How many complaints has the Ministry of Education received about creches in gyms, swimming pools, and Sunday schools?
Between January and October this year, 18 approaches were made to the ministry seeking information about individual services. Creches at pools, gyms, and Sunday schools have had to be licensed since 1989. Like all early childhood facilities, creches at pools and gyms have to keep children safe. They need to have safe facilities and they need to have adequately qualified police-checked staff to supervise children.
How many children can gather in one place under the supervision of an adult before such adults are subject to officials telling them that they have to be fully licensed or close their babysitting service?
This Government is concerned about the welfare of children. The member has on a number of occasions in the past raised the question of what happens at drop-off centres—for example, at gyms or swimming pools. We are looking at that situation at the moment to see whether we can get some flexibility in the regulations. But I remind the House again that these regulations have been in place since 1989. The National Government in its 9 years in office did not change them. We are looking at whether we can give some flexibility, but, ultimately, we want children to be in a safe environment.
I seek leave to table a statement from a senior retired official from the Ministry of Education that in administering these regulations from 1989 to 2000 he applied common sense—
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question was actually quite specific and quite easy. It asked how many children could gather. It was about the regulations. The Minister did not address that, at all, in his answer.
I think the Minister addressed it. As the member knows, no member can require a specific yes or no answer.
What steps has the Government taken to lower the cost of quality early childhood education for families?
Some very significant steps. The Labour-led Government has introduced the historic, visionary, successful, and popular 20 free hours education policy. Just 4 months since it was launched in July, nearly 77,000 3 and 4-year-olds in teacher-led centres are now benefiting from the free hours. That is tens of thousands of New Zealand families who save up to $4,500 a year per child, all of whom will lose those savings if Paula Bennett gets her way and ends this popular and successful policy.
Under regulation, how many children can gather in one place under the supervision of an adult before such adults are subject to officials telling them that they have to be fully licensed or close their babysitting service—how many children?
Since 1989, if people who have children left under their supervision are not the parents or licensed caregivers, they need a licence. We are working through a process to give us a little bit of flexibility for creches at gyms, saunas, and other such places that people go to.
Do I understand from that flexibility that the rules for a creche at a gym might not be identical to those for a full-time creche?
Is it now the law that a Sunday school must register as a fully licensed early childhood education centre or be closed down like the 10 gym creches that have already been closed recently?
Is not the difference that National did not then go around instructing bureaucrats to shut down babysitting services, and trusted that parents actually knew best; how many more will the Minister close?
What a curious new policy this is from National members: to ignore the law because they think it is bad. Well, we actually believe in fixing it up.
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You are about to call my colleague for what I think is the final supplementary question. I draw your attention again to the Government’s habit of avoiding direct questions, so that the Opposition has to use up supplementary questions to try to get an answer. The Minister has already been asked twice how many children trigger the regulations that enable his bureaucrats to shut down Sunday school, creche, and gym babysitting centres, and he has twice refused to answer that question. Either he does not know, which may be the case because he is a new Minister, or he just does not want to say that it is three—that might be the case. Certainly, it is outside the conventions of the House for him to continue to refuse to answer a direct question, until all the supplementary questions are used up.
I was avoiding giving a number because I wanted it confirmed. I have just had it confirmed; it is three.
Is it not true that Sunday schools are under threat of closure because the Minister is waiting on a review, which started in the year 2003 and has been running for 5 years, when he could simply apply common sense and use his ministerial discretion to exempt them under the Education Act—section 316(1)(b) for his information?
It is curious, is it not, that that question has come from a member whose Government had the ability to do that for 9 years but did not. We have been working through this complex area of early childhood education, and I can assure the member that it will be resolved by next year.