Editorial - Ardern on wrong track

Last updated 08:00 06/12/2012

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Taxpayers will be delighted that Labour's Jacinda Ardern had their interests at heart when she questioned the Government about unemployed Kiwis being helped financially to fly to Australia for work. Unemployed beneficiaries, on the other hand, might wonder if she was on the right track in regarding this as a misuse of public funds.

Ms Ardern, her party's social development spokeswoman, put a slew of questions to Social Development Minister Paula Bennet in Parliament on Tuesday. Essentially, she wanted to know how many times the Transition to Work Grant, or similar funds, had been used by Work and Income New Zealand to buy tickets to Australia for job seekers who had found work there.

Ms Bennett didn't have ready answers about a grant that had been introduced in 2007, not without manually going back through five years of data, "and in the last three hours I have not had time to do that". It was a somewhat specious response. The minister simply had to ask her officials to do the searching.

Ms Bennett did say the scheme provides grants up $1500, that the average grant is $363 a week, and the ministry has made more than 500,000 of them. Some are for clothing costs, to help dress people when they apply for jobs; some are for childcare costs while beneficiaries go for job interviews. The policy was not intended to help buy plane fares to Australia, but Ms Bennett could not rule out its use to buy or contribute to one-way fares to Australia for job seekers who had offers of employment there. She would look further into the matter (yesterday she produced data for grants made in 2007 and this year).

Ms Ardern might reflect that the grant had been introduced by the Clark Government for reasons it obviously considered worthy: to help people with job search costs, such as clothing and travel. Travel to Australia doubtless was not intended. But if the Government is going to dole out money to help people find jobs and Australia is where the jobs are … well, in that case Ms Ardern should be focusing not on why taxpayers are helping give the unemployed a fresh start, but on why the jobless must fly to another country to find work.

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- Waikato Times

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