Labour MPs cagey over family carers law repeal

Dr David Clark
Dr David Clark

Labour Party politicians who spoke against “discriminatory” legislation preventing equality for families of the disabled say they still oppose it - but none will go as far as to say it should be repealed outright.

Instead, they say they are placing their trust in Health Minister Dr David Clark to negotiate any change in policy with Labour’s coalition partners.

Families fighting a 20-year battle to be paid for caring for their disabled whanau yesterday called on the Government to overturn the law enabling the Funded Family Care policy, as it said it would before last year's election.

Clark responded, saying completely understood the “depth of feeling” on the issue and had the utmost respect for families who cared for high-needs family members at home.

He said he had asked for options on reforming Funded Family Care.

“I do not want to pre-empt that work, but expect it will canvass legislative change among a range of options.”

The legislation in question - Part 4A of the NZ Public Health and Disability Act 2000, and accompanying policy - was rushed through under urgency by former Health Minister Tony Ryall in 2013.

Outrage ensued not only at the policy - which excludes spouses and parents with younger children from being paid for their work as carers, and limits family carers to the minimum wage and 40 hours’ pay a week - but also at the part of the legislation that barred legal challenges by saying families could not take discrimination claims against it to court.

At the time, 12 Labour MPs, two Green MPs and one New Zealand First MP stood in the House to oppose the bill, arguing both its content and the way it was being rushed through was unfair.

Since the election of the new Government, families have written to those MPs to ask them to now repeal the legislation but have not heard back.

The New Zealand Herald tried to contact all the MPs yesterday for comment.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins simply copied the statement sent by Clark yesterday, which was that he had asked for options on “reforming” Funded Family Care.

Iain Lees Galloway, Immigration and ACC Minister, said that he supported Clark.

When asked if she still opposed the legislation, and believed it should be repealed, Christchurch MP Ruth Dyson said “that’s Labour policy”, but said Clark would have to negotiate it with the coalition partners, including Associate Health Minister Julie Ann Genter. Genter, a Green Party MP, has said publicly the policy “is not working”.

Many of the other MPs - such as Annette King and Maryan Street - were no longer in Parliament and declined to comment.

But Darien Fenton, who retired from Parliament in 2014, was happy to talk. She said she was still opposed to the legislation, and trusted that if it was in the manifesto it would get done.

“I can understand why the families feel like that. It’s really difficult I know, but you do have to be a little bit patient,” she said.

Sue Moroney, who has also left Parliament, was also still opposed.

“While I don’t expect Labour to undo all the damage done under nine years of National in year one, I do hope people with disabilities and their families will be a priority,” she said.

Green MP Jan Logie did not respond. Labour MPs Louisa Wall, Grant Robertson and Kris Faafoi also did not respond. The one New Zealand First MP who spoke at the time, Barbara Stewart, could not be reached.

Clark has said the work around Funded Family Care is in its early stages, which was why he could not comment in detail.


A proportion of family carers of disabled are doing it to save expenses on hiring specialised care. In some cases it could be down to saving money while being paid to do so. A case of trying to have it both ways, or as the saying goes "having your cake and eating it too."

Hmmmmmm curious, reading ur comment: I wonder if you would have that attitude if it was your beloved child or partner who was seriously disabled, and on your income you could not afford 40 hours of specialised caregiving, so you had to give up work to care for your beloved child's or partner's basic human needs? How would you feel then, being jobless, working damn hard at a heartbreaking job, being minimum wage, and therefore barely affording life's necessities ... ?
Perhaps your attitude would be very different.
"But for the grace of God, there go I".