Yeah right — Penny Simmonds supports how the boss rolls

The new government has had its first "Tui moment".

When former broadcasting minister Melissa Lee and former disability issues minister Penny Simmonds released suspiciously simpatico statements on Wednesday expressing their "satisfaction" at having just hours beforehand having become ex ministers, the only reaction to ‘I support the prime minister’s decision" had to be a hearty "Yeah right".

There is absolutely no way the Invercargill MP is at all supportive of being publicly dumped from her job in a somewhat humiliating manner. Much less is she in favour of no longer being able to work in the disability issues area, one which she had been active in before coming to Parliament for personal and professional reasons, in a governance role.

And even less so because Ms Simmonds can claim, with some justification, she is the victim of a situation which was of her former ministry’s making.

The root cause of Ms Simmonds’ travails is the poor budget control at Whaikaha, the Ministry of Disabled People, which had allowed its expenditure on respite care to be blown out to an as yet unspecified degree.

But much of the blame for the ensuing mess can be placed at her feet. Having been alerted to the looming issue in December, Ms Simmonds, either through inexperience, naivety or something less excusable, failed to recognise that the bright light in the distance was not the summer sun but a semi-trailer hauling a whole heap of trouble.

Impending doom idled along during the recess, but it moved into high gear in mid-March when Whaikaha — inexplicably — decided Facebook was the ideal medium to convey the news to its clients that limits were about to be imposed on respite care expenditure.

Unsurprisingly, the nuances of the issue were quickly lost as the disability community, almost to a man and woman, rebelled at what was perceived as being a funding cut.

Ms Simmonds, to catcalls from the opposition benches, tried to argue that the funding was money for people with disabilities, and they always had to have first priority. That would have been fine as far as it went but when she claimed — on sketchy proof — that respite care money was being spent on Lotto tickets and pedicures, Ms Simmonds was revving up the motorbike prior to jumping the shark.

Caring for a disabled person, as Ms Simmonds well knows, can be tough and unforgiving work, no matter how committed you are to the person’s wellbeing. Most took the suggestion that they might be feathering their own nest at the taxpayer’s expense while doing so as grossly offensive and nothing that the minister said from then on was going to be heeded.

Meanwhile, two rows in front of Ms Simmonds, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and Finance Minister Nicola Willis were having to answer questions about disability funding which they were not expecting to receive.

Ms Willis called Ms Simmonds in for an emergency briefing, which resulted in the rushed confirmation of something which would normally have received a carefully choreographed pre-Budget announcement, an increase in funding for Whaikaha. Roughly simultaneously came the news that any of Ms Simmonds’ initiatives in the portfolio would be reviewed by Cabinet prior to being announced — a fairly humbling expectation, but one conceived as a damage limitation exercise ahead of the looming long recess.

Little good it did the government or Ms Simmonds as disabled people, their families and supporters staged a series of headline-grabbing and poll-ratings-sapping protest marches across the country.

Hence, the afternoon before a public holiday and with the House not due back until the following week Ms Simmonds and the similarly vexatious Ms Lee were supporting the prime minister’s decision like an out of favour party official at a Stalinist-era show trial.

That said, the only other sentence in Ms Simmonds’ sole public statement so far — "I am looking forward to continuing my work in tertiary education, particularly the disestablishment of Te Pūkenga, and in the environment portfolio" — rings entirely true.

Quite apart from the fact that reversing the previous government’s vocational education reforms was one of Ms Simmonds’ main motivations for entering politics, errant ministers seldom get a second chance.

Ms Simmonds has one, and one to implement a cornerstone National policy what’s more. It is an opportunity which she cannot fail to take full advantage of.

Happy travels

During the recess southern MPs have been far and wide. Taieri Labour MP Ingrid Leary and Southland National MP Joseph Mooney were in Taiwan as part of a New Zealand all-parliamentary delegation, alongside Act New Zealand Southland list MP Todd Stephenson.

Meanwhile, New Zealand First Taieri list MP Mark Patterson was in Australia promoting agricultural issues and Taieri Green list MP was in the Cook Islands on another parliamentary delegation, alongside the Speaker.