17 Jul 2017

Deputy PM on Turei's benefit dishonesty

10:54 am on 17 July 2017

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett, who also received a benefit as a sole parent, says she was never in a position of having to lie to Work and Income, as Metiria Turei did.

There has been a mixed political reaction to Mrs Turei's admission that she lied to Work and Income in the 1990s so her sole parent benefit would not be cut.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little said Mrs Turei was brave and honest to admit to breaking the rules, but National Party MP Steven Joyce said people would be disappointed.

Mrs Bennett said she was often on a sole parent benefit herself, but also said Mrs Turei's admission was disappointing.

She said she had never found herself in a position where she had to lie to Work and Income.

"I think people work really hard in this country and they pay their taxes and they want it to be fair and for that we expect people to be honest and not cheating.

"I was often on benefit, I had jobs and I was always trying to get off when I was on, because I wanted to work and didn't want to be on a benefit.

"But no, I didn't deliberately lie, I didn't lie as such about my circumstances ... I didn't lie to them about my circumstances to get more money.

"I remember hard times on the benefit and I've never bought into that people choose to be there ... and that it's a great lifestyle, because it's not, it's actually really hard."

She disagreed with the Green Party policy of removing the practice of cutting benefits to those who failed to comply with particular rules.

"I think we should be talking about the fact that they're talking about taking away work obligations as part of their policy, and I've got to be honest that just completely horrifies me.

"It's never for missing one job interview, there's always a warning system, there's always a series of circumstance.

"I can tell you that for most of those that receive a sanction they never actually get any cut in the weekly amount they get."

She admitted there were thousands of people who did have their benefits cut, however.

"We've equally, though, got the lowest number of sole parents that we've had since 1988.

"And those women and their children - they are predominantly women - are doing so much better off benefit, not just financially but equally for the hope and everything that they've got in that household.

"If you can work you should be, and if you are on a benefit and you can be looking for work then I think most New Zealanders expect there to be a mutual obligation that you're doing that."

South Auckland family lawyer Catriona MacLennan said she was heartened that Mrs Turei was drawing attention to the plight of beneficiaries.

She said New Zealand had an incredibly punitive approach to welfare fraud compared with tax evasion, which she said was a far more significant problem.

"Tax evasion is between $1bn and $6bn a year, yet we go far more seriously after beneficiaries."

Ms MacLennan said people convicted of welfare fraud were three times more likely to be sent to prison than people accused of cheating on their taxes.

Comparing Todd Barclay to Metiria Turei a long bow - deputy PM

Mrs Bennett said it was a wide bow to draw to compare it to National MP Todd Barclay who, after a scandal where it is alleged he secretly recorded staff at his electorate office, announced he would not be standing in the next election.

Mr Barclay has not shown up at Parliament for the past three weeks, but was still being paid about $3000 a week.

Mrs Bennett said he was still working.

"He's certainly been advocating on behalf of his electorate, he's still doing that work, he's still doing work on behalf of his constituents and things.

She said it had been recess for the past week and the coming week, and although he had not been at Parliament for the two weeks before that she expected he would return to Parliament after the recess.

"He's not fronting to the media and he doesn't actually have to do that. I mean, he has been doing his job in his electorate and I expect to see him in the next three weeks in Parliament."

"I think most people would give him a week, or six days that he wasn't in Parliament, to be fair."

She said she thought the government did give beneficiaries a fair break as well.

"For those who have their benefits cut the difference is they can recomply really easily, and as such get their benefit back."