Three Editorials on Bennett

July 30th, 2009 at 11:55 am by David Farrar

Today we have no less than three editorials on . First The Press:

The row over the release by the Minister for Social Development, Paula Bennett, of personal information about the benefits received by two solo mothers is being milked by the Labour Party and their allies for all it is worth.

Which is hilarious for the hypocrisy. Anyone remember what Labour did to the whistle blower Erin Leigh? And they did it under parliamentary privilege so Leigh had little recourse.

The minister, for her part, has refused to browbeaten by all this hullabaloo. She has said she is prepared to talk to the two women at the centre of the row, but she does not admit she has done anything wrong and she is not going to apologise. Bennett is quite right to take this stand. The women had clearly put the matter into the public arena. The information the minister released was important to a proper understanding of the issue they had raised.

I agree.

The only legitimate criticism that could be made of the minister is that she was politically naive. If she had slyly slipped the information to the media, either directly or via some intermediary, as Labour apparently habitually did, this giant red herring of an issue would never have arisen.

It is interesting that no one from Labour has denied they used to release this sort of info, but did it privately not publicly.

The Dom Post says:

When the chattering classes start slavering about the actions of a cabinet minister, it is a brave politician who is prepared to fight her corner. Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is such a politician.

Like the prime minister, she sometimes operates on gut instinct. It is risky. But it often works.

Even Willie Jackson was praising her on TV today (while saying he may disagree with her decision on this case).

This week, as Ms Bennett was being roundly condemned by political opponents and others for releasing the income details of two beneficiaries who dared criticise the Government, the minister stood her ground. Good on her.

Many New Zealanders believe she has done nothing wrong in breaching what they see as a politically correct convention that critics may take pot shots at the Government, and ministers won’t fight back. Not Ms Bennett.

And then:

For its part, Labour’s indignation is laughable. Most, if not all, of its former ministers practised the dark art of “briefing” political journalists about individuals in the headlines if they felt the full story wasn’t being told. Think Helen Clark and former police commissioner Peter Doone. Think former immigration minister Lianne Dalziel and the deportation of a Sri Lankan asylum-seeker.

I wonder if the Privacy Commissioner can investigate retrospectively?

The ODT is less supportive:

Ms Bennett can be damned for her actions for she seems not to comprehend to any degree that she went too far.

There is certainly an issue of political duty here to deflect Opposition sallies, but there is also a far more important one, of ministerial responsibility.

It is surely reasonable to suppose that no person applying for or in receipt of a state benefit ever expects to have the details of what is essentially a private matter between themselves and the department concerned displayed in a political stunt for all to see.

I disagree. Taxpayer funded benefits are not purely a private matter.

Mr Key may have hoped that his tyro minister would rapidly develop a safe pair of hands in a challenging portfolio, but her actions – which he might also have judged to strike a popular note among a target audience of National Party beneficiary bashers and others holding similar views – suggest Ms Bennett is in need of much more mature and experienced guidance about her judgement, and much less reliance on instinctive shooting from the lip.

The use of the term “National Party beneficiary bashers” makes me wonder who wrote this editorial. I suspect it is the staffer who used to be a spin doctor for Labour Ministers. Who else would use such a partisan term?

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26 Responses to “Three Editorials on Bennett”

  1. Ross Miller (1,624 comments) says:

    Just what you would expect from the OTD with a readership constituency of unreconstructed socialists who voted lemming like for that tower of probity (dis)Hon B-P and that ever so unctuous Vet whose name escapes me completely.

    Par for the course.

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  2. Sam Buchanan (499 comments) says:

    It does feel to me that behind all this is a dumbed-down media. It should be possible to discuss issues around Training Incentive Allowances sensibly, but journalists insist on turning everything into a soap opera – wanting an individual’s life to pick over.

    Instead of debating whether these instruments are or aren’t a good tool for getting people off benefits or otherwise improving people’s quality of life, we end up with an argy-bargy of both sides releasing personal information and bickering over the details, what they mean, who said what and who shouldn’t have said what.

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  3. Cerium (21,828 comments) says:

    From what I have seen ODT editorials, especially around election time, are quite pro National.

    The “National Party beneficiary bashers” term on it’s own seems quite over the top, in context it could be seen to be referring to just that subset of the wide spectrum of beneficiary bashers. So yeah, unfair to single out the National ones.

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  4. radvad (620 comments) says:

    “Which is hilarious for the hypocrisy. Anyone remember what Labour did to the whistle blower Erin Leigh?”

    That is nothing compared to what Labour did to Kit Richards. Their first act in 1999 after gaining power was to get him fired because he disagreed with them.

    Scum.

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  5. Cerium (21,828 comments) says:

    “But Labour did it too” is a stink sort of excuse.

    There has been some notable collateral damage done along the way, thanks to politics and media interests taking precedence over people.

    When will we see the first major blogland casualty? Fuller? The excitement of the hunt seems to blind some to the fact that real people are involved. Yes, they may have done some things wrong, they may have faults. But they are real people, with real families, not just site hit fodder for karma seekers.

