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Families Commission Cancels Contentious Summit

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

By Maggie Tait of NZPA

Wellington, Dec 9 NZPA - The Families Commission and its new minister, Paula Bennett, have got off to a bad start after she discovered plans for a $200,000 conference in a briefing paper.

Today the commission's briefing to Ms Bennett, Social Development Minister, was released.

It discussed plans for a summit, budgeted for $200,000, to be held in Auckland in February bringing together 150 "leaders and decision makers".

The commission said tonight it had cancelled the summit after failing to gain more sponsorship which it had hoped would reduce its own costs.

"It is clear the summit is not the most appropriate way to proceed at this point," the commission said.

"The commission has therefore cancelled its plans for the summit but remains committed to ensuring there is a whole-of-society response to the economic situation that ensures the impact on families is kept to a minimum."

NZPA spoke to Ms Bennett before the commission issued its statement, and she was unimpressed with the plans which were revealed in the briefing papers.

New Zealand Post Group chief executive John Allen was named as the keynote speaker and business journalist Rod Oram the facilitator.

Among attendees expected were The Warehouse founder Stephen Tindall, Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier, public sector chief executives, sector and business groups and unions.

"I was quite surprised to be going through my BIMs (Briefing to Incoming Minister papers) and come across this conference, summit as they are calling it, for $200k. It's just a lot of money," she said.

"It's not where I think the focus needs to be at the moment."

She raised concerns with the commission and talked about the National Government's focus on tough economic times.

"I am quite concerned about families moving forward and what that (tough economic times) means for them, and I would have thought that should be the focus for the Families Commission at this time."

She encouraged the organisation to reconsider.

"They told me they see it as important and it's part of their programme and they don't seem keen to drop it.

"The reality is that, although I am the one that stands up in the House and speaks for the Families Commission and their expenditure, it seems they have a level of autonomy which I respect.

"I just would have thought they would have been looking at their priorities in light of a new government."

The Families Commission was a United Future Party initiative. Its establishment was a key condition of the minor party's support agreement with the Labour Government after the 2002 election.

National previously pledged to scrap it but has agreed to maintain it although "administrative efficiencies" would be sought between the commission and the Office of the Children's Commissioner.

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