The Minister of Evasive Answers

Parliamentary questions are meant to be one of the ways in which the Government and its Ministers are kept accountable to Parliament, and through those of us who are privileged to serve as its Members, to the people of New Zealand.

So I am pretty disappointed when I get replies like these to written Parliamentary questions I have asked to Minister of Social Development and Employment Paula Bennett:

How many people were receiving the unemployment benefit in Christchurch on February 22nd 2010?

Hon Paula Bennett (Minister for Social Development and Employment) replied: To meet the public interest in benefit uptake the Ministry of Social Development releases quarterly benefit factsheets. I am not prepared to commit resources to releasing daily or weekly information to respond to written parliamentary questions as this is not well suited to establishing firm trends. The quarterly factsheets for the end of March 2011 will be available shortly. This is also my response to written parliamentary questions 2032, 2033, 2034 (2011).

I suspect that one would have taken someone about one minute of access time to the Ministry’s computer to obtain the figure.

What guidelines, if any, does the Ministry of Social Development’s Work and Income Service have for the issuing of warnings under section 4 of the Trespass Act 1980?

Hon Paula Bennett (Minister for Social Development and Employment) replied:  Work and Income takes guidance from the Trespass Act 1980.

How much did it cost to administer the ReStart package?

Hon Paula Bennett (Minister for Social Development and Employment) replied: It is not possible to isolate an exact cost because the work was absorbed within business as usual activities.

Further to the answer to written question 02534 (2011), can the Minister provide a specific web link to the Ministry of Social Development’s Output Plan 2010/11 and guidance as to which sections address key performance indicators for student job search?

Hon Paula Bennett (Minister for Social Development and Employment) replied: As I have already advised the Member in my response to written parliamentary question 2534 (2011), the Ministry of Social Development’s Output Plan 2010/11 is publicly available at www.parliament.nz.

Minister Bennett has replied in a similarly evasive manner to many other written Parliamentary questions I have asked her.  She appears to treat the questions as some sort of role-playing game in which her role is to make it as difficult as possible for Members of Parliament to scrutinise her performance and that of her Ministry.  That defeats the whole purpose of what Parliamentary questions are for.

Now the House has risen and we move into campaign mode, I get a break from the frustration of asking Parliamentary questions of Minister Bennett and she gets a break from having to answer them.  Given the quality of her answers, I’m hoping her break might be a permanent one.

4 thoughts on “The Minister of Evasive Answers

  1. Whats wrong with any of those answers/reponses?

    You asked about guidelines on the Tresspass Act, and she said they use the Act. Would you want them to use more or less?

    You asked about admin cost of some package, but its done collectively with other packages.

    These all seem quite resonable answers (from anybody) to me.

  2. I suspect that Minister ‘Benefit’ may well just be trying to avoid any negativity, whilst they are gearing up for the election campaign.
    But I say its great to see the Greens highlighting their inadequacies & the bluff & B-S that this Govt. are so obviously hiding behind !
    Good onya Catherine.
    Kia-ora

  3. @Misanthropic Curmudgeon 10:50 AM

    I would expect Work and Income staff to have a good understanding of the Social Security Act (even though in my experience many of them do not), because it is administered by the Ministry of Social Development which employs them. The Trespass Act, however is administered by the Ministry of Justice, so without policy instructions or legal advice, I would not expect Work and income staff to have expertise in its administration.

    Section 4 of the Trespass Act states:

    4. Trespass after warning to stay off
    (1) Where any person is trespassing or has trespassed on any place, an occupier of that place may, at the time of the trespass or within a reasonable time thereafter, warn him to stay off that place.
    (2) Where an occupier of any place has reasonable cause to suspect that any person is likely to trespass on that place, he may warn that person to stay off that place.

    In my experience, beneficiaries have been issued notices under section 4 not because they have trespassed or are likely to trespass, but just because they have made a fuss about being denied an application for assistance and caused a minor disruption in the office concerned.

    Paula Bennett’s answer to that question probably means there are no guidelines, and because there are no guidelines, Work and Income staff are acting unlawfully in invoking section 4 of the Trespass Act.

    As for the question about the admin costs of the ReStart package, surely this is financial information that the Minister should be requiring the Ministry to report on to assess the cost effectiveness of what was then a new welfare scheme. Burying it in “business as usual activities” is unacceptable in terms of public accountability.

  4. MC – one of the questions asked for a specific web link. Giving a web site is not a sufficient answer, particularly to a web site with a large amount of content.
    The question also asked which sections applied to the student job search, but this was not addressed at all.

    To me, the minister’s answer is totally inadequate.

    Trevor.

Comments are closed.