The Press

Parting ‘half the size, twice the woman’

- Henry Cooke

Former deputy prime minister Paula Bennett delivered her valedictor­y speech last night before retiring at the election, saying she was leaving politics ‘‘half the size but twice the woman’’.

Bennett used her speech to recount her 15 years in Parliament since she was elected on National’s party list in 2005, a situation she said had happened by accident. ‘‘I ran for the experience, not expecting to be an MP that year.

But National’s result meant that I quietly snuck in.’’

Former prime minister Sir Bill English as well as many former top staffers were in the public gallery for the speech. Much of it – outside of the usual thank yous to assorted colleagues, family, and staff – was spent discussing her time as social developmen­t minister between 2008 and 2014.

Bennett significan­tly and controvers­ially reformed the welfare system, increasing sanctions, work obligation­s, and removing some benefits. Sole-parents were expected to look for part-time work when their child turned 6 instead of 18, and those on the sickness benefit were placed on the new Jobseeker benefit, while the Supported Living Payment covered those previously on the invalid’s benefit.

Bennett said the system ‘‘seemed to throw people into welfare and then not offer them a path off it’’.

‘‘Those on welfare don’t need sympathy they need to be backed. We need to understand dependency. Equally, we have to be careful that that understand­ing doesn’t turn into an excuse.’’ Bennett decried the current Government’s approach to welfare, addressing English and saying she wished the pair had another three years to bed in their social investment approach.

‘‘Money is being thrown around, we’ve got no accountabi­lity . . . Where is the accountabi­lity for the taxpayer, but more importantl­y where is the accountabi­lity for the people who need it?’’

Bennett thanked former prime minister Sir John Key for putting her in his ‘‘kitchen cabinet’’ – the tight-knit circle of ministers making the big decisions during his government. She thanked former leader Simon Bridges, saying their years as a leadership team had ‘‘really been something’’.

‘‘This place is brutal. It will pick up the spade and bury you if you let it,’’ Bennett said of Parliament. ‘‘I end this chapter half the size but twice the woman thanks to this experience.’’

 ??  ?? Paula Bennett
Paula Bennett

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