In Paula we trust
Seventeen, pregnant, in an abusive relationship and with drink and drug problems. Not a lot of people would have put money on young Paula Bennett becoming Maoridom’s most powerful state minister.
But that’s exactly what’s happened following Prime Minister-elect John Key’s stunning announcement that 39-year-old Paula would be in charge of the $20 billion social development portfolio.
Hers is an amazing story of a young woman who overcame adversity to climb right to the top. I chatted with her on Radio Waatea last week before she knew she had been appointed to the new position.
We spoke about her amazing victory in Waitakere, how she turned her life around and why she didn’t have a current boyfriend.
Her victory in Waitakere, west Auckland, was a shock because the electorate has always been working class Labour made famous through the hit TV show Outrageous Fortune.
Somehow I couldn’t imagine that crazy family in the TV show voting for the Nats. But people like that family did vote for the Nats and it’s a tribute to Paula how she was able to tame the Wild West.
She seems a very caring person, but tough and stroppy when she needs to be. She said that education as a mature student was her redemption.
She completed a degree at Massey University where she was president of the Students Union. She then had a stint with National under Murray McCully. I jokingly said to her she would have learned valuable skills for politics like deceit and dishonesty.
But she attributes much of her success to the way McCully worked with her. She said he was able to iron out some of her academic chinks which gave her a more balanced and pragmatic approach to life.
She used those skills in her position as a senior business manager for the Auckland City Council and then Don Brash approached her in 2005 to stand as a candidate.
Paula spoke to me honestly and frankly about her early life and how she could easily have ended up as another negative Maori statistic.
So it is ironic that she is now in a position where she can change lives that are similar to how her life was.
And as far as finding a boyfriend goes, I’m sure that there’ll be no shortage of men who would want a date with the new minister of social development.
Listen to Willie Jackson on Monday at 10am on Radio Waatea 603AM