Labour and NZ First defend voting against KiwiSaver for foster kids without legal guardians

Labour and New Zealand First MPs are defending voting down a clause that would have allowed KiwiSaver accounts for foster kids without legal guardians. 

National MP Hamish Walker, whose KiwiSaver (Oranga Tamariki Guardians) Amendment Bill passed its third reading Wednesday night, said he was disappointed it passed without the added clause. 

The Bill aims to allow young foster children to have KiwiSaver accounts set up for them, meaning they're not unfairly disadvantaged when planning for their futures. 

Walker submitted a Supplementary Order Paper on July 30 that would have extended the legislation by expanding the eligibility to foster kids without legal guardians. 

But the Government parties, Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens all voted against the clause a few weeks ago in Parliament. 

Walker said it was "unfortunate" that "Government parties couldn't put party politics aside" and support the clause that would have "ensured 6500 of our most vulnerable children had the ability to be on the same playing field". 

"The Bill will now only apply to foster children under the care of a legal guardian, which only accounts for about 10 per cent," he said on Wednesday night. 

The SOP provided the example of a child in foster care for several years who's still the process of having the foster parents become legal guardians. 

National MP for Clutha-Southland Hamish Walker.
National MP for Clutha-Southland Hamish Walker. Photo credit: Supplied

"That child will not benefit from this Bill as amended by select committee, and this SOP will provide those foster parents with the right to enrol their foster child in KiwiSaver."

The Government parties voted against the SOP despite New Zealand First leader Winston Peters telling The AM Show on July 30 that the law restricting foster kids from having a KiwiSaver account was "an ass". 

"We're trying to change the culture of young people to start off being frugal and being a saver. What on earth is wrong with us?" he said at the time. 

New Zealand First Social Services spokesperson Darroch Ball issued a statement the following day clarifying that the party did not support Walker's SOP. 

"The Bill's sponsor seems determined to put politics before children with this disingenuous, eleventh-hour submission," he said, referring to the fact Walker submitted the SOP on that day.  

New Zealand First MP Tracey Martin took a similar stance in Parliament on Wednesday during the Bill's third reading. She pointed to the fact Peters appeared on The AM Show the same day the SOP was dated. 

New Zealand First voted against Hamish Walker's amendment.
New Zealand First voted against Hamish Walker's amendment. Photo credit: Getty

She said it was "a shame that Mr Walker decided to take this particular attitude, because not only will New Zealand First support this bill through to its application, we will work with officials now to try and do better". 

Martin also took aim at National for axing the $1000 KiwiSaver kickstart in 2015 when it was in power. Then-Finance Minister Bill English announced that people enrolling in the retirement savings scheme would no longer receive the one-off incentive.

"The member's own party removed it, so now only those who are wealthy enough to have either parents or caregivers who can put in over a certain threshold can get a $521 top-up from a Government," Martin said. 

Labour MP Ginny Andersen said the key reason the SOP was voted down was concern that short-term foster parents "may not be the best-placed to consider what is a long-term financial interest of the child". 

She said concerns were raised at the select committee stage about situations where foster care arrangements are short-term, and may change over time.

"A child's subsequent caregivers may have different views about finances, including KiwiSaver," she said in Parliament. 

"So it's important that we acknowledge that everyone is due a right, but it's also important that that role is safeguarded of what that role is in looking after a child."

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman said her party welcomed the Bill and said they would "like to do everything we can to make New Zealand more equal". 

Walker said it was disappointing not all foster children will be able to participate, but said the passing of his Bill will "make a big difference for those who can".