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Community Max scheme criticised

Monday 14 Feb 2011 6:30 p.m.

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A 3 News special investigation has forced the Ministry of Social Development to reveal what it has got to show for a spending spree of millions of dollars.

Item one is a vege patch – with just one vegetable.

The spending falls under a scheme called Community Max.

Tonight, 3 News takes an in-detail look at two of its funding achievements – the vege patch and one other – which were part of spending that cost the taxpayer around $700,000.

3 News political reporter Rebecca Wright went to Kawerau, and Taupo Bay in Northland, to see what we all got for our money.

She set off looking for evidence of Social Development Services – a group given hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Government’s Community Max scheme to employ young people.

An abandoned shearing shed at Paekauri Scenic Reserve is HQ of the project that received $317,000.

Glen Larkin was one of those on the scheme and says he believes everyone did a good job.

“WINZ and Community max people believed we did a good job,” he says.

Part of that good job is an overgrown mess, meant to be a community garden.

The Social Development Ministry describes the garden as “up and running and supplying food to many elderly people”, but 3 News only found one pumpkin.


But Mr Larkin says the work was definitely value for money for taxpayers.

“The work we did out there was worth more than we got paid,” he says.

Mr Larkin and his co-workers were paid the minimum wage for six months to grow the non-existent garden, and turn the Pae Kauri scenic reserve into a “pristine sanctuary and tourist destination”. When 3 News visited, the reserve was largely inaccessible and far from pristine.

“Like Community Max and WINZ – they were all amazed with it. Only downfall was when you were finished you had to go and sign up on the dole again,” says Mr Larkin.

Despite Government claims that eight out of 10 Community max workers remain off the benefit after completion, Mr Larkin and seven of his co-workers are on the dole, several more have quite New Zealand for Australia. The rest have temporary work packing watermelons.

3 News found a similar problem in Kawerau, where we met with members of City On A Hill Christian Church in a park.

Karleen Gardiner and her husband received $334,000 from the Government last year – including nearly $50,000 to sew linen for a local marae.

Government officials told 3 News the participants were involved in “the sewing of sheets, pillowcases, tea-towels and curtains”, which it turns out they were not.

Instead, the group spent six months altering clothes from second-hand shops.

“We got on to altering old clothing to make new clothing and a lot of the gear they were making you could wear them now,” says Ms Gardiner.

3 News asked Ms Gardiner if she could show us just one thing the group had done, or produced. She couldn’t.

3 News

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