OPINION: Reprioritising has become a favourite Beehive buzz word, as ministers slash budgets, then explain why more money has been found for one programme but another programme is being scrapped. It's an integral part of the zero budgeting that will result in new government spending totalling a mere $26.5 million over the next four years.
Some reprioritising engenders angry public responses. In education, most notably, more money is being provided to improve teacher quality but the balancing trick entails enlarging class sizes. Education Minister Hekia Parata's political ambitions have been severely bruised by the resultant furore. The budget for another family-oriented agency, in contrast, is being halved and its mission comprehensively overhauled. Public reaction has been negligible. The agency is the Families Commission, which promotes itself as New Zealand's centre of excellence for knowledge about families and whanau – a small, dedicated research and knowledge agency. "Our size means that we can be agile in responding to emerging issues," it says.
We can look forward to a greater demonstration of agility because it is being shrunk. Social Development Minister Paula Bennett last week announced that $14.2m of its $32.48m over the next four years will be directed at setting up a new Social Policy Evaluation and Research Unit within the commission. Seven commissioners will be reduced to just one, who will chair a board comprising the Government's chief science adviser, a social science panel advisor and four other appointees. The commission's new role will be providing independent monitoring, evaluation and research to measure the effectiveness of initiatives for families and society. A new Family Status Report will measure how families are reacting to changes in the economic and social climate.
United Future leader Peter Dunne – whose fierce advocacy led to the commission's establishment in 2003 – welcomed the restructuring. The new focus brought it closer to its original purpose. But as the commission's champion, Mr Dunne should be bothered that news of a restructuring has sparked neither public rejoicing nor wrath. Indifference suggests it could be shut down and its social research undertaken elsewhere, without any furore.
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