Welfare reform is coming

December 23rd, 2009 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Colin Espiner reports:

The Government is considering cancelling unemployment benefits after a year and forcing beneficiaries to reapply.

This may be a step in the right direction but I would have thought a time limit on benefits would be more effective.

Other changes under consideration by the Government are understood to include work-testing for domestic purpose beneficiaries whose youngest child has turned six,

This will be known as the Phil U policy on Kiwiblog :-)

compulsory budgeting advice for beneficiaries who claim frequent grants,

Sensible.

and part-time work obligations for some sickness and invalid beneficiaries.

There are very few people who can not work even two hours a day. Kids should not grow up in households where no adults work at all. A work culture is vital to stop inter-generational dependency.

Harris is on a sickness benefit because he has a medical opinion saying he has cannabis addiction. He must get reassessed by a doctor every 13 weeks, but Work and Income said yesterday that it could not force him to undertake drug or alcohol rehabilitation under existing laws.

Rehabilitation programmes exist for sickness beneficiaries addicted to drugs, but the department cannot force them to attend or withhold their benefit if they refuse.

Well that would be a good law change also.

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Meet the Bludgers

December 22nd, 2009 at 9:31 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner reports in The Press:

Information obtained by The Press shows Marcia Harris and her husband, former gang leader Darryl Harris, have claimed unemployment and sickness benefits continuously since 1984.

25 years without working.

They are one of about 300 couples who draw about $1000 a week in benefits from the taxpayer and are the subjects of a government audit.

So why work if you can get taxpayers to give you $1,000 a week?

They have four children, three of whom are also drawing benefits.

What a surprise! What I can’t work out is how they get $1,000 a week, if at most they have one dependent child.

In addition, they have received $30,000 in special-needs grants since 2000, including $16,000 in the past two years.

Life must be tough on $1,000 a week.

Among the successful applications were grants to put new tyres on the couple’s 2007 silver Chrysler saloon and to fence a swimming pool at one of several properties the family owns in Christchurch.

Well the silver Chrysler must look its best, so of course the taxpayer should pay for new tyres. And if you own multiple properties, then again the taxpayer is who should pay for fencing the swimming pool.

Recent efforts to cancel Darryl Harris’ sickness benefit failed after he obtained a medical opinion stating he was addicted to cannabis.

Sadly, he probably is. But people can beat addictions – and I don’t see a lot of incentives for him to do so.

The opinion was from one of Work and Income’s “designated doctors” after the agency appealed against a medical opinion that Harris was suffering from “stress and anxiety” over being work-tested.

Oh the poor baby. He hasn’t had to work for 25 years, but the stress of being work-tested in itself made him so stressed out he was not able to work.

This year Marcia Harris was ordered to repay some benefits granted by Work and Income, including one to pay for her car to be released after being impounded. She was driving without a licence at the time.

Well that is hardly her fault. Society is to blame, so only fair us taxpayers pay.

Work and Income paid for the family to spend 10 nights at a Christchurch hotel, the Towers on the Park, in 2007 after their Islington home burnt down, a review of the family’s case found.

I am sure the burning down was a freak of nature, and had nothing to do with gangs. Hopefully the Towers on the Park was adequate for them It is only 4.5 stars and they may have suffered from it not being a five star hotel.

Since then the family has been transferred to a special “remote monitoring” unit. The unit deals with Work and Income clients deemed too dangerous for face-to-face meetings with staff.

If they are too dangerous to meet with staff, then maybe they are too dangerous to receive $1,000 a week?

Bennett said she planned to introduce pledges made by National during last year’s election campaign but shelved this year because of the recession.

They include work-testing for domestic purpose beneficiaries whose youngest child has turned six, compulsory budgeting advice sessions for beneficiaries who claim frequent grants, and part-time work obligations for some sickness and invalid beneficiaries.

The Government plans to suspend or reduce benefits for those who refuse to comply with requests to attend work interviews or take up work opportunities.

Can’t happen quickly enough.

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Whanau first?

November 15th, 2009 at 9:19 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Abused Maori children in state care will be monitored to see whether they do better with their own whanau or another family.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has asked Child Youth and Family to compare the progress of the 50 per cent of children placed with extended family and the 50 per cent placed elsewhere – normally with foster families or permanently with a new family – to see what works better.

This is a very sensitive area, and each placement will have its own circumstances. But in terms of overall results, it is a question that should have been asked before now.

The idea stems from her concern at the high re-abuse rate for Maori children and anecdotal evidence that some placements with extended family can do more harm than good.

Last year almost 1800 children were re-abused within six months, an average of five a day. Almost half of all abused children are Maori.

1800 a year is huge, when you consider that is just the number of kids who are re-abused.

The Maori minister admitted the question was “hugely controversial”. For 20 years New Zealand social work had been based on the philosophy that children should be kept with their blood relatives wherever possible.

“In my opinion it works when that extended whanau are taking full responsibility for that child.

“When it gets a bit blurred is when we know who it is that’s doing [the abuse], when we’re keeping them daily involved, and it all starts getting mixed.”

Detective Sergeant Megan Goldie, the child abuse team manager for Waitakere police, echoed her local MP’s concerns about the dangers of staying too close to parents accused of abuse.

“The family that the child is going to may be perfectly OK but they may not be able to keep the offending parents … away from that child.

That is probably asking a lot from the extended family.

Child abuse specialist Dr Patrick Kelly said it was a hard call: foster care also had a patchy safety record and permanent placement was a huge step.

But he agreed it was common for an abused child to be sent to an aunt who turned out to be no better than the original mother – and the case was renotified.

“By then the child’s been living in an abusive or neglectful environment for another year.

“Sometimes you can go through five or six cycles of that process before CYF is forced to concede that this entire extended family is dysfunctional.

“But by then this poor kid has been in that situation for four or five years.

And by then it is too late – the next generation of abusers has been created.

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Simon Collins on Bennett

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

Simon Collins reviews Paula Bennett’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. 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 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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Paula’s new car

August 28th, 2009 at 3:19 pm by David Farrar

2811439

Oh dear. I think for once I am lost for words. Probably will double the majority in Waitakere though!

Hat Tip: G Blog

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Why Can’t You Be Like Paula Bennett? – Guest Post by Tara te Heke

August 9th, 2009 at 8:19 am by Tara te Heke

There’s been heaps written about Paula Bennett but I can understand where she’s coming from. She’s escaped into a new world. A better world for her and the whanau. She’s broken the dependency cycle.

Her daughter though is taking the old world with her and that’s all I will say on that matter judging that decision.  Than there must be relief today in the papers that her and the “baby Daddy” have broken up.  For now anyway.

The point of that comment is that Paula Bennett now earns $200,000 a year+, wears suits, gets free travel and has status in society. Wicked for her and I’m pleased for her. But when your kid has got a problem, money can’t necessarily solve the problem, but it is better than being broke. Much better than being broke.

Bennett has connections now. She can get the father of her grandbaby help inside.  She can help him when she gets out.  Or not if she wants.

