provide no guarantee the study would still receive the $15m that was already allocated by the Government in the May Budget.
Nor could she reveal when she was advised by SuperU that the agency wanted to cut the funding for the study - ending it in 2018, when the children they were tracking would only be eight years old.
"The nature of the question is related to renegotiation and I refuse to speculate on the outcome."
Asked if Goodhew agreed with "SuperU's current demands that the Growing up in New Zealand Study must now cut 4500 children from the study", she refused to answer.
Ardern said a cut to the cohort of that nature would mean the study would be "unreliable", particularly when it came to understanding what life is like growing up as a Maori or Pasifika child.
Goodhew said her refusal to shed any light on why the study was being renegotiated, came down to "good negotiation practice".
It opened the door for Ardern to ask whether it was "good practice" to renegotiate an agreement that had been formally reached in February, and to "undermine a study that has had millions of taxpayers' money, by cutting a cohort by more than half, making it completely unethical and unreliable".
"Renegotiations to contracts never happen unless both parties come to the table, this debating chamber is not the place to do it," Goodhew replied.