“I don’t know the details of that particular family” – Social Development Minister Anne Tolley



anne tolley - corin dann - tvnz - q+a - poverty - ministry of development


On TVNZ’s Q+A, on 21 June,  political reporter Corin Dann interviewed Social Development Minister, Anne Tolley. To describe the interview as pathetic would be generous.

To describe it as illustrative of how National views the poorest people of this country with barely-concealed disdain would be an understatement.

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Tolley was former Minister of Corrections and Police, from 2011 to 2014.  Her crowning “achievement” was showing off  the destruction and compacting of a seized motor vehicle;


Then Police Minister, Anne Tolley, triumphantly standing atop a crushed ‘boy racer’ car (with camera-carting media in attendance) – June 2012. (More)


Her other “achievement” was over-seeing the awarding of a twentyfive year long contract to multi-national company, Serco, to manage the newly opened 960-bed Wiri Prison. That contract will sting tax-payers to the tune of $900 million – almost a billion  tax-dollars over quarter of a century.

Tolley’s latest ministerial ‘gig’  is to hold the portfolio of Minister for Social Development.

Last year, two year old old Emma-Lita Bourne died last year from a brain haemorrhage. Emma-Lita had been suffering from a pneumonia-like illness in the final days of her short, misery-filled, life, leading up to her death.

In a coronial  inquest, Coroner Brandt Shortland concluded;

“I am of the view the condition of the house at the time being cold and damp during the winter months was a contributing factor to her health status.”

Corin Dann pointedly asked Tolley about Emma-Lita’s  death;

@ 6.35 –

“Some would argue with the recent case, for example, with Emma-Lita Bourne who died in the state house, [a] damp house, why not just give those families more money to pay their power bill, rather than give the organisations money to come in and work and all the rest of it?”

Tolley responded;

@ 6.54 –

“And, and, when you look at something like Whanua Ora, they are doing some of that. See, see, what we’ve got with the focus on individual programmes and agencies working in silos, families don’t work like that. They’re very complex issues so if I don’t know the details of that particular family…”

Tolley admitted not knowing the details of that particular family!

Let’s re-cap;

  •  This was a family living in circumstances within her ministerial ambit.
  •  A child died from illness which the coroner has stated was, at the least, exacerbated, by her living conditions.

Any normal, rational  individual in a position of responsibility in such a situation would have called for a full report on the incident, as well as a copy of the coroner’s findings.

Yet, according to her own statement, Tolley has evidently not done so.

She does not  “know the details of that particular family”.

Dann suggested to the Minister “in charge” of Social Development that a solution would be to  provide heating for cold, damp State houses;

“One solution though, one solution at least is that the child, if there are children in that family, they get a guarantee of a warm house.”

Tolley’s response was dismissive, followed by bureacratic gobbledegook double-speak;

“Well, not necessarily. Not necessarily. Um, and, and, you can have a warm house that is completely enclosed, that is high moisture content, and you can have related illnesses to that as well.

So what I’m saying is, one part of that, you can solve one part of that. But actually all the other problems are going to continue. And what we’re trying to do is get, um, much more joined up work from the State agencies, but our focus [is] on actually changing the outcomes for those families.”

So, there you have it.

Heating cold, damp houses is “not necessarily” a solution.

But “joining up State agencies” will somehow provide the warmth to keep children out of hospitals.

This is ‘Pythonesque’ humour at it’s darkest and comes at the expense of sick and dying children.

No wonder Tolley made this eye-brow-raising comment a few minutes into the interview;

@3.40 –

“I liken it to National Standards.”

National Standards – another of National’s misguided, moronic, and messy experiments.

Perhaps the most jaw-dropping comment from  Tolley also came at the very beginning of the interview, when she complained;

@ 0.40

“One of the main difficulties that we have is that we don’t know what works. We haven’t got good evidence. We haven’t got good data.”