Bennett’s story is an exception. Although she’s a “rolemodel”, most of us will never get there. We won’t be so lucky. We are looking to Paula to deal with many issues. She’s going to fail because the issues are so massive.

1. Like reigning in the deadbeat Dads and making the public get down on them as much if not more than us.

2. Like making people realise that individual responsibility and choice is all fine and good, but try doing that with three kids, ill parents, and generations of debt, failure and dependency.

3. Like making those of us on welfare wonder why families in NZ earning income we can only dream of, are also receiving welfare in the form of working for families?

That’s a good point. Welfare is for people who genuinely need it. I can live off my income from the state, why can’t a family with only one kid live off theirs that is twice or three times mine? Why are they now a beneficiary?  They are like us.

Paula Bennett has done really well for herself. But if another middle class, well-dressed person asks me why all of us can’t be like Paula, I will scream!

I have three kids. I have no one to turn to in order to look after them while I am either at training or working. I’d love to go work with adults, speaking adult and not baby. I can’t afford childcare so what do you do? If someone looked after my kids during the day I wouldn’t need an excuse, I’d work again. While it’s not fun to work in a low wage job, it is what adults do and I can’t wait until my children are at school and old enough to let me get back in there.

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Guest Poster – Tara te Heke

August 9th, 2009 at 8:13 am by Tara te Heke

Kia ora koutou

When David asked me to write a few posts while he was away I was surprised. I’ve only known DPF a few years and it was trusting of him.

What? A Maori solo mum of 3 children, write of thousands of you angry white middle aged male computer geekoids on Kiwiblog? But you know, needs must and I have a tonne of time on my hands because Paula Bennett said so.

Anyway I have promised to put on my best Bill English and write to you whiteys about some Maaaaori issues and first up being a solo Mum.

So what’s it like? Pretty choice actually. In between rorting the taxpayer of heaps of dollars, raising my kiddies without their father and surviving without any trips to Ozzie or even struggling sometimes to get a ride into town when the car has blown up it’s really awesome.

Like when I left school at 16 I went to work in the local freezing works. It was seductively a great job as I was earning more pingers than anyone I knew and even more than University graduates. At 19 I found the man of my dreams there. Big, strong and brown. To start with it was like a fairytale. Then he got angry easily and gave me the bash. Often. I thought if I gave him some children it would be better, that he would grow up and be a great Dad.

I had the first one at 20 when is topped working. My man had a good job and we were getting by okay. I didn’t have to work, in fact he liked it that way as it made him feel like the hunter gatherer, the provider. Just me and the baby. Our little team. But the worst happened and he lost his job. Man that was hard. He hated going to welfare so I would have to go. He got depressed and angry again. And took it all out on me. I’d get the bash for anything. Like the time I cooked dinner and the roast spuds got a little burnt and he enraged and chucked them all over me. The pan smashing my head and I ended up the next day in A&E when my best friend T came to deal with me and wouldn’t accept that I’d walked into the door.

This continued another few months and in that time the sex was brutal. Drunk sex. Not Once were Warriors sex or anything but sex to punish me for spending time with bubs and not him. I got pregnant again and then my heart sank as I found out I was having twins.

My mother was at least helping as the same had happened to her, but she knew something was wrong with me. I knew that twins would mean now 3 times the work, 3 times less income left and more violence when my man worked out he was more useless and couldn’t afford to keep us together without help from welfare. Mum had to help my sister as well. And our brother who has a handicap and can’t work so gets a sickness benefit.

When my Man started to bash up the little ones I knew I had to leave. To get out and not go back. It was my fault if I didn’t and I had all the power. I had 3 kids and went to welfare, sitting in the office and crying. I was a number but they were okay, there was worse than me in the waiting room.

Then I got angry. What made it worse was I knew he was getting away with it. I had three kiddies to feed and he had none now. He could divorce our family and pay nothing, have no responsibility and do it all again. He would find another woman and repeat it all on her.

So when you all get down on solo Mums you have to remember there are solo Dads as well. We haven’t left them by choice, none of my friends have, most of us have had to leave like me with the violence, friends of mine who have been cheated on and had to leave, and some others whose men have just walked out and never bothered to come home, let alone send a cheque.

There are some awesome Dads out there who spend every last cent they have on their kids. They take the time to look after them and be a part of their lives. But they are few and far between. I haven’t been blessed meeting one. My man is a deadbeat.

Still no job, hooked up with a girl I went to school with. I only hope she’s not getting the bash like I did. Other than that, she’s welcome to him.

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Three Editorials on Bennett

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

Today we have no less than three editorials on Paula Bennett. 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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More on the welfare and privacy debate

July 30th, 2009 at 11:09 am by David Farrar

I have to say that I am gaining very very different impressions of the two women involved in the issue of the cutting of the TIA allowance and the release of their total income from taxpayers.

Jennifer Johnston has really impressed me with her sincerity, attitude and arguments. The Herald reports:

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has asked her officials to look into setting up a loan to help solo parents cover their extra study costs.

The suggestion came during a phone call yesterday to Jennifer Johnston, one of two solo mothers whose details she released after they spoke out about her decision to cut the Training Incentive Allowance for tertiary level courses. …

She said she would take Ms Johnston up on an offer to join her for coffee when she was next in Invercargill.

Ms Johnston said she also apologised to Ms Bennett. “I was pretty angry yesterday. I don’t bear her any ill will.”

She said Ms Bennett had listened carefully to her case but also made it clear she could not promise anything.

“I run a family, she runs a department, but my family has a budget just like her department and at times I have to make financial decisions that are unpopular. Sometimes the people I’m responsible for, my children, will come to me and say, ‘Mum, how about we do it this way?’ Sometimes I can compromise and sometimes I can’t – that’s the reality of having a budget. I don’t know what will come out of our conversation but at the very least I know my minister heard my concerns.”

She brushed off concerns about privacy, saying it was not hard to find out what level of benefits a woman in her situation would be entitled to.

I made a similar point on radio yesterday. Most benefit information is a matter of public record. You just can’t calculate it to the exact dollor without knowing what someone’s rent is etc.

But as I said, kudos to Ms Johnston for her positive advocacy and constructive suggestion re expanding loans, rather than a grant.

I have to say that things are rather murkier with Ms Fuller. First of all is the fascinating revelation that she had her benefit information disclosed by Labour in 2007:

The single mother who is taking Paula Bennett to the Privacy Commission for releasing her income details has had her income disclosed publicly before – by Labour in 2007 and by herself on a Trade Me message board last week. …

Ms Fuller listed some of her entitlements on a Trade Me message board under her user name thehappyhocker last week, before Ms Bennett provided the information to the Herald.

Good to see the media pick up on the Trade Me disclosures for they are very relevant.

Ms Fuller’s income had also been used by the Labour Party in 2007 as an example of the success of its policies. She said she had given permission for then social development minister David Benson-Pope to use the information after she set up a cleaning business with an enterprise allowance.

