The devilish system made her do it
So should we hum a few bars from Les Miserables as backdrop to Metiria Turei’s acknowledgement of benefit fraud?
A young solo mother studying for her law degree, she lied about flatmates’ contribution to her rent bill.
If the Greens co-leader is being honest with herself and with us then her circumstances were akin to the book’s young solo mother Fantine; forced by an uncompassionate world to debase her own values. She calls it ‘‘the lie I had to tell’’. The key words there aren’t so much ‘‘the lie’’ as the ‘‘had to’’.
Some will liken this to that most childish and inadequate of defences, the devil made me do it.
Yet as Turei describes the cruel inadequacies of the system around her, it would take a stony heart to judge her harshly in personal or political terms.
Trouble is, without a fairly detailed examination of what her lifestyle really was, what the rules and support systems of the day really were, and how well informed she was about them, then how can we judge whether she really had to lie to keep herself and her child fed, housed, healthy?
Turei acknowledges that she had the training incentive allowance to help her pay her fees and childcare.
And that the baby’s dad and their respective families stepped up to help.
But she says no matter how she budgeted for food, rent and other bills, it all wasn’t enough to get by at the end of the week.
There’s an abundance of people are ready to project their own assumptions about either the accuracy or the inaccuracy of this account.
But we need something more nutritious than an argument about plausibility.
Whether, and in what measure, Turei deserves reproach and prosecution, sympathy-but-a-bill, or forgiveness and admiration, all depend on details we don’t have.
It’s the nature of our times that not only the morality of the issue is up for discussion, but also a beltway debate about the political wisdom of the disclosure.
This could be seen as an act of personal conscience kicking in legitimately. Or as tactics, pure and simple, impelled more by a sense of timing than anything else, as the party tries to draw attention to its families package.
Otherwise, what else is there to discuss in the Greens’ $1.4 billion plan to beef up Working for Families. And to increase all benefit payments 20 per cent, strip out the obligations and sanctions on those who fail drug tests or mothers who won’t name the father for their child?
Against that little lot, the question of whether Turei should be prosecuted is by any measure a lesser question.