There is good reason why we do not have “good evidence” and “good data” –  because former Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett did not want it;


Measuring poverty line not a priority - Bennett


Because having hard data on poverty means government having a measurable, defined problem dumped into its lap. And three years ago, Bennett was having none of that.

As Labour MP, Jacinda Ardern, said at the time;

“The message is clear. Either Paula Bennett doesn’t want to admit to the scale of the problem, or she is afraid of exposing her government’s lack of progress in fixing it.”

Bennett’s excuses ranged from this;

“One week they can be in poverty, then their parent can get a job or increase their income and they are no longer in poverty … This is the real world, and actually children move in and out of poverty at times on a weekly basis.”

… to parroting neo-liberal clap-trap like this on TVNZ’s Q+A, in November 2013;

“At the end of the day, what is going to make the biggest difference for child poverty, in my opinion and this government’s opinion, and it is tackling the tough stuff. That is long-term welfare dependence. It’s actually more jobs, yeah, so that’s business growth. It feels like to me that Labour’s more interested in welfare growth and not business growth, and as a consequence, are we ever going to agree on that? Probably not.”

… and finally, this garbled ‘gem’ for why she refused to measure child poverty, in the same interview;

“So why do an official measure that then by very definition still has, quite frankly, you know, it’s, sort of, wherever you put the measure, you’re always going to have people in poverty, because you’re taking a median income, taking housing prices off it, so there’s always going to be people- “

Hopefully Minister Tolley will read this and understand why the department she inherited from her predecessor (Paula Bennett) has no “good evidence” or “good data”.

As for solving the life-threatening problem of cold, damp houses that are killing our children – Tolley’s plans to ‘re-jig’ government departments  and NGOs will not heat one single house.

Not. One. House.

But it will result in more children becoming ill, and dying.

This is happening on your watch, Minister Tolley.


Emma-Lita Bourne – 2012-2014






TVNZ Q+A:  Revolutionary changes in store for social services (14:11)

Green Party: $900 million for empty beds

NZ Herald:  Ana Apatu – Disempowered living in poverty

NZ Herald: Measuring poverty line not a priority – Bennett

NZ Herald: Bennett slammed over child poverty claim

TVNZ: Q+A – Paula Bennett interview


Bryan Bruce – Inside Child Poverty (2011)

Previous related blogposts

The law as a plaything

Random Thoughts on Random Things #3

John Key’s government – death by two cuts

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death








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  1. Yeah I saw that interview too. I screamed in despair when she made the “national standards” comment, as if somehow that was a selling point for the outsourcing of social services and the outcomes that the gubbamint was after. Because national standards have been soooooo successful after all. And, tellingly, she actually believes that.

    • “National Standards.” Hmph.

      While in the Creative Writing class at Auckland University’s English Department, while the wonderful Helen Clark presided as PM, I submitted my final portfolio for the year under the title “Raise your Glasses and Lower your Standards.” The reference was a double entendre alluding not only to personal standards, but also as a euphemism for “trousers.”

      Bearing in mind the attitude of the current government, I never realised at the time how apt it would turn out to be.

      Goddamnit. I don’t know if I’ll ever come back home. What happened to my beautiful NZ?

  2. So basically, it was just another variation on “Let them eat cake.” This government has elevated callousness and contempt for their citizens almost to the level of an Olympic sport. Bastards, the lot of them.

  3. To avoid embarrasing questions like this soft interview from Corin Dann the plan is to privatise social services. It will avoid the need for ministers to attend patsy interviews when their governments incompetence is exposed.

    Part of the “logic” behind privatising social services is National can pay someone to impliment their cold ideology. A private company motivated by profit can more effectively bury bad news and take the heat. But when it ultimately turns to shit, the minister can tsk tsk, and wag their fingers at that organisation (for carrying out the governments wishes), make it look like its that particular organisations short comings and ironically make it look like the government cares.

    Sadly nothing will change for the better.

    • Soft interview from Corin Dann . I remember some years ago when Dann co-hosted the Good Morning Show and they had just screened Key slimiing out of a slippery situation . Dann dropped his guard and remarked something along the lines of “phew we got away with that one”. From that day on I have not taken anything that came out of his mouth with any credibility.