In his speech, Mr Benson-Pope lists her total support from the state as $180.50, including an accommodation supplement of $91, a family tax credit of $69.50, and another $20 a week from Working for Families.

What is especially interesting to me, is what links (if any) Ms Fuller has to Labour. Often people trumpeted by Labour as sucess stories are Labour Party members and activists. This may not be the case, but it often is. And it all comes down to whether there has been appropriate disclosure.

A thread started by Ms Fuller on the Trade Me message boards also has some alarming allegations in it. Also a huge amount of abuse (some from other people on the DPB) – enough to make a general debate thread on Kiwiblog look like a polite conversation.

Dave at Big News blogs on some of the allegations. They include claims of boasting on Facebook of spending $200 on CDs in a month etc. If the claims are correct, Labour may once again be regretting their choice of champion.

And in another thread he blogs on posts by Fuller where she admits to living with her partner while getting the benefit, and knowing what she did was wrong.

And for those who think this is Big Brother, all Dave has done is catalogue posts made voluntarily by Fuller on the Internet.

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Bennett and the Privacy Act

July 29th, 2009 at 8:30 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is facing a complaint under the Privacy Act for disclosing the amounts two solo mothers have received in benefits – but last night she remained unrepentant.

One of the mothers said she will complain to the Privacy Commissioner after Ms Bennett provided the Herald with details of the state support she and another had received. The Labour Party also plans to lodge a complaint with the commissioner.

Ms Bennett disclosed the women’s weekly incomes after the pair – Natasha Fuller and Jennifer Johnston – objected to the Government’s decision to stop the Training Incentive Allowance for solo parents doing tertiary level study.

The statement that Fuller and Johnston merely “objected” to the decision doesn’t cover in fact what they were doing. This was not a case where they just gave their views for a newpaper story. I’ll return to this later. First what does the Privacy Commissioner say:

By releasing a large amount of personal information to the media, the individual is taking the risk that unfavourable publicity could result. If the Minister releases only information which is relevant to the issues raised by the individual, that person may not be able to claim that any particular harm was caused by the Minister’s disclosure rather than by the individual’s own disclosure. If the individual is not harmed, there would not be an interference with the individual’s privacy under section 66 of the Privacy Act.

So had Fuller and Johnston merely stated their view on the TIA decision, or were they putting out there a lot of personal informtion about themselves.

First there was the fullpage spread in the HoS. One quote is:

“The DPB is a living, for which my children and I have been very grateful. But it does not afford an ability to save for these sorts of extra expenses.

How can the public judge whether or not there is an ability to save, unless you know how much welfare is being paid to the person. This was a clear opening of the door. But there is more.

And Labour in the House opened the door also:

Darien Fenton: What does the Minister say to sole parent Natasha Fuller, who says her dreams of becoming an early childhood teacher have been squashed by the Government’s decision, and who feels that all the efforts she has put into training so far have been for nothing, because she cannot afford to further her studies without the assistance of the training incentive allowance?

A clear statement that study was unaffordable (even with interest free student loans). Again this opens the door.

We also have these statements from Fuller on the well read Trade Me Forums. She is the Happy Hocker and said:

no o stirer, im a fellow dpb mum, if u read the link its me they are talking about, I was shocked when this came up today as i get disabilty allowance and max in our area of $110 accom supplement and a very very long wayyyyy off $1000, wanted to send this thread to bennat as proof, and a few other mps that are very supportive

So Fuller is openly talking about her personal informaton such as getting a disability allowance and how much her accom supplement is. And as it happens in terms of gross income it transpires she is almost getting $1,000 a week.

And again she talks about her income and costs here:

i bet thats because they pay high rents, mine is $110 and i pay $280 rent but in cambridge, so its really not like its free cash its eatine up, considering my standard benifit with 3 kids is $260 then i get wff and $30 disability which would barly cover the costs of my meds, hospital trips etc

Here she clearly suggests she is getting only $400 a week plus WFF. In fact it is $715 a week. So again this is not the case of someone having their circumstance revealed just because they got interviewed in a newspaper and said they did not like the decision.

There was also a Facebook campaign page set up, which is now hidden from view. But there is also this campaign website.

Now I should make clear that I think it is a good think the two women want to access tertiary education and have a path off the benefit. Good on them. But with interest free student loans and childcare subsidies, it is not a given that it is impossible to undertake study while on welfare. And if they claim it is impossible for them to do so, then the public (who fund both their welfare payments and their tertiary studies) are entitled to have relevant information to assess that claim.

And an equivalent annual gross income of $46,700 for an adult and three kids, while not comfortable, is probably more than many tertiary students could imagine having while studying.

And if one is going to put yourself out as not receiving enough support from the state, it is also relevant to have revealed that just two years ago you gained a $9560 enterprise grant.

Anyway that is my view. What do others say. The NZ Herald editorial says Bennett was right:

The crux of this issue is whether the information now released by Ms Bennett is relevant to their case, or merely an attempt to intimidate, as critics say. The two women claim genuine financial hardship is thwarting their prospects of escaping the benefit and building a career. The total amount they receive from the state must, therefore, be relevant.

Absolutely. And they conclude:

The upshot will not be that people stop speaking out or that the Government escapes criticism. It will be that all information relevant to an issue is more likely to be put before the public at the outset.

Labour seem determined to stand up for the right of peopel to demand more money from taxpayers without revealing all relevant information.

John Armstrong notes Bennett’s strong performance in the House:

In recent months, however, the self-proclaimed Westie has undergone a Pygmalion-like transformation from a rough-around-the-edges ministerial tyro to a more assured, informed and more confident parliamentary performer who is now much more to grips with her vast Social Development portfolio.

One journalist even reported a while back that Bennett often came off better than Annette King in their encounters. And King is a parliamentary veteran.

In Parliament yesterday, Bennett cited the Privacy Commissioner’s guidelines. She said those showed it could be the case that people going to the media were giving ministers “implied” consent to discuss their personal circumstances. But she added defensively: “This is not something we will be making a practice of.”

The reply drew scorn from Labour MPs. A liberal interpretation of the guidelines, however, might suggest Bennett may be right.

Colin Espiner blogs:

But Bennett’s office has been getting increasingly frustrated that the coverage the women have been getting in the media hasn’t included exactly what the pair already receive courtesy of the taxpayer.

Now, the usual way of dealing with this is to quietly slip the details out to a friendly journalist, or suggest someone ask a question that would reveal the information. Let’s be clear here that Labour did this all the time. It’s standard practice.

A useful reminder.

But Bennett went the more open route. She had her staff release the information openly. So for the record, Fuller gets $715 after tax a week from the Government, and Johnston $554. Both are receiving an allowance for pre-degree study.

Fuller also got $9560 under an enterprise allowance to start a cleaning business, which failed because of illness.

The point of releasing the women’s details was to show that they’re already getting pretty hefty benefits – probably more than many working families.

But Colin warns:

I can understand Bennett’s frustration. She’s getting boxed about the ears by a couple who clearly haven’t been telling the full story about their personal situations.

