Simon Collins on Bennett

November 3rd, 2009 at 9:42 am by David Farrar

Simon Collins reviews ’s first year:

If John Key’s Cabinet picks a year ago were bets on the Melbourne Cup, then giving a critical job to Paula Bennett was a gamble on a complete outsider.

A year later, in political terms, the bet has paid out handsomely. Despite her official Cabinet rank of 16th, voters in Saturday’s Herald/DigiPoll survey placed Ms Bennett third in the most-effective-minister race after Mr Key himself and his deputy, Bill English.

Without taking anything away from Paula, I would note that the way that question was asked unprompted, means it is more a poll on name recognition. A better approach would have been to read out the names of various Ministers and ask them to rate how effective each is. That is not to say, the result would necessarily be different.

Her public popularity stems from the very qualities that made her a wildcard – the teenage solo mum, soon revealed to have a daughter who was a young mum herself with a jailed partner. Not the kind of privileged pedigree that arouses resentment.

She broke up a fight in Henderson in January, put Christine Rankin on the Families Commission in May, and hit back at two women who criticised restrictions on the training allowance in July by releasing details of their personal welfare files.

The last two of these were divisive. But they all made her look like a down-to-earth “bad girl” who plays tough and dirty when she has to. She is strong and sometimes wrong, but she is “one of us”.

Not a bad summary. Labour used to target her a lot in the House as someone they thought would be “weak”. She gets left alone a lot now.

She quickly implemented her party’s promise of short-term help for redundant workers. She gave social service agencies a surprise pre-Budget $40 million boost to cope with the recession. She played a key role in an August youth package which brought back job subsidies for young people.

Apart from the recession, Ms Bennett has said that she went away at Christmas and thought, “How do I want to measure myself at the end of this period of my career?” She thought about our appalling child abuse statistics and decided her test should be “that I made a positive difference for children”.

That’s a question more MPs should ask – what do they want to have achieved at the end of their time in Parliament.

She “started talking to as many people as I could” – people like Dr Patrick Kelly at the Starship hospital. In September, she delivered much of the experts’ agenda: a pilot project and an advertising campaign on not shaking babies, another pilot to intervene when domestic violence occurs in families with infants under 2, more social workers at hospitals, and multi-agency plans for abused children leaving hospital. …

Driving such initiatives is not easy. Ms Bennett’s Labour predecessors talked about a “single core benefit” for nine years but never managed to implement it. On this count, she deserves an above-average mark as an effective minister.

People (including myself sometimes) often complain about a lack of action from the Government. One senior Minister the other day put to me that the Government was doing just as much as any of its predecessors – it just wasn’t pissing people off doing it, and making big headlines.

Over the summer break I might try to compile how many laws and policies have been implemented, and how significant they are.

All these initiatives also help to chip away at Mr Key’s growing “underclass”. The job subsidies, too, flag an unstated recognition that the last National Government’s strategy of bludgeoning the unemployed into work by cutting benefits actually fuelled multi-generational dysfunction.

This time round, there is more emphasis on opportunities than on penalties.

Yet in all this chipping around the edges, there has not yet been a full frontal attack on what Mr Key described in his 2007 underclass speech as the “exclusion” of many from mainstream working society. At last count 5 per cent of working-age non-Maori women, and 22 per cent of working-age Maori women, were on the domestic purposes benefit alone.

A frontal attack on exclusion requires hard thinking about how taxes and welfare rules drive young couples apart and then trap parents on benefits.

Goodness. is a former editor of City Voice (great Wellington urban newspaper while it lasted) whose politics were pretty clearly on the left. If Simon is talking about the need to change tax and welfare incentives that trap parents on benefits, you know there is a mood for change. Not change is a brutal penalising way, but change in a way to break the cycle of exclusion.

It requires across-portfolio policies such as regearing education to produce tradespeople as well as academics, lifting low-end wages, making home ownership affordable, and providing accessible parenting and life-skills advice through places young parents go such as schools, preschools and doctors.

Ms Bennett has yet to rise to the challenge of using her Social Development Ministry’s policy grunt to lead this assault across the Government. For that reason, she has to be marked down in terms of ministerial effectiveness to just above average – 6 out of 10.

Certainly a cross-sector approach is needed.

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20 Responses to “Simon Collins on Bennett”

  1. Pete George (21,826 comments) says:

    how taxes and welfare rules drive young couples apart and then trap parents on benefits

    Blame it on tax and welfare? How together are a lot of these young couples in the first place? Mostly they are trapped by their own actions, aided by generous welfare.