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  6. Paulus (2,298 comments) says:

    Interesting to note that the gutless and incompetent media are shying away from any responsibility by not having once again done their homework.

    They have not realised that Helen Clark and Heather Simpson have gone (thank God for good I hope). All they have got is Goofy, who is being right royally stuffed by his own caucus behind his back (or even front).

    The media are not being sugar fed details, obfuscations and dowright lies, as they are used to.

    Go Paula, only one of the two women appears to be a Labour “Activist”, as her own blog has shown.
    The woman from Invercargill has taken a most enlightened view and need to be commended.

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  7. Ross Miller (1,624 comments) says:

    But Cerium … Fuller put herself up as “Hit Fodder” in a way that Leigh never did.

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  8. Cerium (21,828 comments) says:

    Yes Ross, and she deserves to be taken to task. This may all blow over and she may just be left a bit shell shocked but wiser for the experience. If she has broken any laws she may get what she deserves. Or she may be more than just found out. She could be ground down.

    But where could this go? Political parties sometimes took things to far, sometimes stepped over the line. Same for media. They were organisations that could themselves be embarrassed, made accountable. Different scene now. There are a lot of online detectives accountable to no one, many vying for results and attention.

    I’m not suggesting this would happen, but who knows after the experience of the last few days – what if a few more beneficiaries (or anyones) details were either leaked or broadcast so the blogdogs could compete for bones? All without having to look anyone in the eye.

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  9. gopolks (102 comments) says:

    In the past 72 hours it has came out that.

    MS Fuller received ten grand for a failed business

    She lives in a two story very expensive home.

    Benson Pope had released details of her past.

    There was some calls made by MsFuller to Annette King before Paula’s released her information.

    MsFuller was getting over $700 a week from WINZ.

    Now just today, the good people at scoop.co.nz have released that Fuller has been on some message boards, under three different names, talking about her misuse of her ex’s credit card and admitted to have been living off her ex’s credit card (paying for her rental property) while receiving a benefit.

    She says “I know its wrong”

    Apprently she wrote this on January 5th.

    Surly the police have to look into her actions?

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  10. hj (5,703 comments) says:

    “It is surely reasonable to suppose that no person applying for or in receipt of a state benefit ever expects to have the details of what is essentially a private matter between themselves and the department concerned displayed in a political stunt for all to see.”
    No way is it just between the department and the recipient. This is a democracy.

    theoretically you can say :”this person is entitled to this,this and this”, but it’s not the same as actual confirmation.

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  11. hj (5,703 comments) says:

    do you get the feeling that there is an organised network at work here ready to e mail Catherine Ryan and anywhere else?

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  12. peterwn (2,939 comments) says:

    Amnd remember that Labour had Nick Kelly (then a Labour Party member AFAIK) thrown into the cop shop dungeons for getting up their noses at an annual conference.

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  13. Chuck Bird (4,415 comments) says:

    I think it outrageous that the level of benefit some women receive is allows then a standard of living that is higher in many cases than a married couple where there are three young children and only one person is working. Having said that, the release of information by a Minister is another matter. It would appear that one of the women is milking the system while the other genuinely wants off the benefit and is happy to pay back money loaned to her.

    My concern is about one’s right to criticise government policy without fear of having private details made public. This does not just apply to benefits but any policy.

    Labour will be in government again. Suppose someone who Labour does not like is quite vocal and argues that people in difficulty should depend on family and private charity and not the hard working taxpayer. In response the government releases their taxable income and how much they claimed for charitable donations. Most people I hope would think that unreasonable.

    Perhaps that is extreme. Let us look at someone who needs and life saving operation for themselves or a loved one. Under what circumstances should their full medical condition be made public?

    I am sure other could think of scenarios. We should not be too quick to give a government we are happy with to use powers that we would complain about if the other side used when in power.

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  14. PaulL (5,776 comments) says:

    Chuck, I agree and I have some disquiet.

    Given the choice between “leaking” information in an underhanded way, and coming out and saying “this is the situation”, I would prefer the latter.

    Given the choice between coming out with the information, and saying “someone with 3 children and xyz situation should be getting around $740 per week, the media should perhaps ask whether that is how much she is actually getting”, I would much prefer Bennett had chosen the latter.

    Then, in your hypothetical, the person who criticised a Labour government and suggested charity, said Labour government could say “the average person who earns $100-150K in this country is in receipt of a tax deduction for around $20 of charitable donations, please ask Mr X to confirm or deny whether he is in line with the rest of his peer group. Or something similar. And I would be quite happy with that – as Mr X can choose to keep his donations secret, but at some cost to his credibility.

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  15. Ross Miller (1,624 comments) says:

    Chuck … a balanced comment but if that person is seen to be rorting the system??????

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  16. whalehunter (465 comments) says:

    its the ‘entitlement’ and ‘right to a benefit’ that has got the debate to where it is.

    god forbid the government drops the amounts paid weekly…

    these people have a right to an average standard of living….