HOWEVER. Ministers have to be extremely careful about using the power of their office to come down on pesky complainants like a tonne of bricks. Bennett has extraordinary access to beneficiaries’ private lives through the Ministry of Social Development.

The concern with something like this is that it sends the message that if you criticise the Government, it will hit you back 10 times as hard. And while I think actually that this information WAS relevant in this case, I’m not sure it was up to the minister’s office to release it.

Personally I would have asked the two women to reveal the info themselves, and then consider releasing it if they don’t – or if they continue to only put part of the story out there.

I also would have had a lawyer give me a written opinion that the release was within the law. It looks like it is, but I am very risk averse and would want it in writing beforehand.

Bill Ralston also blogs:

Bennett, unimpressed by their arguments that she considered selectively left out some valuable financial facts, published figures showing their full income from the state including benefits and allowances.

Cue roars of outrage. Ms Fuller was “astonished”. Ms Johnston was “flabbergasted”. Green MP Sue Bradford called it “beneficiary bashing”. How dare Minister Bennett make public their financial information without getting their permission?

Hang on.

Johnston and Fuller had already taken some of their financial information public when they talked to the media, established a website and blogged about it.

In other words, they did open the door.

The rules are simple and Ms Johnston and Ms Fuller need to understand them.

* (1) If you stand up in public and make a statement, be prepared to have someone contradict you. That’s democracy.

* (2) If you stick your nose into a political fight, someone is likely to bloody it.

* (3) The public, to which you have just appealed, has the right to hear all the facts, not just the ones you chose to reveal.

He concludes:

These two women chose to exercise their democratic right and criticise the Government. Good on them. But to expect the Government not to criticise them back is just plain stupid.

If someone starts a debate they should expect there to be facts and arguments produced that may be detrimental to their position. Once again, that’s what happens in a democracy.

No one is trying to demean the women. I applaud their feisty response to the Government’s cuts but they can hardly expect to be treated with kid gloves by the media if they deliberately enter a partisan political argument.

Tracy Watkins thinks however Bennett has opened a can of worms:

Paula Bennett has opened a can of worms. By releasing the income details of women who spoke out against cuts to the Training Incentive Allowance she has backed herself into a corner.

Ministers have always been able to shelter behind the defence that they do not comment on individual cases. Neither Bennett – nor any other minister for that matter – can offer that as a credible response from now on. A precedent has been set.

That may be a good or a bad precedent!

This morning, Bennett reacted to the furore by releasing advice from the Privacy Commissioner on the circumstances in which a minister is justified in releasing personal information. My reading of it suggests that Bennett breached the rules though that is probably debateable.

The Commissioner will rule in due course no doubt. If she does rule there was a breach, then Bennett will get considerable stick, and of course have to apologise.

I think the extra information they were putting out on the Internet about their circumstances means it was justified, but again it is the Privacy Commissioner’s decision that counts.

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The welfare state

July 28th, 2009 at 8:35 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Details of state benefits received by two solo mothers have been made public by the Government after the pair criticised cutbacks to a training allowance. …

The information provided by Ms Bennett’s office shows Ms Fuller receives $715 net a week and Ms Johnston $554. Both are getting the allowance for pre-degree study. Ms Fuller gets $28 a week. She also got the allowance from 2004 to 2006, and in 2006-07 was given $9560 under an Enterprise Allowance to start a cleaning business. She said yesterday this had since closed because she had ongoing illness problems.

I think it is good the Government is disclosing the relevant information, after Labour again put case studies up.

Incidentially Labour Ministers used to do this also sometimes, and I supported them doing the same.

The $715 a week benefit is equal to a job with an annual salary of $46,700 a year. And the $554 a week equal to a job with an annual salary of $35,800 a year.

It is not a life of luxury, but it is a not an insignificant amount of money. $46,700 is well above the median wage.

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Strike Three

June 20th, 2009 at 10:45 am by David Farrar

Trevor Mallard is not getting a good strike rate with his allegations. Strike One was the allegations that Melissa Lee used taxpayer funds in 2008 to make an election advertisement. Strike Two was that Melissa Lee had pakred on a disabled car park.

The Herald reports on Strike Three:

The exchange turned testy when Mr Mallard, who is Labour’s education spokesman, accused her of giving an “inappropriate one-fingered gesture” across the floor of the House.

But Mr Mallard – who suggested Ms Bennett’s denial could be a breach of parliamentary privilege if TV film showed her making the gesture – was later forced to apologise to her.

Labour staffers rang him to say the film showed she had waved her hand without making the gesture.

So if Bennett’s denial (if incorrect) could be a preach of privilege, could an incorrect accusation also be a breach of privilege?

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Rankin Danger

May 27th, 2009 at 9:05 am by David Farrar

NZPA report that Labour may try and prove Christine Rankin was having an affair with her latest husband, before his wife died:

The Government was challenged in Parliament today to say whether it would remove Christine Rankin from the Families Commission if it turned out she had been lying about rumours swirling around her private life.

Labour leader Phil Goff and two of his MPs, Annette King and Ruth Dyson, raised questions about Ms Rankin’s appointment to the commission.

The appointment was announced a fortnight ago by Social Development Minister Paula Bennett.

It was followed by reports in Sunday newspapers that Ms Rankin was involved in the break-up of the marriage between Wellington real estate agent Margo McAuley and Kim MacIntyre.

Ms McAuley was found dead in October last year. Ms Rankin and Mr MacIntyre were married in January.

Ms Rankin has publicly denied that she was having an affair with Mr MacIntyre at the time of Ms McAuley’s death.

So what exactly did Labour say:

Ms Bennett has said she heard about the rumours before the appointment, checked them out with Ms Rankin and was told they were baseless.

Mr Goff asked Prime Minister John Key what he would do if assurances Ms Rankin had given proved to be untrue.

Mr Key replied: “I can only accept people at their word and I accept the assurances that Christine Rankin gave to the New Zealand public at her word.”

Later, during a debate on the Families Commission, Ms Dyson put a question directly to Ms Bennett.

“I want to give her an opportunity to answer this – will she remove Christine Rankin if it turns out that she has been lying over the last few weeks about allegations that had been made of her?”

Now Labour has obviously had people approach them and say they think (or can prove) Rankin was having an affair with hew now husband.

This is a two-edged sword for Labour. As Rankin has denied any such affair (rather than simply say it was a difficult time for everyone and not go into detail) then it can be seen to be legitimate to raise the issue – as it is now one of honesty, not an affair. And if Rankin has not told the truth, and it can be proved, then her appointment would be threatened – by the lie, not by the alleged affair.

However Labour do risk a backlash that people will shoot the messenger, and resent them if they get up in the House and say “Miss X saw Rankin kiss Mr A at 10 am on this date”. It’s yucky stuff, and it may backfire. I think there has already been a minor backlash with a number of people telling me they hate Rankin, but are appalled at the attacks on her personal life.

Personally I think Labour will try and prove Rankin had an affair – otherwise they would not have had three senior MPs question the Government in teh House about it. My pick is that they will not front it themselves, but leave it for a Sunday newspaper to run with.

