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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

qQuestion No. 8—Health

8. MATT DOOCEY (National—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Health: Can he confirm that as of 16 April none of the $25 million fund for tertiary student mental health support announced 10 months ago had been spent on front-line mental health services, and no additional students have accessed mental health services as a result of this funding?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Health): I don’t know why the member confines himself to the date of 16 April 2021—$25 million was appropriated in 2020 for a four-year period. For this financial year, $2 million was allocated. For the next financial year, $5 million was allocated; for the following financial year, $8 million; and the final of the four years, $10 million. Because of the equity issues we have sought to address, a decision was made to start by funding services at Te Pūkenga and the three wānanga. The Ministry of Health and Te Pūkenga have signed the contract for $3.2 million for the period covering 19 April 2021 through to 20 December 2022. The $1.6 million allocated for their learners this year will be transferred in full to them this financial year. The remaining $400,000 of that $2 million allocation will go to the wānanga, who are still talking to the Ministry of Health about how they will manage it. So although the $2 million available this financial year, out of the $25 million available for the four years from 1 July last year, was not committed as at 16 April this year, it has been since 19 April this year.

Matt Doocey: Point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a question on notice, so I’d like the second leg of the question answered, please.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Come on, Sir Humphrey.

SPEAKER: It’s not very helpful, having that sort of support from Mr Brownlee, but I will ask the Minister to address the second part of the question.

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: In relation to specific services made to students, I cannot confirm that services have been made available, as the agreement was signed for commencement on 19 April this year.

Matt Doocey: How can the public have confidence in the level of spend when the New Zealand Union of Students’ Association president said, “It’s extremely disappointing that since this funding was announced, it has been trickled out by the ministry … it hasn’t been allocated to services—it’s not getting to the students who need it.”?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I can say of my successor in that role that I would have checked about the funding profile for the appropriation that was made. It was very clear that $2 million is available for spending this year, and it would not make sense to spend $2 million in the early part of the financial year and then have to discontinue services for students who need those services and need them on a continuous basis.

Matt Doocey: What is his response to a mental health provider who said, in relation to the Government’s cancelled tender process for this funding, “We are concerned about the process. It isn’t transparent. No RFP means nepotism and no chance for a fair process.”?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: Well, I would say to that mental health professional to read a few more newspapers, listen to the media a little bit more, because they will know it was fully transparent that the ministry was engaging with Te Pūkenga and the three wānanga to negotiate the provision of services to their students, who have a higher profile of Māori and Pacific students, where the gap has been greatest. So the approach that has been taken is a greater equity approach than would otherwise have been the case.

Matt Doocey: Why did this Government announce it would “expand and accelerate front-line mental health and wellbeing services” to students, and then fail to help a single additional student for the following 10 months?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I am genuinely trying to help that member. Look, I know it’s hard—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! I don’t know who made that comment, but it shouldn’t have been made.

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I will help the member again by pointing out the funding profile that goes with the $25 million allocation over a four-year period: $2 million was allocated for the current financial year, and it goes up sort of incrementally from there, so it was always expected that the services that would be purchased with that allocation from that appropriation would be at the back end of the financial year. I know members opposite are struggling to understand how this sort of thing works, but that is what sensible management of this appropriation calls for, and we are doing it.

SPEAKER: Order! I will say to the Minister: it’s not his responsibility to point out matters to do with the Opposition in that manner.

Matt Doocey: How can the public have trust in any future mental health promises he makes when he can’t even deliver on a vital promise made to students 10 months ago?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I am very proud to say we are fully delivering on the promise that was made in an appropriation that allowed for $2 million to be spent—

SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. We’re not going to continue if he’s going to be shouted down in this area.

MIL OSI