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  17. jackp (668 comments) says:

    walehunter, you say “these people” have a right to an average standard of living. Are you referring to beneficiaries and DPB’s?

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  18. hj (5,703 comments) says:

    “god forbid the government drops the amounts paid weekly…

    these people have a right to an average standard of living….”

    Then you get a problems with incentives as workers who earn a below average income (standard of living) will be better off on welfare and people will opt for the (make your own state-family-orphanage – occupation).
    But have things got so twisted that people actually think like (above)?

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  19. Gooner (995 comments) says:

    Bennett reminds me every day of Jenny Shipley: fearless, tough and up front (I trust Bennett has not had lunch with Kevin Roberts?). I like it even though I don’t approve of what she did.

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  20. Chuck Bird (4,415 comments) says:

    Chuck … a balanced comment but if that person is seen to be rorting the system??????

    Good point but from what I can see one is and it would appear the other is not.

    PaulL, I agree that would have been a much better way to deal with the situation. What is more important than what that one woman is getting but how common it is?

    The State is responsible for the break up of many marriages with the over generous DPB. If a woman is married to a man on a low wage she can have a higher standard of living on the DPB.

    If a woman is in a loving marriage she is not going kick her husband out to get more money on the DPB. However, if it is going through a rocky patch and she has a few friends on the DPB she could be very tempted to join them.

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  21. hj (5,703 comments) says:

    I think Bennett stood out when she broke up a fight between some teenagers at a mall. “She didn’t pick on th pakeha …fat bitch!”. :wink:

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  22. BLiP (28 comments) says:

    Very often its what’s not pointed out that is the truth of the situation.

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  23. Dusky (51 comments) says:

    For my adult life and a few years prior to entering it, I have held a firm belief that the benefit is tightly bound with psychology.

    If there is a person who has no desire to be on a benefit, wants to better their situation, and wants to reach a situation where they can look after themselves and is trying hard to achieve such a situation – I would never begrudge them my tax dollars. That’s why I have no problem with the unemployment benefit or disability benefits – so long as they are being used for genuine reasons and not an escape.

    It is however, my conviction that a large percentage of beneficiaries do not fit this simple criteria. The strength of the benefit system is bound up with two things – one, a political desire to win votes by large-scale bribery to as many people as possible – and two, a belief that it is not only acceptable, but RIGHT to receive what is essentially other people’s money as a way of life. If I’m going to be really harsh, I would go so far as to say that it’s a way to paint stealing as not only ‘acceptable’, but also ‘clever’.

    The beneficiary who was living off her ex’s credit card is an example of this, saying “I know it’s wrong”, but there’s not a chance she’s one of a rare few.

    My best friend at high school had an older sister who became unexpectedly pregnant at a party. She of course, received a benefit. She also moved in with the father, but made no changes to the benefit whatsoever. I won’t make comments about her standards of care for the child – I would consider that offtopic. Suffice to say that aside from clothing, little of the money went on her daughter for the first few years.

    I have other experiences of beneficiaries in New Zealand, but as it was when I was younger, and I never knew the full details, I don’t feel I can comment sufficiently.

    In England however, my husband’s family are largely beneficiaries and quite happy about it. (Though I’m thrilled to see the women getting jobs now that their kids are too old, and the money is going down. Funnily, the men are happy to stay unemployed). I’ve stood in the kitchen at parties being asked why I don’t start a family now – so that I get bought a house and given money.

    There’s only one answer I can give, and I’m not gutsy enough to give it.

    “I don’t believe it’s right.”

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  24. Madeleine (230 comments) says:

    I am sorry David but I have to disagree with you here.

    The state is not above the law. We should not turn a blind eye just because Bennett’s actions suit our politics.

    The Privacy Act is binding on the crown, the crown breached it. We don’t get to set aside laws when it suits our political aims.

    The state makes contractual promises to beneficiaries to keep certain information private, the state must honour its contractual promises and is not justified in breaking its promises just because some of us think they should not make such promises in the first place.

    Whether or not Labour did it/does it/would do it is irrelevant. Two wrongs do not make something right – this is the tu quoque fallacy of logic.

    If National do not like the Privacy Act or the wording of the contracts made with beneficiaries then there are proper steps for them to change these things.

    Personally I do not support state funded welfare. I happen to think the information was relevant to the debate and that beneficiaries should not expect for information around how much tax payer funded information they receive be kept secret. But likewise, the state must keep the law, it must uphold its contractual promises and we must not turn a blind eye because it is politically expedient to do so.

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  25. jackp (668 comments) says:

    Looks like walehunter is a growing species. To expect receiving average wages as a birth right certainly dumbs down the public which is what labour and greens want. My one and only hope is species like walehunter become extinct. It can happen but it will take a generation or two to turn the corner.

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  26. jackp (668 comments) says:

    Madeline, they are receiving public money. The public has a right to know. By the way have the police started their investigation on this fuller lady for fraud?

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