Childish riposte to parental leave bill

SIMON CUNLIFFE
Last updated 10:56 29/07/2012
Jacinda Ardern
THOMAS BUSBY/Fairfax NZ
NO KIDDING: Jacinda Ardern cannot debate parental matters, goes Maggie Barry's argument.

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OPINION: No sooner has she been touted as a potential future leader of the Labour Party than the dog whistling starts. The question of Jacinda Ardern's parental credentials - or the absence of them - was raised in Parliament by a member of the Government last week.

Readers will recall that this particular shadow stalked Helen Clark through the undergrowth of her political career. The insinuation for the benefit of the electorate at large was that her views on matters pertaining to children were not credible given that she didn't have a conventional family herself.

One is reminded of the American statesman from a couple of decades back who, when upbraiding the Pope for his strictures on contraception and population control while large parts of Africa starved, said in a faux Italian accent: 'You no playa da game, you no maka da rules!"

As amusing and superficially attractive as this position might be, it is irrational and unsustainable.

Former broadcaster and long- time journalist Maggie Barry, dearly beloved for her gardening shows among other worthy social contributions, really should have known better. It was during a debate on the private member's bill, sponsored by Labour's Sue Moroney, to extend paid parental leave from 14 to 26 weeks.

"Stop subsidising heavy polluters and we can back kids. Build one less road of national significance and we can help kids and their families," Ardern said.

"How many kids do you have," Barry shot back, showing that while she may not have helmed a show called Mucking In, she was, nonetheless, capable of assuming politics' more agricultural spadework. She dug an even deeper hole for herself by later saying: 'When it comes to these things, Jacinda Ardern is getting her knowledge from books as opposed to personal experience."

On the strength of Barry's logic, the majority of our members of Parliament should be disqualified from making decisions, or even discussing most matters that come before them. Is Barry a lawyer, or a psychologist and has she worked in the prison system - should she have views on crime and punishment? Is she an accountant or an economist - should she express an opinion on economic growth? Or, to reduce it to the absurd, as one wag did on a satirical Twitter feed, should only MPs who served in World Wars I or II be able to vote on whether to Monday-ise Anzac Day?

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We elect our MPs to bring their intelligence, learning, research - in short their wisdom - and yes, of course, their political perspectives, to bear on all such matters, whether they have personal experience of them or not. To suggest otherwise is an utter nonsense, albeit one that from time to time comes laced with poison.

Unfortunately, there has not been a great deal of wisdom on display by the Government over this matter. When the bill was first drawn, Finance Minister Bill English dismissed it out of hand, saying the Government would veto it on fiscal grounds, making some extravagant back-of-an-envelope predictions as to cost, an increasingly habitual approach it seems.

On Wednesday, the bill passed its first reading by one vote. The tone for a sometimes vitriolic reception of its introduction was set by Nick Smith's asinine braying of 'show us the money". Of course such a policy would cost more money. That's obvious. The question is how much more money and whether there is better long-term value in it than on alternative spending.

When I studied basic economics, we were taught a concept called 'opportunity cost", that being the impost of options not chosen. This past week the coroner's findings in the Kahui case reminded us of New Zealand's diabolical child abuse problem. Numerous reports, including by expert child psychologists, and the prime minister's chief scientific adviser Sir Peter Gluckman, tell us how important the first months and years of a child's life are in terms of the care and attention devoted to them.

And it's not rocket science that additional paid parental leave provisions, as enjoyed by several other countries we like to compare ourselves to, including Australia and the United Kingdom, contribute to the stability of families; but also to the ability of valuable productive parents, and women in particular, to remain in the workforce after the arrival of a child should they so choose.

As Ardern suggests, the Government can plough on with its roads of national significance, Smith can play Punch to Moroney's Judy, and Barry can deliver snide insults, but there are good and genuine reasons - economic and social - for extending paid parental leave.

To date, with its refusal even to entertain them, the Government shows it is on the wrong side of the argument.

- Sunday Star Times

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