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  2. s.russell (1,486 comments) says:

    The 6/10 rating seems a little ungenerous to me given what Collins himself says.

    The kind of broad cross-sector assault on the factors trapping people in the underclass is not something you pull out of your hat quickly. And as a new minister (and an MP of only 4 years) Bennett needs to get on top of her own portfolio and demonstrate her competence before she can start driving such a broad approach – taking leadership across portfolios.

    I also note (as Collins does) that drastic reform has (sensibly) been curtailed in the face of the recession, which is now ending.

    If by 2011 nothing has happened on this front, then Collins rating might be justified. But he marks her down for not yet doing what she could not and should not yet have attempted.

    And DPF’s point is a good one too: the Govt is doing more than it appears to be doing – it is just doing things quietly and slowly. While that may be frustrating for those of us who want to see a bigger shake up, this approach may be more effective in the long run. (At least I really hope so).

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  3. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    I like to see Bennet succeed purely on the grounds that the left hate her so intensely, and seek her destruction.

    As they hate and seek to destroy all they perceive as apostates.

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  4. toad (3,654 comments) says:

    I’m waiting for the reviews on Anne Tolley and Nick Smith – they should be interesting! But Bennett has done better than I expected (apart from releasing beneficiaries’ personal information, which was very poor form).

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  5. Murray M (455 comments) says:

    toad, the bludging bitches fucking asked for it

    [DPF: 20 demerits.]

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  6. dime (8,778 comments) says:

    i still have issues with PB, all stemming from the ultra violent son in law living at her house while on bail.

    would be interested to know if she would act the same way again… if so, her name is mud in my book forever.

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  7. Mr A (17 comments) says:

    Murray M, the two in question were training to get themselves off the DPB and fill skills shortages. Isn’t this using the system as a safety net and going on to become contributing citizens rather than bludging? This is what welfare is supposed to be used for. The episode of bennie bashing was uncalled for. It was smart for Paula Bennet to use this tactic because the dialogue over this issue immediately went away from intelligent debate on the issue to appealing to the sensibilities of people who think ALL beneficiaries=dirty bludgers.

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  8. thedavincimode (6,130 comments) says:

    “It requires across-portfolio policies such as regearing education to produce tradespeople as well as academics, lifting low-end wages, making home ownership affordable, and providing accessible parenting and life-skills advice through places young parents go such as schools, preschools and doctors.”

    Its going to require a lot more than that when we have career unemployed who are grandparents in their thirties and there is the 4th generation of dysfunction on the way and/or each of the preceeding three generations has known nothing but violence and abuse or callous indifference because they too were a consequence and unwanted byproduct of casual sex.

    Yesterday’s Nia Glassie or Kahui twin is tomorrow’s Bailey Kurariki. How would someone that was put in a washing machine or hung on the clothes line as a baby be likely to turn out if that environment remained unchanged? Likely a bit psychopathic. Like comparing a domestic kitten that likes its stomach being scratched to a feral cat thats a bundle of hissing spitting fury. What do you do with the latter, knowing that the odds are that it will never change because that’s the way its been programmed? We now seem to have three lost generations.

    Its a relief to see meaningful acknowledgement of root cause. No preceding government has addressed this issue in a way that was either in the least successful or secured public buy-in. The more recent PC bullshit softcock approach of throwing someone else’s money around but not actually doing anything achieved nothing beyond assuaging ‘varsity common room induced guilt and providing an environment that made the problem worse. There needs to be more honest and open debate around this issue and the race card needs to be left in the deck. Its as much about white trash as it is brown bash.

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  9. thedavincimode (6,130 comments) says:

    Mr A, as I recall, one of them at least was always training to get off the benefit …

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  10. Brian Smaller (3,915 comments) says:

    Murray M, the two in question were training to get themselves off the DPB and fill skills shortages. Isn’t this using the system as a safety net and going on to become contributing citizens rather than bludging?

    That made me laugh Mr A. Any self-respecting beneficiary knows that to rort the system you need to play the game. You do courses to top up your benefit. You get study grants, grants to buy computers, travel grants etc etc etc. There is no oversight to make sure you actually complete them.

    Tell me again how many people do these Business computing courses actually get a job out of them? I work in IT and know of noone who has ever been employed after doing one.

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  11. Murray M (455 comments) says:

    Jeez David 20 is a bit over the top isn’t it?