Ms King said Ms Bennett had not adequately investigated the rumours about Ms Rankin.

“I know what due diligence is,” Ms King said.

“It’s not a matter of getting on the blower and giving Christine a call and saying ‘what have you been up to, are any of the rumours circulating about you true?’,” Ms King said.

“Due diligence is ensuring that when you’re going to appoint someone to the Families Commission, you do the work.

“And you, minister, didn’t do the work.”

This does cause problems for Bennett. Personally I don’t think Rankin’s personal life affects her suitability to be a part-time Commissioner advocating for policies good for Families. Half the Commisioners are divorced for instance.

But by Rankin denying the affair on TV, she has opened the door to make this an issue about her honesty.

Ms Dyson went on to raise Ms Rankin’s appearance on TV One’s Dancing with the Stars programme.

She said Ms Rankin’s chosen charity for donations from viewers was a trust called For the Sake of our Children.

“The people who texted `Christine’ to Dancing with the Stars were donating to an organisation that employed two people and did no research, no service delivery, but only did advocacy,” Ms Dyson said.

“And the two people employed by For the Sake of our Children were Christine Rankin and her son.

“That is a very unusual charitable organisation where you would go publicly on television and say `I am dancing for a good cause’ – dancing for your own salary.”

I am not sure if the description of the Trust by Ruth Dyson is accurate, but if it is, I would have to agree it is not a good look.

UPDATE: Karl du Fresne has a good column on the Rankin attacks.

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Social Services get more

May 21st, 2009 at 10:46 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Social service agencies can hardly believe their luck after a National Government yesterday gave them more money for the coming year than the former Labour Government had planned, despite intense pressure to cut spending in the recession.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said next week’s Budget would give them a $40 million increase, on top of a $3 million inflation adjustment – $20 million more than Labour had earmarked under its “Pathways to Partnership” programme.

She said the $20 million would be clawed back in 2011-12 to keep total five-year spending on the programme exactly the same as Labour had planned, just under $1.47 billion.

But this was far better than the agencies had expected at a time when other state spending is being cut and after Finance Minister Bill English refused to confirm Labour’s funding plan back in February.

“It’s more than we could have expected,” said Council of Social Services chief executive Ros Rice, who has been to four sector meetings with Ms Bennett in the past two months.

“It’s a fantastic package. When we were talking to her we were not talking about that level of funding.”

If you cut money from the bureaucracy, you then are able to spend more in other areas. Of course Labour has oppossed and complained about every saving made in the bureaucracy.

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Jobs

April 20th, 2009 at 4:23 pm by David Farrar

Some of the jobs initiatives are starting to work, while others are not eventuating. Phil Goff highlights that he banks are not proceeding with their co-funding of credit in partnership with the Government.And the cycleway has been watered down significantly.

However Paula Bennett has announced that two more firms have joined F&P in the nine day fortnight scheme. You can only be in it for six months, so I am surprised even three firms have already gone into it, as I suspect the worst times are still ahead. I would probably want to go in, if needed, around September 09 and out in March 10 when hopefully the recovery is starting.

One of the new firms going is is Summit Wool Spinners, Oamaru’s second largest employer.

Also better news from Phil Heatley who has 935 people working on upgrading state houses.  Housing NZ is building 86 new homes (on top of the 475 scheduled for this year) and is upgrading 18,000 state houses by July 2010.

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More on Viliami Halaholo

February 15th, 2009 at 8:09 am by David Farrar

Both Sunday papers have stories on Viliami Halaholo, the father of Paula Bennett’s granddaughter.

The Herald on Sunday cite the most recent parole decision saying he still posed an “undue risk” if released, his drug use in prison (but not recently it seems as last three tests have been clean), and his previous offending. All not a pretty picture.

The Sunday Star-Times has Paul Holmes advising Paula Bennett to basically stop supporting Halaholo, or risk losing her daughter.

There is no doubt Paula and her daughter Ana have some tough decisions, either way. Cutting a father out of a child’s life is not some trivial decision. It means a child that grows up without a father, a mother without a partner, possible legal action, possible conflict within your own family.

Likewise it is a tough and risky decision to give a young man a chance to turn his life around when he is out of prison. If he offends again, then questions of judgement arise.

So it is all a complex measure of risk. If you abandon Halaholo, it is probably almost certain he will return to a life of crime. But if you continue to support him once released, well the risk is still there.

But what do I personally think? Well I think it is a decision for Paula and Ana to be made in private, not on the front page of the Sunday papers, and while well intentioned I am sure – not with the public advice of Paul Holmes. If Paul wanted to really help, then write them a private letter.

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Audrey on National’s Women

February 4th, 2009 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Audrey Young blogs on National’s women making a mark. She even gives them names that they could use in the WWE:

  • Crusher Collins
  • Tolley the Terminator
  • Bruiser Bennett

Audrey talks about Judith:

Police Minister Judith Collins has been dubbed Crusher Collins since she touched a popular nerve with her desire to crush the cars of the criminal boy racers and make them watch.

You can tell she relishes even uttering the words.

She will also have wide support for her aim as Corrections Minister to spend a lot less on building prisons, perhaps prefabricated buildings on existing sites.

Huge support I would say.

But Collins has also showed she is not one-dimensional. She did the right thing in visiting early the grieving family of Halatau Naitoko who was accidently slain by a police bullet and publicly showed the sort of sensitivity the situation demanded of her.

But not a caricature.

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Sunday papers on Bennett

February 1st, 2009 at 2:07 pm by David Farrar

There is little new in the Sunday papers on the Paula Bennett story, but worth looking at what has been said.

The main story in the HoS quotes from the two letters released yesterday, and is pretty unexceptional. What I found more interesting was the HoS Editorial, which seems to be slightly schizophrenic in part prasing Paula, while part insisting the public had a right to know. I suspect their original story got a bit of a backlash. An extract:

On the face of it, and in the absence of any evidence arguing to the contrary, Bennett’s decision to take Halaholo under her roof and her pleas in mitigation on his behalf are unexceptionable, understandable and even commendable. At times of strife, particularly when the law is requiring an errant youngster to face the consequences of his actions, family bonds are tested, and those that do not break are precious indeed. It is difficult to imagine that Bennett’s motives in allowing her granddaughter’s father to be bailed to her home were anything other than entirely blameless. Her personal history, which has not been free of tribulation over which she has triumphed, would equip her to be an ideal guardian of a young man who needed watching over, and the non-custodial remand alternatives, presuming they existed, would very probably have been less satisfactory.

I think most people have reached that conclusion.

But that is not the issue. As a society, we quite properly regard election to any public office, and particularly to Parliament, as imposing duties of disclosure above and beyond those that attend on normal citizenship. This is particularly true of ministers, which is why they are required to declare their assets. It is for the public, not the executive, to decide what among their private financial arrangements is and is not relevant to the discharge of their public duties.

