Stuff has a profile of Paula Bennett. Extracts:
Her conference speech had just outlined the Children’s Action Plan – a piece of work that Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills calls the greatest focus on child abuse since 1989, and the piece de resistance of Bennett’s tenure so far as the country’s welfare kingpin. …
Next stop is Work and Income’s Manukau office. The 10 people waiting in stacker chairs by the door show no interest as Bennett breezes past. They clearly have no idea who she is. Or maybe they just have more pressing worries.
She parks up behind the reception desk and greets a woman with a baby with a cheerful “good morning”. She’s undeniably good with people. She seems genuinely interested and there’s no supercilious talking down. And why would there be? She has been that young mum with a stroller asking about her benefit.
Raised with two brothers in a roundly middle class family, Bennett is no longer sure whether getting pregnant at 17 was a conscious choice – a continuation of the smoking, drinking, truanting, protesting rebellion that marked her teenage years. “I don’t know if I got in with the wrong crowd – that seems so cliched really. Some would argue I led the wrong crowd, given half a chance,” she says with a trademark cackle.
But she does remember what shook her out of a “lonely, scary, frustrating” life of welfare dependency in which a future was hard to see. It was the school holidays and she was looking after daughter Ana and a friend’s children. Her two-bedroom unit was “an absolute disaster zone”.
“Someone knocked at the door. It was someone I had known from school who had been away and come back and I just remember standing there in my pyjamas with this house that was an absolute bombsite and imagining how I looked through their eyes. I just went ‘This is it. This is actually my reality unless I do something about it.’ I do remember that being quite a moment of reflection and change.”
An interesting profile.