Labour leader David Cunliffe visited the Trentham
Kindergarten in Upper Hutt. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Labour leader David Cunliffe was trying to get the sales
pitch for his new early childhood policies back on track
yesterday, but continued to take flak for exaggerating the
scope and generosity of Labour's new $60-a-week baby payments.
Mr Cunliffe has rejected claims he deliberately misled voters
on the issue and calls that he apologise for it, saying it
was simply a badly drafted sentence in his state of the
nation speech and there was no intent to mislead.
In that speech on Monday, Mr Cunliffe said parents of 59,000
newborn babies would receive $60 a week for a year. But it
was later revealed that about 26,000 of those would not
receive it for six months because they would be on paid
Under the policy, parents cannot get both payments - although
that was not set out in Mr Cunliffe's speech.
He said the speech could have been clearer and he took
responsibility for that. "I did not mislead. The words could
have been better but the package is very clear, the policy is
Mr Cunliffe also stumbled when asked about Labour's policy
for free antenatal classes for all first-time mothers, when
he could not answer questions about how widely available free
antenatal classes already were. Maternity care is largely
free for New Zealand citizens and residents and many
maternity services providers and DHBs offer free antenatal
His handling of the issue has been a speed hump in Mr
Cunliffe's attempts to sell Labour's new policies on the
child payments and early childhood education, prompting
attacks from National.
Mr Cunliffe sought to get that sales job back on track
yesterday, visiting a kindergarten in Upper Hutt to try to
turn attention on to the early childhood education promises
he had announced in his state of the nation speech alongside
the child payments.
Those included increasing subsidies from 20 to 25 hours -
although that will not happen until mid-2017, another
Labour has also promised to gradually restore funding to
centres where all staff were fully qualified, starting in
2015/16. National currently funds centres for up to 80 per
cent of fully qualified staff.
The proposal also includes building new childcare centres
which Mr Cunliffe said was likely to begin in South Auckland
to help lift participation.
The policies were welcomed by staff at the kindergarten.
Teacher Sandra Tukukino said the 25 hours of free ECE would
be popular with parents.
"A lot of parents struggle to find the money for the extra
hours they need on top of the 20 hours free."
She said restoring the funding for 100 per cent qualified
staff was also important, and asked why Mr Cunliffe could not
do it earlier if he won the election.
"We really struggled with the loss of that funding."
Mr Cunliffe conceded the changes would be some time away, but
said Labour was determined to deliver a surplus each year and
had to stagger its new spending promises.
National has set an allowance of $1 billion in new spending
in the next Budget, rising by 2 per cent in each year after
that. Mr Cunliffe said Labour would release its own
alternative budget plans soon.