The Herald editorial:
Metiria Turei must have known she was taking a risk when she confessed to benefit fraud at the Green Party conference last weekend. She appears to have underestimated just how great that risk was.
In releasing the Greens’ family policy, Turei told a sympathetic audience of party members that she lied to Work and Income about her living circumstances in the early 1990s, when she was a solo mother doing her law degree and raising her young daughter while on the Domestic Purposes Benefit. She had flatmates to help her pay the rent in three of the five flats she lived in over a three-year period but did not tell Winz officials because they would have cut her benefit.
So this was not a one off decision. She did it three times. She lied about how much rent she was paying in order to get more money from the taxpayer.
This may make her a hero to her party members, but to most taxpayers it makes her a criminal.
Supporters have argued that this is relatively minor offending, comparable to paying a tradesperson for a cash job or being economical with the truth on an insurance claim.
Many of us have done it, which doesn’t make it right but as – Deputy Prime Minister and former beneficiary Paula Bennett surprisingly suggested – perhaps we should pause before casting the first stone.
Spread over three years however, Turei’s lie of omission starts to look less like a one-off act of dishonesty and more like a systematic attempt to rort the system. Letter writers and talkback callers have voiced their anger over what they see as her sense of entitlement to public money – not helped by the fact that taxpayers are providing her with a huge salary today.
It does indeed look systematic. I don’t think it is the same as paying a tradeperson for a cash job (under law the onus is on the tradesperson to report the income).
There is also considerable public anger over her selective and self-serving morality. Turei has effectively argued that she had a moral right to rip off the system because she had to feed her baby. She is wrong because hardship doesn’t give anyone the right to break the law. Her example encourages others to do the same and is unfair on those who struggle through legally. It is a particularly bad look coming from a party leader on a base salary of $173,000 a year.
Actually her salary is more that that. It is around $178,500 plus $32,000 super contribution, $4,600 of perks and $17,000 of expenses for a total remuneration of over $230,000.
She can afford to pay it back now, and she should.