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  12. BLiP (28 comments) says:

    Over the summer break I might try to compile how many laws and policies have been implemented, and how significant they are.

    As an early Christmas present, let me help you get under way:

    * Crown Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme Bill
    * Education (National Standards) Amendment Bill
    * Electoral Amendment Bill
    * Electricity (Renewable Preference) Repeal Bill
    * Employment Relations Amendment Bill
    * Energy (Fuels, Levies, and References) Biofuel Obligation Repeal Bill
    * Local Government (Tamaki Makaurau Reorganisation) Bill
    * Parole (Extended Supervision Orders) Amendment Bill
    * Sentencing (Offences Against Children) Amendment Bill

    . . . and those are just the ones passed under Urgency.

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  13. Johnboy (13,424 comments) says:

    “Tell me again how many people do these Business computing courses actually get a job out of them? I work in IT and know of noone who has ever been employed after doing one.”

    At the other end of the market it is amazing how many turn up at work with a degree in truck driving and post graduate diplomas in forklift and dangerous goods from Whitireia University :) all applying for non exisistant vacancies.

    Keeps the Winz money-go-round in business I guess.

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  14. GPT1 (2,043 comments) says:

    I think some of us would prefer it if government’s did a bit less. If passing laws solved problems then we would be the least problematic society in the world.

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  15. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “Jeez David 20 is a bit over the top isn’t it?”

    I think he’s feeling the heat from the leftist establishment.

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  16. maxwell (33 comments) says:

    How is it possible to have a rational debate about whether a beneficiary is getting enough money, including extra study grants, accommodation allowances, etc., if we don’t know what that amount is ?

    Maybe Paula Bennett could have said a typical beneficiary in her position would be getting x but then we wouldn’t have learnt that Natasha Fuller got a $10,000 grant (not a loan) to start a cleaning business which never got off the ground after she wrote off the vehicle purchased for the business.

    Let’s not forget that Fuller allowed Labour to use her benefit details in their 2005 election campaign, contacted and went on Fair Go complaining about being ripped off due to some allegedly poor quality hair extensions, and more recently was debating her benefits with all comers on Trade Me and other internet forums. Her most severe critics were other solo mums and workers receiving less than her for working 40 -50 hours a week. If you want money from other people why shouldn’t they know how much they’re “giving” ?

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  17. bchapman (649 comments) says:

    DPF- rather than list the large number of repeal and ‘undoing of things they don’t like bills’, would you be able to list the plethora of commissions, study groups and enquiries which are going on at the moment?

    So far we have seen lots of noise and studies set up but not much action. Whenever someone makes a suggestion of things like tax reform or economic stimulus they seem to be slapped down as unworkable (GST increase, CGT, Land Tax etc.)
    Hopefully after nine years in opposition National have thought carefully about where they want to take NZ and what sort of reforms they want- the first twelve months in govt don’t seem to show much of that. Hopefully we will have a clearer picture by next year.

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  18. gravedodger (1,426 comments) says:

    The first I ever knew about Ms Paula Bennet came with the formation of the present government and I can understand the attitude she encountered from the long term inhabitants of the “beltway” as she had no “right to be there”. However the sanctimonious pricks who jumped to conclusions and the socialist twats on the opposition benches should have followed the old adage, “Better to keep ones mouth shut and be thought stupid than open it and remove the doubt”. Mr Key thought enough of her to give her the opportunity and that judgement still has my full support.
    As for the matter of the ‘daughter’, IMHO that is nothing more than muckraking right out of the liabour playbook. WTF has that got to do with anything Ms Bennet does as one of my employees. Why don’t the Media Giants take the same machette to Mr P Holmes as his “daughter seems to be more of a problem to society than THE PARTNER of Ms Bennet’s daughter.

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  19. dave (985 comments) says:

    Goodness. Simon Collins is a former editor of City Voice (great Wellington urban newspaper while it lasted) whose politics were pretty clearly on the left. If Simon is talking about the need to change tax and welfare incentives that trap parents on benefits, you know there is a mood for change

    Not necessarily, Simon may be on the left but he doesn’t let his politics get in the way of his balanced writing. He never has as long as I have know him. One reason why he is such a good journo.

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  20. grumpyoldhori (2,410 comments) says:

    Come on people all Bennett does is dish out taxpayers money, what the hell is difficult about that.
    If she was minister of trade and doing a good job then I would have some respect for the woman.
    To me she is the token Westie minister with a tan.
    I would far rather have seen Tremain in the cabinet.

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