15 Sep 2023

National targets Ministry for Pacific Peoples' $50k post-Budget breakfasts spend

4:32 pm on 15 September 2023
National Party MP Simeon Brown

National's public service spokesperson Simeon Brown. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

National is accusing the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) of more extravagant spending, this time for post-Budget breakfast events featuring Labour MPs in May.

National said government responses to written parliamentary questions showed the Ministry spent nearly $53,000 on the breakfast events.

However, Labour's spokesperson for Pacific Peoples Barbara Edmonds has defended the events, comparing them to briefings similar to those given to businesspeople after the Budget.

It follows Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes criticising the ministry last month for spending more than $40,000 on a farewell for its departing chief executive last October.

National's public service spokesperson Simeon Brown said Labour should also explain why the events were advertised as featuring the party's Pacific MPs.

The responses showed the four events - in Auckland, Christchurch, Hawke's Bay and Wellington - included nearly $25,000 on catering, nearly $5000 on venue hires, and more than $22,000 on audio and visual equipment.

"This shows Labour's claims of fiscal prudence cannot be taken seriously, now or ever," Brown said.

The events had been advertised online as "an opportunity for our stakeholders and communities to talanoa with Ministry staff and Government officials following this year's Budget 2023 announcement".

"The Hon. Barbara Edmonds, Minister for Pacific Peoples, will host the breakfast, together with the Hon. Carmel Sepuloni, Deputy Prime Minister, together with members of the Pacific Caucus and other officials. Our Chief Executive, Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone will also make an address."

Brown said Labour leader Chris Hipkins must explain how the spending was able to go ahead, given an investigation into the farewell had already been launched.

"He should also explain how Kiwis can believe his spin on fiscal prudence when this was able to happen right under his nose."

Brown told Morning Report the spending was unacceptable and needed to stop.

He disagreed the events were to share information from the Budget, describing them as "promotional events" for Labour MPs with no National MPs invited in an election year.

"The one in Hawke's Bay cost $110 per person that attended ... this ministry is throwing money around like it grows on trees."

Material from the Budget could have been shared in less expensive ways, such as by online means like Zoom.

Brown denied National was singling out the Ministry of Pacific Peoples, however, it had increased its spending by 477 percent in the last five years.

Budget breakfasts not just for 'rich business people'

Labour's Chris Hipkins and Ginny Andersen during a media stand-up along the campaign trail in Porirua on 15 September, 2023.

Chris Hipkins and Barbara Edmonds at a media briefing in Wellington today. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Labour leader Chris Hipkins told a media briefing in Wellington this afternoon about 700 people attended the four breakfasts.

Asked if he was uncomfortable about the spending, he said he was not and it should not be just "rich business people" who got the chance to hear about the Budget and get access to ministers. People in the business community paid hundreds of dollars to attend their ones.

"I don't think that our Pacific community should be excluded from being able to hear about the Budget and to speak to Ministers and MPs about it because they can't afford to pay hundreds of dollars to go to an event." It was helping those people stay part of the democratic process, he said.

He said National, ACT and NZ First would use Pacific people as "a punching bag" instead of trying to bring people together if they were in government.

Edmonds has also defended her ministry's spending on the breakfast events.

She said Pacific communities had been overlooked in post-Budget communication and it was appropriate for them to hear how Budget initiatives affected them.

She described the breakfasts as "community events" and said they were held in Pacific church and community halls around the country in areas where there were large Pacific populations.

"I think it's absolutely fair that we go out to them and those meetings aren't necessarily all one-sided. It's for the communities to hold us to account as well and find out how they can access those funds."

Edmonds said it was not just business audiences that deserved to be involved in the Budget process.

Target of ministry 'almost dogwhistle'

A Pacific community leader feels like the National and ACT parties criticise Pacific people every election as a way to win votes.

Pakilau Manase Lua was not surprised National has targeted the ministry.

"It's there to almost dogwhistle and mobilise a certain sector of the population to vote for them and this always happens in election time".

He said National's attack on government spending was hypocritical, considering the alleged fiscal hole in its foreign buyers tax.

"They should look at their own tax policies and how they're going to get the funding for that. It's a bit rich for them to comment".

Pakilau could not comment on whether $53,000 was too much for the government to spend on four post-Budget events.

For him it was more about considering what the ministry was trying to achieve with the breakfasts, he said.

"The Ministry for Pacific Peoples is there to look at the interests of the most vulnerable community. On one hand they obviously have to be careful with public money but on the other they've got a huge job to do in terms of finding solutions for our people. They shouldn't be attacked for trying to do things for the community".

Pakilau pointed out this was not the first time the Ministry for Pacific People has been in the news this election year.

He said he was sick of political parties "putting the boot in" vulnerable Pacific communities.

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