10 Dec 2014

MPs play blame game, go on holiday

7:56 pm on 10 December 2014

Prime Minister John Key has rejected criticism his Government is not doing enough to reduce inequality and poverty.

Prime Minister John Key

Prime Minister John Key Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Instead, Mr Key blames the Green Party for the rise in income inequality since the mid-1980s, despite the fact the Greens have never been in government.

On Parliament's last sitting day of the year, Mr Key faced questions from Green Party co-leader Russel Norman and Labour leader Andrew Little about an Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD) report which found rising inequality had held back New Zealand's economic growth between 1990 and 2010.

In response to a question from Dr Norman, Mr Key said the report was based on statistics gathered between 1985 and 2005.

He said inequality rose in that period but Labour was in government for much of the time.

"In the period between 1999 and 2005, if my memory serves me correctly, the then Labour Government did that with the support in various forms of the Green Party, and so I say to Russel Norman 'yes, he should apologise to New Zealand for his failure in that time'."

Mr Key's memory does not serve him well and he forgets one inconvenient fact: the Green Party was not in government and had no support arrangement with Labour during that period.

Key claims inequality narrowing

Russel Norman

Russel Norman Photo: RNZ / Craig McCulloch

The OECD says governments wanting to boost their economies should increase taxes on high income earners and do more to help the bottom 40 percent of earners.

That prompted Dr Norman to ask whether Mr Key would now revisit his policy of keeping benefits low as an incentive to get people back to work in light of the OECD finding that inequality was bad for people and bad for the economy?

Mr Key replied: "Inequality is narrowing under a National-led Government. I am proud of that record as confirmed by the OECD last night in their report.

"Secondly, the Government is not keeping benefits low. In fact this is a Government that has legislated to ensure that there are increases in benefits in line with the CPI (consumer price index)."

Mr Little then asked about the Government's recent changes to employment law.

"Does taking away the rights of low paid workers to better pay, secure work and even tea breaks make them economically stronger or weaker compared with their employers," he asked.

Mr Key replied: "We're not doing that. What we are doing is providing flexibility in the labour market and, see, interestingly enough last week Mr Little was trying to tell New Zealanders that somehow small businesses are now working New Zealanders and they would now have his support."

Now for the dolphins

Maggie Barry

Maggie Barry Photo: SUPPLIED

Later during the Greens, having already been held responsible for rising inequality, also got the blame for the threat faced by the Maui dolphin.

"Our marine mammals are being kept safe and that's because we have put in place a code of conduct for minimising acoustic disturbance to marine mammals from seismic survey operations," Conservation Minister Maggie Barry said in response to a question from Green MP Eugenie Sage.

"That became mandatory in the law last year and it is yet another example of where this Government has moved in where the Labour Government, propped up by the Greens, had absolutely no provisions for protection at all."

The last question of the year was about progress being made on the SmartGate passenger processing system at airports.

No one blamed the Greens for that. Instead the Government took all the credit.