Shearer misses mark again

MICHAEL COX
Last updated 07:18 24/09/2012

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Michael Cox

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Labour Party leader David Shearer needed a win with his recent and much-publicised education policy speech.

Sadly, a subsequent Herald-Digipoll survey indicated that he didn't quite hit the right note; once again the support for the Labour Party he leads fell by 2 per cent to 32 per cent.

At the core of his policy was the need to make sure school children start the day with a decent breakfast. I can't fault that logic and frequently tell some of those I assist with their budgeting that perhaps if they give up smoking, costing $70 a week, they'll then be able to afford some bananas, milk and Weet-Bix.

As a former smoker, I know how hard that is. My GP at the time told me that if I didn't give them up, I'd die.

"When?" I asked. He wouldn't tell me, so I smoked my last ciggie that evening 20 years ago.

The Opposition leader's speech did remind me of an article a Canadian friend sent to me. It was headed "Today's Lesson" and read:

"The Food Bank Program, administered by Social Welfare Canada, is actually proud of the fact it is distributing the greatest amount of free meals and food vouchers ever! Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the Canada Parks and Natural Resources, asks us to ‘please do not feed the animals'.

Their stated reason for the policy is because the animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves.

This ends today's lesson!

David Shearer's fellow traveller, the leader of the Green Party, Dr Russel Norman, recently had a similar awkward moment when he was debating and ruing the loss of jobs in the mining sector with Prime Minister John Key. "Prime Minister, under your governance miners are leaving in droves for Australia to search for work in their mines; what do you say to that?"

"Well, doctor, you're quite right and I'd dearly love to keep those Kiwi miners in New Zealand but your party's anti-mining policy prevents my government from opening any new ones!"

Game set and match, John Key.

But back to those breakfasts and once again I just wonder what the Labour Party's government-funded research department does all day. It could have told its leader that there is a policy already in place to provide those in real need with those breakfasts.

Voluntary organisations, and what would we do without them, are given financial assistance to provide school breakfasts and also to make sure fruit is made available in school classrooms. On top of that funding, Social Welfare is committed to spending another $62 million of our taxes annually on meals inside the system.

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The most recent OECD annual report has New Zealand at the top of its 34 countries for the amount of money we spend on education. Apparently we use 21 per cent of our taxes on educating our children; the average for the OECD countries is 13 per cent.

And then, to top it all, Social Welfare Minister Paula Bennett recently announced that to secure their benefits the 125,000 beneficiaries who support more than 220,000 children will need to ensure that their children: Attend 15 hours a week of early childhood education from age 3 Attend school from age 5 Enrol with a general practitioner Complete core Wellchild/Tamariki Ora checks.

If all of these obligations are met by parents, any deficiencies in their nutrition will no doubt be uncovered and treated. If they are not met, the beneficiaries could lose up to 50 per cent of their benefit.

We are apparently the first country in the world to introduce such a tough measure. You may think this is a bit draconian but, again, the Herald newspaper online poll of more than 11,000 readers found that 59 per cent called it a bold and sensible move and that it could help kids in the long term. Only 21 per cent felt it was heavy handed.

It's the obvious anomalies in his policy speech, highlighted by these current moves, that make it very difficult for policy makers such as David Shearer, whom I'm told is a lovely chap, to be taken seriously and to make their points stick in the electorate's psyche.

So, apart from trying to please his Labour Party constituents, what is David Shearer blathering on about?

- © Fairfax NZ News

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