      • So it was a soft interview? What should Dann have done? Scream and yell like some idiot?

        The interview screamed and yelled that Tolley is the worst person for that job in our worst government for recognising the plight of people. It screamed that she is prefect for this government – a cretin speaking for the neanderthals.

        Dann’s done the job of helping her expose her true colours (again). The ball is now in the court of others.

        • I agree with Pete – Dann is actually a very intelligent and clever broadcaster. He manages to get more out of Politicians than they want to give by being very measured, he’s no bulldog, but he can’t be that at TVNZ. He’s very fair and can’t be criticised for being biased in any way. He needs to do more live interviewing on Q&A, he’s very good then.

          • I’m not so sure.
            I saw him interview Grant Robertson a few weeks back.
            When Robertson mentioned the appalling decision to award the making of our trains contract to the Chinese, which in turn contributed to the closure of the Railway Workshops , he quickly sprung to the Governments defence and talked unproven garbage about it being fiscally prudent and asked Robertson if he was suggesting that we subsidies our companies. All of which is arrant nonsense and actually not a very intelligent case to put forward.
            He also started the interview by slating Robertsons ability to be a Finance Minister.
            I have never seen him talk this way to a National Party MP.
            Whilst he comes across as the impartial political reporter, when push comes to shove he nearly always pulls his punches when talking about Key.
            Just look back at old footage when they had campaign Tricky and campaign Gaffe and campaign Wine Bottle donation against David Cunliffe and you will find he is no better than the
            Just more cunning at disguising the fact that he’s been bought out!

            • General reply to all and sundry…

              Was Dann’s interview with Tolley “soft”?

              Or was he “playing it soft”, and giving her sufficient rope with which to hang herself?

              I’m still of two minds on that question, but one thing I do know is that if she stumbled so badly with a supposedly “soft” line of questioning, wait till someone like Kim Hill or Guyon Espiner got hold of her.

              Hopefully that will happen in the very near future. It will be a rout.

        • You say that as if there are only two choices – Black, or white? He doesn’t have to be soft, nor does have to “scream and yell like some idiot.” He can ask serious questions, demand some accountability, and do it all while acting in an adult manner.

          Why must it be reduced to the old US/THEM dichotomy?

          I would love to see an interviewer who pushed for clarity while retaining a sense of dignity. However, that person has been replaced by “Guess who’s coming to dinner.” 🙁

  4. Great article.

    Like many people I am truly speechless at the brutality, stupidity and callousness of Tolley and Bennett.

    At least Tolley can hide beside being colossally stupid. Like someone said, she actually believes National Standards are working.

    First in Nat Standards, branding 5 year olds as failures by giving them a ‘not achieved’ grade is completely barbaric and labelling them before they even spend a year at school. Secondly Finland who has the highest rate of educational achievements in the world, do not even teach their children to read until 7 years.

    Funnily in Finland they actually put all the support into the teachers who have masters degrees in education, assisted by psychologists and other professionals and their teachers are allowed to do whatever it takes to help their students (no standards) and they want to help the bottom students even more. (In NZ the teachers are blamed for having poor students and then are supposed to label the students as failures each year). They have free hot lunches, fantastic heated classrooms. They actually value children as the next generation rather than some non voting burden on society.


    Back to social welfare. The fact that a toddler died in a state house which is partially blamed for her death, which Tolley is not familiar with.

    I’d love to bring a criminal case for manslaughter on the social system, maybe that might jog her memory.

    We really are in Marie Antoinette times now, where the government is bailing out Sky City, Saudi Sheep deals, Media Works and paying for hair straighteners and $24k fridges while toddlers are dying.

    I also blame the power companies for their barbaric ‘daily charge’ which means that the poor are indebted to them, even if they do not draw any power. In many cases the daily charge is not more than the average power bill 10 years ago.

