It kicked off in Question Time on Wednesday with Sepuloni attempting to score virtue points while simultaneously failing to answer the question. At the end of a question session the following exchange occurred:

Hon Louise Upston: How many more people will go on to the dole before the Minister admits that her welfare plans aren’t paying off and considers taking some advice from National about how to give people opportunities to get ahead?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I’m very confident with the plan that we have in place on this side of the House. We recognise that it is about the welfare system but also about the investment that we put into education and other areas as well. Also, I would like to say on the record that if that member ever asks me a question again in this House about a thing called the dole—which does not exist—I will refuse to answer the question.

Hansard

Rising to the challenge on Thursday, Upston peppered her questions with the word ‘dole’, achieving a total count of 15 for use of the word ‘dole’ in the exchange.

Hon LOUISE UPSTON, to the Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by her statement, “if that member ever asks me a question again in this House about a thing called the dole—which does not exist—I will refuse to answer the question”?

Sepuloni, immediately caved and answered the question. [Omitting an interruption at the start the exchange follows:]

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Yes, what I have been attempting to convey is that her questions about a thing called the “dole” are unclear and ambiguous. The Ministry of Social Development does not have any products or services referred to as the “dole”. There is also no reference to the word in social security legislation. I feel it’s in the public interest that the correct terminology for Government support and assistance is used during question time. And on that point, some actual examples of main benefits in New Zealand include jobseeker support, sole parent support, supported living payment, youth payment, young parent payment, and emergency benefit.

Hon Louise Upston: Is she in denial about the fact that the Government has put an additional 27,000 people on to the dole and, in fact, a larger percentage of people are coming back on to the dole within 13 weeks of leaving, than under National?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: There is no such thing as the “dole” in the social security legislation, and there are no Ministry of Social Development products referred to as or called the “dole”. […]

Hon Louise Upston: When will she advise the Prime Minister about her statement about the dole being unclear and ambiguous, because that’s how the Prime Minister has referred to it in this House?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I am referring to the use of terminology during question time. As the Minister for Social Development, I think it is in the public interest that we use correct terminology when referring to services and support that the Ministry of Social Development provides.

Hon Louise Upston: Why, if she’s not willing to correct the Prime Minister on 21 May last year, when she referred to people in Mana in Mahi who get the equivalent of the dole, in this House, she yet refuses me as a member of the Opposition, when holding her to account for the additional 27,000 people who are on the dole?

Hansard

Ardern’s words were:

We have introduced, for instance, Mana in Mahi, which is all about supporting employers to take on apprentices, and they get the equivalent of the dole in order to do so.

Hansard

And so it went on with Sepuloni dancing on the head of a pin on whether or not it is an official term for use in Question Time, without ever really answering the numbers that were put to her by Upston.

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: As the Minister for Social Development, I think it’s important that we use the correct terminology when referring to the supports and assistance that are available through the Ministry for Social Development. I think, as the Minister for Social Development, it is important during question time—a very formal part of the process here in Parliament—that we do use the correct terminology, and that it is in the best interest of the public to do so.

Hon Louise Upston: When will she correct the Prime Minister, who continues to use it, including on Facebook posts?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I keep referring to question time as the process where I think it’s important to use the correct terminology with respect to Ministry of Social Development supports and assistance, and I stand by that statement.

Hon Louise Upston: Does she believe people are better off having the opportunity to earn their own income through work, or is she happy for them to live hand to mouth on the dole?

HON CARMEL SEPULONI: There is no such type of assistance referred to in the social security legislation or by the Ministry of Social Development called the “dole”. If the member would like to put questions down that refer to actual types of benefits that are paid through the Ministry of Social Development then I would be more than happy to respond to those specific questions.

Hansard

So, does the MSD mention the dole? Let’s search and see:

Screen grab – The BFD

Hmmm, that ‘MyMSD’ login looks suspiciously like it might have something to do with the Ministry of Social Development. Let’s check the footer of that “search for ‘dole'” page:

Screen grab The BFD

And what was it the Minister said six times in the House, again?

There is no such type of assistance referred to […] by the Ministry of Social Development called the “dole”.

So the MSD does not refer to any assistance called the ‘dole’ but if you go to the MSD website and search for said non-existent type of assistance you get 487 hits.

Hmm …