Appointed by new Labour PM Jacinda Ardern in 2018, Cindy Kiro headed the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) tasked with reviewing and recommending reforms to the welfare system. Kiro had been Children’s Commissioner during Helen Clark’s Labour government but returned to academia subsequently.
In 2019 the WEAG reported back with 42 recommendations including:
Recommendation 11: Remove some obligations and sanctions (for example, pre-benefit activities, warrants to arrest sanctions, social obligations, drug-testing sanctions, 52-week reapplication requirements, sanctions for not naming the other parent, the subsequent child work obligation, and the mandatory work ability assessment for people with health conditions or disabilities).
Most of these recommendations were adopted. For example, single mothers no longer have to name the fathers of their children and if she has another baby while on a benefit there is no reset of her work obligations.
Yesterday, as Governor General, Dame Cindy Kiro delivered the Speech from the Throne on behalf of the new National – ACT – NZ First government and said:
“Having 11 per cent, or one in nine New Zealanders of working age on a main benefit, means too many people are dependent on the effort of their fellow citizens instead of being self-supporting.”
According to the NZ Herald, the Speech also, “… promised the reintroduction of benefit sanctions…”
With her 2019 recommendations, Kiro was instrumental in creating the conditions for the number of beneficiaries to increase.
In March 2018, when she began her welfare investigation, there were 273,387 beneficiaries. Now there are 367,152. What sat at 9.3 per cent of working-age New Zealanders has risen to 11.5 per cent; most worryingly 168,276 children in benefit-dependent families grew to 216,648.
What a rich irony to hear the architect of such ill-advised reforms forced to describe their result, and advise their removal. One wonders if Ardern had considered this possibility when she appointed Cindy Kiro Governor-General in 2021? It is doubtful. Foresight was never her strong point.
Dame Cindy Kiro will remain Governor-General until 2026. But she has always been a friend and ally of left-wing governments. Perhaps she deserves kudos for professionally delivering a speech which must have personally rankled. At least she did it with dignity and grace. A lesson there-in for opposition MPs who have shown very little over the past two days.