    No wonder our living standards are so low.

    I am angry and ashamed of our government.

    And I am tired of our opposition parties letting them get away with it apart from tell them off in parliament.

  5. Tolley and Bennett – an “out of touch” team of National apologists and defenders. These two women are a disgrace to our poor and struggling citizens. They think ! they have it all sorted out. I became uneasy every time I hear either of these woman spout out their elitist crap as if they have not ” clue one ” about what is really going on and how to solve any problems. Where are any strong and ethical women role models in National ?

    • Tolly and Bennet are just out to please Key. They have no interest in people ,its like two women competing for the attention of a callous man .The one who is the most evil wins , they are beyond humanity.

    • “Strong”, “ethical role models” and “National” are not usually found in the same sentence.

      Trying to include “women” would take it beyond the average right-wing voters comprehension.

      • “Strong ethical role models have been studied by the current National Government in an attempt to see how efficiently they keep their women in the kitchen, where they and their seductive ponytails belong.”

        See, YOU CAN get all those words in the same sentence.

        It’s all about positive thinking, sensible life choices, and A BRIGHTER FUTURE.

  6. Tolley’s gem
    “So why do an official measure that then by very definition still has, quite frankly, you know, it’s, sort of, wherever you put the measure, you’re always going to have people in poverty, because you’re taking a median income, taking housing prices off it, so there’s always going to be people- “

    This is inexcusable for a Minister of Social Development. I hope her advisors are telling her that poverty lines based on the median do not require anyone to be in poverty!!! Basic Poverty 101.

    If we measure poverty as being in a household 60% below the median income disposable after housing costs we find very few over 65 in poverty but many children. We could have very low child poverty rates with different policies that dont leave the poorest children out of major parts of family assistance .

    • “This is inexcusable for a Minister of Social Development.”

      I think you mean “This is inexcusable for any native English speaker.”

  7. Anne Tolley should have her portfolio renamed as “The Ministry For Social deprivation”.

  8. The Nats rationale for shifting Tolley to MSD is now obviously because she had experience in working with the Serco model as Minister for Corrections. Although she pretends that it is under consideration my feeling is that it’s most likely almost a done deal. We are also living under government imposed austerity measures although we tend to think of it this as only happening in Europe. If the govt divest themselves of responsibility then yes also they can divest themselves of blame. However, that also begs the question Why do we need them if they can’t do the job they are paid for? Time for a protest march…

    • I think their rationale for keeping her is that she will do whatever the fuck she is told without questioning it. They don’t want competent ministers, and anyone who believes they do is a dumbass.

      They want compliant, subservient myrmidons who will toe the party line and pad out the numbers come voting time. Anything more than that is just inefficient waste, which has no place in a moderate, centre right government.


  9. I see her on parliament tv.

    She is one of the worst there. She dodges questions, and blames it on other parties or other people… She is one of the ‘Idontrecall’ crew.

    • I cant recall,….but at the end of the day ….I cant comment on that but what I can say is that the average New Zealander based on what I can see understands completely the situation and agree’s with what were doing and I’m quite comfortable with that despite screaming left wing conspiracy theorists and henchmen saying otherwise that inasmuch as that data is completely out of date and in the end you will see I’m right and their wrong and that in my capacity of Prime Minister which is different from my capacity as a hair puller that my office which acts in my capacity has the capacity to act in my capacity as the Prime Minister and in that particular capacity to use the OIA in a capacity unprecedented before in this country to run a smear campaign that I have absolutely no knowledge off whatsoever and that ….er….just what was the question you just asked again?……I seem to have forgotten….

      Anne Tolley and Paula Bennet .

      Groomed and trained by the biggest bullshit artist and lying piece of shit PM this country has ever had the supreme misfortune to have to endure.

  10. Poor, wretched, barely articulate little Anne Tolley. We musn’t be too hard. Like so many of her colleagues in The Notional Party she clearly believes in the power of positive drinking. At the end of the day it’s no good for the neurons.

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