There are additional duties of disclosure, but I am not sure your daughter’s boyfriend qualifies. Where do you stop? Your brother’s P habit? Your uncle’s drink driving? Unless there are links to your actions as a Minister, I tend to think it is private business. If a Minister’s child crashes a private car, it should not be noteowrthy. If the car they crash if a Ministerial taxpayer funded car, then it is noteworthy.

So it is in this case. Only three years after being elected to Parliament, Bennett has been entrusted with an important cabinet portfolio at what might be regarded as a tender age. There is no evidence that the hospitality she extended to Halaholo compromised her, but the questions this paper wished to put to her and to her boss remain of public importance. When did she become aware that Halaholo was involved in a gang? What contact has she had with other gang members or associates? Did she, in the security vetting that all ministers undergo, disclose her relationship with a convicted violent offender? What discussion has occurred about the potential security risks involved?

I really don’t think the daughter’s boyfriend being associated with some gang members (I understand he is not in fact a member of any gang) is quite the same thing as having an affair with the girlfriend of a Russian spy (Profume affair).

John Tamihere has a brother who is a convicted killer, and probably knows dozens of gang members. Is anyone suggesting he (when a Minister) should have had to detail to the Cabinet Secretary every gang member he has ever associated with in case it somehow is a security risk?

Hey Rob Muldoon had a few sessions with gang leaders. That is a security risk I guess. Well mainly a risk to the gang members :-)

Personally I think the security risk angle is merely justification for running the story. Not that I’m upset the story was published – I think it shows that Ministers are not some privileged elite with perfect families and lives.

Finally we have the SST story. It is largely unexceptional, except for this first paragraph:

PRIME MINISTER John Key has reprimanded his renegade social development minister Paula Bennett after she failed to tell him about letters of support she had written for her daughter’s jailed partner.

Paula is now a renegade Minister? Wow, let’s use the really colorful language.  Dictionary.com defines a renegade as:

1. a person who deserts a party or cause for another.
2. an apostate from a religious faith.
–adjective
3. of or like a renegade; traitorous.

So maybe we can agree that’s going a bit over the top. As in 1000% over the top.

But at least Paula is in good company if she is now an official renegade. That is also the Secret Service codename for Barack Obama, as detailed in the Telegraph.

My favourite codename is Kittyhawk for Queen Elizabeth II!

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Paula Bennett and Viliami Halaholo

January 31st, 2009 at 3:38 pm by David Farrar

I guess the Sunday papers tomorrow will have more details around Paula Bennett’s family relationship with Villami Halaholo as she has released today two letters she wrote in 2007 and mid 2008 to the Parole Board on his behalf.

John Key has also done a release, and sees nothing improper with her advocacy when she was an Opposition MP. However he has chided Bennett for not revealing the letters to him last week when this issue first went public.

So there are two issues here – the letters, and the revealing of them. Let’s quote from the letters:

My daughter is no fool and she started laying down the law pretty heavily on him. If he wanted to be with her then he needed to make some pretty major changes in his life – and he started to. For every couple of steps forward in the early days he would take the odd one back and the night of the incident (that he has since been convicted for) has been his biggest step back ever and has in retrospect been a positive turning point in his life. It would have been easy for us to turn our back on him at that stage and leave him to grow up in jail, but we can be pretty stubborn ourselves, and my daughter and I believed that it was a complete error of judgment on his behalf, he could move forward, but it was up to him. He moved into my residence at that time as a border and he committed himself to staying out of trouble, obeying the law and finding work.

And he has done that. For the last two years he has made significant and consistent changes in his life. Viliami got himself a job. At first he was temping and working in a factory, when this temporary job came to an end, he went out and found another one and has been working overtime and what ever hours he can to provide for his family.

If he has gone from breaking the law to being in employment and working hard, that is a good thing. And you would expect Paula as the baby’s grandmother to want the father in the family, if he has turned himself around. Of course we don’t know if he has behaved in prison, but imagine this will be known to the Parole Board.

So the issue is more the process one of not revealing the advocacy after the initial stories last weekend. And this can be a headache because there is nothing worse than deciding how to respond to an issue, if you do not know all the facts.

I’m a believer in taking a fairly harsh inquisitorial role when “issues” arise. The way I would handle it is to have a staffer sit down with the affected persons and ask them everything they can think of. When did you first meet him? What exactly has he done? Who as affected? How often have you had to help him out? What letters have you ever written about him? Who knows about X? etc etc. Such a session may take some hours, but in my experience it is better to know too much than not enough.

In this case, the existence of the letters doesn’t seem particularly significant. It is what you would expect from family members, and being an MP is not a reason not to advocate. However being a Minister is such a reason, as they have executiye authority within the Government.

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Paula confirmed as true Westie

January 25th, 2009 at 7:31 am by David Farrar

As final proof that Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is a true Westie, the Herald on Sunday reveals that the father of her daughter’s daughter is a young gang member.

The Herald on Sunday have worked hard to make this newsworthy, proclaiming:

Police said Halaholo, 23, was a member of the Thugs of Canal, a so-called youth gang based around Canal St in Avondale. The gang members reportedly have a history of violence and intimidation, creating the risk inappropriate pressure could be brought to bear on the senior minister and her decisions.

I don’t see that Paula gets much choice in who her daughter chooses as a partner, and her “crime” seems to be allowing him to live with her a couple of years ago. The article goes on to say:

Yesterday, Halaholo’s father Lolo Halaholo, 42, said Bennett had been trying to support her daughter and family by taking in her granddaughter’s father.

Viliami Halaholo left Avondale College aged 17 and got work with a road crew. He had been in regular police trouble because of his involvement in up to 10 fights, his father said.

Halaholo’s aunty, Tolo Langi, said her nephew had settled down after meeting Ana, but had still hung around Avondale with his gang associates.

Ana studied at Excel Ministries School of Performing Arts before becoming a mum.

Ana and Halaholo plan to set up house with their child and Halaholo’s other toddler daughter when he gets out, Langi said. The family hoped he would be up for parole this year.

I think this just shows that Paula continues to face the challenges of being a mum, and a grandmum.

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Trotter on Bennett

January 23rd, 2009 at 5:20 pm by David Farrar

Chris Trotter applauds Paula Bennett:

When Paula Bennett waded, alone, into an ugly West Auckland brawl physically separating the teenage combatants she defined herself in a way the public will long remember.

The minister’s actions demonstrated not only her considerable personal courage, but a rare willingness to act decisively when confronted with a critical set of circumstances.

Indeed. You could spend ages thinking about what happens if I try to intervene, can I call for help, is this unseemly. But Paula went off instinct – and in this case good instinct.

What makes this incident even more of a “good news story” is that Ms Bennett is a politician (a Cabinet minister, no less) and a National Party member to boot. We are accustomed to depicting our political leaders as all talk and no action: moral cowards who will consent to “do something” only after exhaustive polling and focus-group research has reassured them that more than half the electorate will approve.

But this 39-year-old woman acted without political calculation, wading in to prevent a bunch of teenage girls from doing themselves harm, acting in loco parentis in the way we like to think our parents and grandparents used to do back in the good old days.

