We do admire the wellbeing-focused Ardern government’s readiness to announce “free” services, even as the public debt comes under pressure from policy responses to the latest Covid-19 lockdown.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins today announced a counselling service that – he hooted – is free for teachers and support staff across all early learning services, kōhanga reo, kura, and state and state-integrated schools.
It was among the latest press releases posted on the Beehive website.
Latest from the Beehive
This was a speech by Willie Jackson, who started by acknowledging how difficult it is to be a business right now with the Delta variant of COVID-19 in our communities.
Teachers and support staff across all early learning services, kōhanga reo, kura, and state and state-integrated schools can now access free COVID-19 Employee Assistance Programme support, Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced today.
This one’s a speech by Health Minister Andrew Little.
He begins: Esteemed fellow ministers, delegates and colleagues – Tēnā koutou katoa – it is my pleasure to welcome you all to APEC’s 11th High-Level Meeting on Health and the Economy.
Minister for Māori Development Willie Jackson acknowledges the passing of Ngāti Kahungungu leader and kaumatua Des Ratima ONZM JP.
For this post on ministerial goings-on, Point of Order decided to examine Hipkins’ statement.
Even if there is a cost to the counselling (and our team of veteran political reporters suspects public spending of some sort may well be involved), it shouldn’t do more mischief to the public debt, we are told.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson says the Government doesn’t need to borrow more than already planned to cover the cost of the lockdown – for now.
“If the lockdown went on for a considerable length of time and we needed to borrow more to get New Zealanders through this we will, but that is not needed right now,” he told interest.co.nz.
Robertson said $4.7 billion of the $62.1 billion set aside for the Covid-19 response is available.
Furthermore, some initiatives unveiled last year haven’t ended up costing as much as expected. This means funding can be reallocated to cover costs related to the current outbreak.
Robertson didn’t detail exactly how much could be reallocated, but pointed to $1.6 billion from the Business Finance Guarantee Scheme and “previous unspent allocations for wage subsidies.”
So, there’s at least $6.3 billion effectively sitting there, ready to be used.
This is very reassuring.
Just one thing bothers us.
Correction: lots of things bother us , but just one is relevant to this post.
It comes from an ACT Party press statement:
“Grant Robertson has today told the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee that it doesn’t matter how much of the COVID-19 Recovery Fund he’s blown on unrelated spending because he can always borrow more,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.
“Three months ago, there was only $5 billion left from the $50 billion fund. That was after the Government spent it on things like the ballet, the orchestra, school lunches and fishing boat cameras.
“Today, the Finance Minister said while there is only enough left for four weeks of the Wage Subsidy, it’s fine because he can always borrow more.”
We suppose he is right. He could borrow more.
But would that be prudent?
Seymour went on:
“The Minister says there’s $35 Billion available through the Imprest Supply Bill which provides Government with the authority to incur expenses and capital spending in advance of it being appropriated.
“This money will either need to be borrowed or cuts will need to be made elsewhere. But Grant Robertson wasn’t keen to talk about that.
“Robertson has no appreciation that this money comes from hardworking taxpayers and will need to be paid back by future generations.
“He also talked about clawing back money from spending commitments he’s already made – an admission that much of his spending hasn’t been targeted on the things that matter.”
Seymour finished on a constitutional note, emphasising his discontent with the PM’s decision to suspend Parliament this week.
“It was disappointing to see today’s Select Committee continually interrupted by backbench Labour MPs asking soft questions to protect Robertson. At one point the Committee’s Labour Party chair, Duncan Webb, even tried to rescue the Minister with a patsy of his own.
“It reinforces the disgraceful decision to abandon Question Time this week.”
Let’s get back to the free counselling service for early learning and schooling workforce during COVID-19?
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said:
“Our kaiako and teachers have been vital in supporting our learners during COVID-19 and have stepped up again to assist them and their whānau in this latest resurgence in our community,” Chris Hipkins said.
“On behalf of all New Zealanders, I would like to express my gratitude to our education workforce for going above and beyond to ensure our children and young people are supported while learning from home.
“They are playing an important role in our country’s COVID-19 response by looking after the education and wellbeing of our children. I’m sure every New Zealander will join me when I say we need to look after their wellbeing at this difficult time as well.”
Buried further down in the press release, Hipkins gave something of a hint that – well, dollars are involved and they have to come from somewhere.
He said this service is being funded out of a $16m Workforce Wellbeing Package. It will be accessible from 25 August 2021 to 25 November 2021.
Each educator can have up to three confidential one-on-one counselling sessions online, or by phone, to support them while COVID-19 restrictions are in place.
This is in addition to any existing services that an early learning service or a school already provides to their teachers and support staff, Hipkins said.
We imagine those services are being paid for by taxpayers – or money-lenders to be repaid by taxpayers – too.