30 Jan 2014

Cunliffe accused of misleading voters

6:43 pm on 30 January 2014

Finance Minister Bill English has called on Labour leader David Cunliffe to apologise for misleading voters about his party's baby bonus policy.

Mr English says Mr Cunliffe said 59,000 families would be eligible for the $60 a week payment for the first year of a child's life - but they won't.

Labour leader David Cunliffe.

Labour leader David Cunliffe. Photo: RNZ

David Cunliffe ran into trouble over Monday's announcement when it became clear a day later that the payment would not be made to families on paid parental leave.

People on paid parental leave would not get the baby bonus until the leave ended which, under Labour's policy, would be after 26 weeks.

Then they would only get it for six months. And the payment would not be made on top of the parental tax credit some families are eligible for.

Mr English on Thursday denounced Mr Cunliffe's handling of the matter.

"He went out and made a public statement that turned out to be wrong. For instance, there's 15,000 people who currently get a parental tax credit of $37 a week. He told them they would get an extra $60, but that's not correct. They'll lose their current tax credit, so they won't be $60 a week better off".

When asked about the matter earlier in the week, Mr Cunliffe quickly clarified the policy and on Thursday rejected suggestions that he had tried to mislead voters.

"No, not at all. I've already fronted up and said look, there's a word that could've been different. Everybody's eligible for $60 a week for the full year if they have a joint family income at $150,000 and below.

"But of course, a good number will choose to take the higher figure, which is paid parental leave which is up to $488 a week and they cannot - and we've been clear about this right from the start - take the $60 a week as well."

Mr Cunliffe says he takes responsibility for some initial confusion about the policy and in future his statements will be much clearer.

Prime Minister John Key also criticised Mr Cunliffe's statements.

"The truth is, New Zealanders know now when they hear a speech from David Cunliffe they've got to check the fineprint. That might be the way he wants to be viewed by the New Zealand public - that's not the way I'd want to be viewed."

Mr Cunliffe suspects there's a good reason for National's attacks on his credibility.

"What I strongly suspect is that the polling that the Government is doing is saying the same thing as the feedback we're getting, which is that New Zealanders really want this package because they really want every Kiwi kid to get the best start in life.

"And I think that explains the desperation on National's part to denigrate and divert. And on diversion, just remember they could have been talking about the flag any old week, but they chose this week - I wonder why?"

Mr Cunliffe says he takes responsibility for some initial confusion about the policy and in future his statements will be much clearer.