18 June 2003


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If you really are trying to make a commitment to a long-term solution, perhaps we need to go back to what are tried and true National Party principles that commit to those young people.
Katherine Rich, National Party Welfare Spokeswoman

Rich On Welfare

The National Party Welfare Spokeswoman Katherine Rich talks to The Jobs Letter associate editor Dave Owens following the release of her Welfare Dependency discussion document.

The Jobs Letter : Where is the job creation strategy in your welfare discussion document?

Katherine Rich : It's something I perhaps didn't spend enough time on in the paper. My aim in the paper was to reconfirm the importance of work.

I think there is an opportunity for local government and local communities to be involved in job creation, but I don't envisage getting into a "Jobs Machine" based on community work. If you're looking at meaningful work and opportunities for people, it's going to reflect the natural community anyway, in small to medium sized operations. That's why I looked at Australia and saw that there were some groups, such as the Salvation Army, that were getting involved in placing people into what was private sector work. I liked the idea that there was a greater variety of work that people could opt to be part of. There were about ten different "flavours" so to speak, from heritage work to environmental work, there was even one group that was helping drought stricken farmers.

My support for incorporating local initiatives doesn't imply I feel the government should absolve itself of its responsibility. What I'm saying is we need to look at local initiatives because it is only through local community initiatives that we are going to have a decent opportunity to create jobs that, in the long term, are meaningful to all those who are involved.

One of the ideas that I am very interested in is the concept of a work-guarantee for certain parts of the community, be it the under 20s or under 25s. While I have gone down the track of work-for-the-dole as it is done in Australia, I think there is merit in having a serious look at the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs' goals, and their commitment to the provision of work.

The Jobs Letter : I'm sure you've heard the argument that with 100,000 people on the dole and at least another 50,000 who say they want more work, that there just aren't enough jobs to go around …

Katherine Rich : I refuse to believe there is not enough work, because to do that is to give up. I know from my own community there are lots of opportunities that people can participate in. You ask any community group and they'll list any number of community projects that potentially might be an option for local people.

The Jobs Letter : Are these real jobs, or are they work-for-the-dole jobs?

Katherine Rich : I think you've got to commit to a person and say this is a potential job for a period of time. I think the last thing you want to do is to treat this like a pseudo training programme that you do for three weeks until you find something else. I think people do expect a certain amount of commitment there.

The Jobs Letter: What about Don Brash's suggestion of unemployed people having to turn up at the Post Office, on a daily basis to see if there is work, in order to receive the dole? And of the local Council being the employer of last resort?

Katherine Rich :Although I have had no first hand experience with a programme where people turn up and are paid cash, I suspect it would come with its own problems. The point I'm aiming at is to try to make sure that work has a strong place in people's lives. This includes continuity with access to that work, not just turning up and some days you're picked and some days you're not. The important part is that work becomes a part of a daily routine.

I am making a genuine attempt to show that serious research has been done on welfare policy, but also, that there is a lot of scope for the discussion. At the end of this year I want to release my formal policy that is quite clear what my alternatives are.

When you're a national, people are never satisfied if you're just whinging. You must come up with solutions you really think are going to make a difference. I think there's a huge amount of variation in some of the ideas I've raised in my welfare discussion paper when it is compared to the current government. Even when people have some concerns about the ideas, I think people understand that the intentions are quite genuine.

The Jobs Letter : How do you respond to Steve Maharey's comment that the former Welfare Minister Roger Sowry had a study done on his work-for-the-dole scheme and found that it was counterproductive and actually prevented people from getting permanent work?

Katherine Rich : The Minister is hanging his hat on one study. I think that many of us who have had any involvement know that any Minister is going to be bombarded with a wide range of research that will often present quite conflicting results. A lot of studies in NZ aren't done in away where you're a hundred percent clear on what a government intervention had achieved.

The Jobs Letter: What form would your work-for-the-dole programme take?

Katherine Rich:I think people who find themselves unemployed need to be given the freedom for a certain period of time to take their own initiatives to get back into work, like a window of opportunity, be it six months or a year. But after a year, that's when the government needs to start to look at a more intensive management of assistance to those people, to help them back. It's the people who get trapped for a long period of time who are struggling to get back out. These are the ones who need extra help, be it training or work-for-the-dole.

I am quite interested in the whole area that guarantees a job for certain sectors, especially for young people. If you really are trying to make a commitment to a long-term solution, perhaps we need to go back to what are tried and true National Party principles that commit to those young people. There were some good things about Rob Muldoon and his approach to welfare and I intend to go back and try to reinstate some of them, to take into account where the Party has come from.

The Jobs Letter: How would the privatisation of employment services work?

Katherine Rich : Well, I don't accept that Winz needs to have a monopoly on all the services it provides. When you go talk to locals, you meet people who know their communities better than any Wellington analyst is going to know them. And locals have different ideas about how welfare services can be delivered. John Tamihere raised the concept with the Waiparera Trust and how that Trust gets into those issues.

I think one of the challenges for any government is to be able to provide a service that is superior to one that is locally run and operated. I visited the Wellington City Mission yesterday and I had a sense that when someone walks through the door, and who is in need, there is something about that non-government organisation that somehow develops a rapport and a sense of caring that a government department can't achieve.

I've always had concerns about the culture within Winz. I don't think that the two cultures, those of income support and the employment service, came together all that successfully. You're actually asking specialists in two different areas to somehow dumb-down what they were doing.

I have concerns about Winz full stop. I don't see how case managers, no matter how much they put their heart and soul into their work, can do justice to their clients with caseload as high as they are. There is no way you can intimately know the lives of those you're trying to serve at the level you need to, when you've got so many. If you're seriously trying to assist them to get over whatever barrier they might have, you need the time, training and specialist skills. I don't think you can be a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to the social services area and that's perhaps a mistake.

The Jobs Letter: So do you see Winz dividing those two areas up again?

Katherine Rich : I think the last thing that I would like to promise is wholesale restructuring. My way is to look for ways to change for improvement, not to pretend that going in and rearranging everything is a magic answer.

I do think that the employment side of it is more sophisticated than it has been given credit for in the past. Particularly when you're looking at someone in the area of building up relationships with their local employers or with their local community. That's a different sort of role, and sometimes it's a different sort of person.

Source Interview with Katherine Rich, 11 June 2003, New Plymouth


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