17 May 2013

Labour criticises 'shonky' process to pass carers bill

9:42 pm on 17 May 2013

Opposition parties say the process to pass legislation enabling family members to be paid for looking after their adult disabled children has been "shonky".

In June last year, the Government dropped its legal fight against a court ruling that its policy of not paying such family members amounts to discrimination.

Annette King.

Annette King. Photo: LABOUR PARTY

A new policy was unveiled in Thursday's Budget in which 1600 family carers would be paid as part of a policy costing $23 million a year for the next four years.

The New Zealand Public Health and Disability Amendment Bill (No 2), introduced under urgency after the Budget was delivered, caps payment at 40 hours a week, enables family carers to be paid less than others and prevents legal action by new claimants.

The bill was passed through all stages under urgency on Friday. It passed its third and final reading by 63 votes to 55, with the support of National, ACT, United Future and the Maori Party.

But Labour's health spokesperson Annette King told Parliament there was no need for such a rush and the public should be allowed to make submissions.

"This is a shonky process to put any bill through that affects so many important families looking after disabled family members.

"Why is it being put through with such haste? It does not come into effect until October 2013 - can they count how many months away that is? Could it not have gone to a select committee for a while?"

Capping payments 'vindictive'

The Attorney-General says the legislation breaches the Bill of Rights Act because it would prevent legal action by new claimants.

Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty told MPs on Friday that is an attack on the rights of disabled people and their families.

Ms Delahunty said the legislation discriminates against family carers, who will be paid lower rates for the same work as other carers, and told Parliament the bill is the Government's vengeance because it failed in court.

"This is vindictive, unfair and what's more, it is setting up a new level of complexity - and these people have been though enough.

"Sometimes, Mr Chair, people's hopes are broken by life and sometimes by legislation. And this is one of these times."

Earlier, she said the track record of the Ministry of Health on the issue has been "really bad. We're just really concerned that these people can be paid less than non-family carers ... and also that it's against the Bill of Rights. This was always about human rights."

One of the original parent plaintiffs, Cliff Robinson, said the proposal is miserly.

Money targeted at 1600 people

Health Minister Tony Ryall says $23 million allocated in the Budget will be available to pay some family members to provide personal care and household management for 1600 disabled people with high and very high needs.

Disabled adults who meet the criteria will be able to choose whether they employ a family carer or a contracted provider.

Mr Ryall said the new policy solves a complex problem. "This is our solution to the court ruling. I have to say, I think it's landed in a very fair place - quite a good balance between the needs of the disabled persons, their families and the taxpayers."

The minister said the new policy adds $100 million to what the Government is spending on disability support services over the next four years, bringing total spending on disability to $1.1 billion next year.

Speaking to the bill in Parliament on Friday morning, Mr Ryall said New Zealand would be the third country in the world paying a wage to some family members caring for other family members.