In Paula we can trust

Central Leader - - News -

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 John Key’s stun­ning an­nounce­ment that 39year-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 car- ing 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 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 there’ll be no short­age of men want­ing a date with the new min­is­ter of so­cial de­vel­op­ment.

Lis­ten to Wil­lie Jack­son on Mon­day at 10am on Ra­dio Waatea 603AM

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