The Press

Turei’s middle-class hand wringing

- Martin van Beynen

Iwonder how much damage Metiria Turei has done to the Green Party by admitting she defrauded what is now WINZ. Probably not much given she was preaching to the converted. Just to recap, at the Green Party AGM last weekend, Turei confessed that for several years she received a higher benefit than she was entitled to because she didn’t disclose she had flatmates who helped pay her rent. I assume she signed statutory declaratio­ns that were untrue.

I can’t get too outraged over the actual fraud itself. It’s probably not much money and not worth a lot of drama.

However people would have been happier if Turei had paid the money back many years ago rather than when she thought she could make political capital out of it.

Since I’m certainly no paragon of virtue and have been fortunate enough never to need a benefit (although I’ve had plenty of free education and health care from the state and so have my family), I don’t feel comfortabl­e slamming Turei for diddling the system although that is not the same as condoning it.

What does worry me though is the message her speech on the issue sends and whether her disclosure was a cynical, strategic move to get attention for the party’s welfare policy.

You couldn’t argue the disclosure was politicall­y ruinous. Not in the sense of losing the Green Party a lot of votes. Most Green Party voters see the poor and struggling as victims of circumstan­ces and are happy to see more taxpayer money going on benefits and welfare support.

They will be heartened that someone is speaking for beneficiar­ies although beneficiar­y bashing has definitely gone undergroun­d, except in this column of course.

Some beneficiar­ies might wonder how they would have fared with Turei’s advantages.

‘‘I had the training incentive allowance as a grant to help me pay my fees and childcare. I had great support from my family and my baby’s dad, and his family too,’’ she said in her speech.

She was also clever, artistic, motivated and had a great case worker.

Very few beneficiar­ies have those sort of advantages and most don’t cheat the system.

Some Green supporters will have been disgruntle­d that Turei’s admissions drowned out anything else about the Green Party AGM, especially the momentum building up around some key environmen­tal issues, but that won’t stop them voting for the Greens.

If the move won’t lose the Greens many votes, it won’t win many new ones either. The Greens might not worry too much about that but it will worry Labourites.

They are hitched to the Greens and will be concerned Turei has just scared off a whole lot of ordinary, innately conservati­ve working and small business people who still believe welfare is a handup rather than a hand-out.

People who don’t share Turei’s warmth and generosity towards beneficiar­ies for perfectly valid reasons will now feel they are objects of disapprova­l. Voters prefer to think the politician­s they support like them and Turei has made her feelings clear.

These voters might agree more money should be going to tackle poverty but just disagree with the way to do it and about the attitude to adopt when doling out the state’s largesse.

Not everyone inclined to vote for the left has the same unquestion­ing sympathy for people asking for Government help.

To me, Turei’s speech seems like a lot of middle-class, leftie hand-wringing that treats beneficiar­ies (at last count about 280,000 people) as though they are all well intentione­d victims of a harsh punitive state.

Her speech is full of emotional propaganda that shows she is just as divorced from the beneficiar­y class as many of the hard hearts she loathes.

‘‘This is what being on the benefit did to me – it made me poor and it made me lie,’’ she said.

Of course, she made no contributi­on to her plight at all.

‘The average New Zealander, especially those who don’t have a nice office job and are not thoroughly fulfilled by their work, can see the danger of making the benefit lifestyle too comfortabl­e.’’

‘‘We know at least one woman committed suicide after being accused of fraud and chased by WINZ for a debt,’’ she said.

A simplified outlier used to support the cause.

‘‘It drives people to violence against others and themselves. It keeps children in filthy camp ground cabins until they sicken, it tortures and harasses women grieving for their lost babies.’’

Yes, more money will fix it. ‘‘Right now, if you’re on a benefit but you can work a few hours a week, you’re actually punished financiall­y for it,’’ she said.

Actually a sole parent on a job seeker benefit can earn up to $100 a week before tax, before their benefit is affected, and more if childcare is required. (I think they should be allowed to earn more.)

‘‘The Green Party in government will immediatel­y remove all financial sanctions and obligation­s that treat beneficiar­ies as criminals and secondclas­s citizens,’’ she said.

So no accountabi­lity or responsibi­lity for bad decisions then.

The average New Zealander, especially those who don’t have a nice office job and are not thoroughly fulfilled by their work, can see the danger of making the benefit lifestyle too comfortabl­e. Lots of parents have older teenagers who are wondering what they are going to do with their lives. Parents try to instil values around earning a livelihood, paying your way and making a contributi­on.

The last thing they want to hear is a politician making the beneficiar­y lifestyle seem like a perfectly acceptable career choice and a pretty well paid one too.

 ?? PHOTO: LUZ ZUNIGA/STUFF ?? Hands up if you are a welfare fraudster.
PHOTO: LUZ ZUNIGA/STUFF Hands up if you are a welfare fraudster.
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