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.
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.
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?