Not that they were that grateful. Did you see one of the teens the next day on the news boasting about the swear words she used at Paula? I hope her parents saw that, and care enough to ground her for a week.

Grabbing these young miscreants by the scruff of their necks, and calling them to order with a few ripe phrases, will not only commend Ms Bennett to conservative, elderly New Zealanders, but it will also deeply impress her no-nonsense Waitakere constituents confirming her forever as a true Westie.

After all, breaking up a catfight is just the sort of thing Cheryl West, the tough-as-nails yet strangely principled heroine of the TV series Outrageous Fortune, would have done: direct, strong, commonsensical action; and not a single family-group conference required.

If I may get all theoretical for a moment, I’d describe Ms Bennett’s actions as displaying a high degree of “emotional congruence” with her political constituency.

I think most Kiwis like what Paula did, but there is no doubt her direct approach was very much true Westie behaviour.

Fifty years ago, when most working-class people still went to church and subscribed to the rigid ethical code of conservative Christianity, being moralistic wasn’t a problem. And 30 years ago, when it still meant opposing the Vietnam War, apartheid sport and nuclear weapons, political correctness was actually electorally sexy. Today, however, many in Labour resemble the Protestant Political Association, that censorious and illiberal body of bigoted wowsers who struggled to restrict the electoral success of the unsuitable elements of New Zealand society (i.e. Catholics) in the years immediately following World War I.

Labour needs to loosen up and lighten up, becoming a whole lot less judgmental and a whole lot more spontaneous. In fact, until Labour starts selecting candidates a whole lot more like the people it wants to represent – rough, tough and unashamedly aspirational types like Paula Bennett – the Opposition will struggle to win another election.

One can only hope :-)

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Paula “tough lady” Bennett

January 20th, 2009 at 11:51 am by David Farrar

Anyone who knows Paula Bennett won’t be surprised by the Herald story that she waded into a maul of fighting young people to break it up. She is a true Westie who takes direct action.

Travel consultant Eunice Matanibukaca said she was heading home when she heard swearing and yelling and saw girls “fighting, punching each other”.

“I saw Paula coming. I could just see in her face that she wanted to get to them. She just looked so angry, like she wanted all the kids to go – she just went into mum mode.”

Ms Matanibukaca said Ms Bennett headed straight towards the girls and physically forced them apart, before telling the crowd to move along.

Shop owner Vivian Wang also praised the “tough lady” who stopped the fight.

I sense a new nickname.

Ms Bennett said it all lasted “a few minutes”. A shopkeeper told her he had called the police. As one group was beginning to move away mall security arrived, and a few minutes later the police also turned up.

She said none of the fighters hit her, but she got called some juicy names. “It was language I wouldn’t use – and I’m a Westie.”

Goodness, it must have been colourful then.

Mayor Harvey told the Herald he had once broken up a fight and knew it could be frightening.

“I applaud her. It might not seem so wise in the cold, hard light of day – someone might stab you; you don’t know what they’ve got – but you just can’t let those things happen.”

He said he believed the council was doing all it could to keep the area safe. As well as “an MP who wades in and stops fights”, there were two youth centres nearby – one run by the council and the other by the Harawira family.

Yes, relaying on the intervention fo the local MP is not the best long-term solution :-)

Ms Bennett said she would try to find a solution, perhaps a wider range of holiday programmes. “This wasn’t something new. A lot of them were really young and it quite alarmed me how young they were. The question is, do their families know where they are?

“We’re not talking about them hanging out for an hour. We’re talking about them hanging out for many hours over lots of days.”

Yes, theri parents are part of the solution.

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$200k summit canned

December 10th, 2008 at 6:22 am by David Farrar

The Families Commission has axed a $200,000 “summit” for 150 people at Waipuna Lodge, after Paula Bennett raised concerns about its appropriateness in today’s challenging economy. Paula sets a great example for other Ministers, and jut you wait – the $200,000 summits are the tips of the iceberg. Then there are the multi million advertising campaigns.

Ms Bennett acknowledged the Families Commission conference was proposed a year ago in good economic times by its previous commissioner, Rajen Prasad.

“But I think they need to recognise the times we are in now. I struggle to see the direct result it’s going to have in making a better life for families.”

The commission’s chief commissioner, Jan Pryor, said she was surprised at Ms Bennett’s stance at such a late stage, as it was well-known that the commission had been planning the summit for more than a year.

The commission had tried unsuccessfully to find sponsors to finance the conference, and had moved toward changing the agenda to focus more on responses to the developing economic crisis.

So they were not going to attract their budgeted income for the conference, yet still go ahead with it. And more curious, there seemed to be no fixed reason for having the conference – they just changed it to whatever was topical.

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Trotter praises Key

November 21st, 2008 at 12:48 pm by David Farrar

You know I sometimes wonder if Chris Trotter is bi-polar. He goes from calling the Maori Party race traitors one week, to calm and considered the next. Today’s column is the latter:

If it is not too soon to reuse the word “adroit”, that is certainly how I would describe Mr Key’s management of the 14-day political transition from Labour to National.

In addition to securing both his right and left flanks, Mr Key has also selected a Cabinet in which old and new (and, in the cases of Stephen Joyce and Paula Bennett, very new) faces are judiciously blended.

Some have characterised the new lineup as reflecting a greater step to the Right than the broader electorate had been given reason to anticipate. I disagree.

Indeed. The ODT called it this, and I can’t work out how they possibly could claim that in good conscience.

To my eyes, Mr Key and Bill English have allowed the National Party to assume the mantle of sweet moderation, and his Cabinet choices reflect not a betrayal, but a very fair reflection, of the public mood.

Had the prime minister been hell-bent upon a lurch to the Right, he would not have exiled Maurice Williamson to that wintry region beyond the Cabinet door. Nor would he have decked out Lockwood Smith in the Speaker’s wig and gown, and left him to the tender mercies of Phil Goff, Michael Cullen and Trevor Mallard.

If the National Party leader had really wanted to come over all right-wing horror-show, he would have allowed the nation’s beneficiaries (instead of the nation’s criminals) to fall into the sharpened talons of Judith Collins. And, with more than a nod to Night of the Living Dead, have appointed Sir Roger Douglas associate minister of finance inside Cabinet.

Trotter is one of the few commentators to note this. Lockie and Maurice (both whom I have immense time for) are definitely amongst the most right wing MPs so not having them in Cabinet, plus shifting Judith from welfare to law & order (where she will shine)  and not even giving Douglas an Executive role makes any claims of a shift to the right, nonsense.

Personally I’m all for shifts to the right, but the mood of the electorate at the moment is for evolutionary change, not revolutionary change, and John Key has indeed judged that adroitly.

The confidence and supply agreements with ACT, UnitedFuture and the Maori Party place National not only theoretically, but practically, in the prime real estate of contemporary politics – the Centre.

When the war-horns of ACT start braying for privatisation and massive cuts to public spending, Mr Key can roll his eyes and reiterate his government’s unwillingness to do either. And, when Tariana Turia embarks again on one of her magical mystery tours into the outer reaches of Maori mysticism, he can furrow his brow, pinch his chin and, along with the rest of the Pakeha electorate, nod his head in complete incomprehension.

In practice, the prime minister has cast himself in the role of the voter-who-needs-to-be- convinced. If ACT can make out the case for privatisation; and if it can sell its taxpayer accountability bill, and its “three strikes and you’re out” penal policy to the wider electorate; then Mr Key can democratically respond by translating ACT’s passion into action.

That’s not a bad way of looking at it. Key as the to be convinced voter.

Likewise, if the Maori Party can convince New Zealand that it needs a written constitution, with the Treaty of Waitangi at its heart, then Mr Key and his clever new attorney-general, Chris Finlayson, will be quick to summon the Constitutional Convention.

I’m not sure it will be quick, but Chris will be an excellent guide as we deal with constitutional issues.

But, for my money, Mr Key’s most adroit move has been the appointment of a feisty, 39-year- old, former solo mum with a whakapapa as his minister of social development.

Ms Bennett and the prime minister both pose a formidable symbolic problem for the Labour Party. They speak to an ideologically unmoored working class about the power of aspiration and the possibility of self- improvement.

Yes they do.

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Lots of praise for Key Ministry

November 18th, 2008 at 11:34 am by David Farrar

There’s so many positive stories I don’t know where to start. Alphabetically maybe with Audrey Young yesterday:

Popular Westie Paula Bennett is the big winner as Minister of Social Development and Employment – one of the biggest jobs overseeing the biggest ministry with the biggest budget.

It has gone to someone with just three years as an MP who has drawn on the DPB herself in the past as a solo mother .

Key said it was not it risk. It is but it one worth taking. She proved herself an able politician quickly in opposition embarrassing plenty more seasoned MPs in Government in early childhood education.

Most people are celebrating Paula’s story of having been a young Maori solo mother, working all sorts of low paid jobs to earn some extra money, educating herself, becoming an MP, winning Waitakere and then becoming Minister of Social Development. It’s a great aspirational story. Alas, the bitterness has not ended with the election campaign, with Clinton Smith labelling her “thick as two short planks”.

Luckily for Labour, Phil Goff is showing his smarts. Goff has resisted the urge to criticise the Cabinet – knowing that doing so may just make him look churlish. He has said he’ll hold them to account, but will give them a fair go in the job.  I am starting to get quite positive about Labour under Goff’s leadership – the mea culpa over the EFA and now this.

Colin Espiner blogged:

John Key’s announced his new Cabinet lineup. It’s not a bad one, either. I think he’s picked through the talent available very well.

Colin also updates us:

On another matter, thanks to everyone who has posted suggestions on helping me eat my words. After much deliberation, I have settled on the suggestion provided by Lizbeth of making a “coalition smoothie” from my blog. I’ll be doing this on video in the press gallery kitchen on Tuesday lunchtime. We hope to have it posted on the Stuff website early afternoon.

Like John Key, I’m keen to try out my kitchen cabinet whiz.

I think Colin should invite the Maori Party MPs to witness it :-)

On the Greens G-blog, Stevedore blogs:

And Key seems to be giving it his best shot. The arrangement he has put together seems to reflect what people voted for. The cabinet he has announced looks a lot more diverse, fresh and representative than it threatened to be a few months ago.  The whole thing looks stable and consultative.  Which is exactly what MMP should provide.

Tim Selwyn at Tumeke provides lots of provocative commentary.

Barnsley Bill invents a new term – a SDMILF. Oh dear. Paula may need to warn the Diplomatic Protection Squad!

John Armstrong writes this morning:

The message is loud and clear: to survive as a minister in John Key’s Cabinet, you’re going to have to perform.

That will make a nice change.

Key has taken a less sentimental approach to Cabinet construction than previous Prime Ministers, with somewhat more emphasis on talent and ability and slightly less stress on loyalty and length of service.

Indeed. Although some appointments could still be seen as sentimental – but overall many fresh new faces.

The Herald has a summary of business and industry reaction, and lobby groups here.

The Herald editorial calls the Ministry solid and safe:

The line-up looks to be a good mixture of fresh faces and experience. …

As Associate Minister of Maori Affairs, Georgina te Heuheu will have a seat at the Cabinet table while the minister, the Maori Party’s Pita Sharples, will not. They will have to be in tune. So will Paula Bennett and Tariana Turia, minister and associate minister respectively of social development and employment. Ms Bennett, who has known life on a benefit, is the most unexpected of Mr Key’s appointment and perhaps the most inspired.

The Dom Post editorial calls it the bold and the new.

John Key has shown wisdom beyond his political years by tempering boldness with caution in naming his new ministers, The Dominion Post writes.

In opting for the promise of a Steven Joyce over the experience of a John Carter, Mr Key is reflecting his own rise to the top after only six years in Parliament. Time served is not an indication of talent.

However, neither has he left out in the cold any of those who would have reasonably expected to make it. There would have been dangers in doing that. Mr Carter, along with Maurice Williamson and Richard Worth, his fellow ministers outside Cabinet, have all been given a clear signal that this is as good as it will get.

But they have not been humiliated. Left to languish on the back benches, they could have devoted their time to sowing discord and undermining the leader who failed to give them anything else to do.

Being a Minister outside Cabinet is still a hell of a lot better than not being a Minister at all.

Mr Key’s decisions in allocating ministerial positions underline that he is seeking to advance his agenda through consensus rather than by bulldozing it through. The naming of his ministers is a good start to his administration.

Yep.

The only quibble is that he convinced himself he was unable to trim his ministry from a bloated 28. Maintaining an executive of that size means that his plans to reduce the Wellington bureaucracy will be greeted with a measure of justified cynicism.

I also wanted it less than 28. But as one can see, there were enough upset MPs anyway. Technically his promise is to keep the Wellington bureaucracy from growing further, so keeping the Executive the same size is consistent.

Martin Kay in the Dom Post provides useful commentary on each Minister.

An odd report in the ODT, with Dene Mackenzie bizarrely labelling the Cabinet a move to the right. Dropping Lockwood Smith and Maurice Williamson from Cabinet is as far from a move to the right as you can get. Replacing Judith Collins with Paula Bennett is Welfare is not a move to the right. Giving Bill English infrastructure is not a move to the right.

So when Dene says:

His new Cabinet, which will be sworn in tomorrow, shows a bias to the Right despite moves during the election campaign to position National as a centrist party.

could someone ask him for an example?

The ODT editorial is better:

The immediate response is that Mr Key has continued in his briskly positive mode and got the balance about right.

Now comes the difficult part: moulding this executive into an effective and harmonious team able to put longstanding differences aside and address the many issues facing the country – not least the recession and the international financial crisis.

If anyone inspires confidence with his experience and economic competence it is Mr English, on whom much of the burden will fall.

Overall, very positive responses.

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