Saturday, July 22, 2017

Turei explains

Meteria Turei explains to an audience who hasn't a clue about New Zealand.

Last weekend I revealed a lie, a lie that I decided to talk about because of the situation we as a society find ourselves in.

I am the co-leader of the Green party of Aotearoa New Zealand – the third biggest political party in our small democracy. We are two months from our general election, and we’re in a tight tussle to change the government.

Yes, a small party in a small democracy which nevertheless requires two leaders. A small party which in 6 general elections has never convinced enough voters that they are fit to govern.

Over the weekend, at our party’s AGM, we launched an incomes policy which would create the most significant changes to New Zealand’s welfare system in a generation. It’s a comprehensive piece of work that rolls back many of the benefit cuts and sanctions that have been put in place by successive governments in New Zealand (some of which are mirrored in other countries).

Sanctions (which result in cuts) that require the beneficiary to attend job interviews, pass drugs tests and tell the state who the father of their child is so he can play his part in financially supporting them - alongside the taxpayer.

 I decided this weekend I would tell supporters, the media and the country that two decades ago I lied to a government ministry while I was receiving a benefit.

I also lied while training to be a lawyer but that seems neither here nor there. Neither does the fact that I now want to make laws seem to be under any sort of ethical scrutiny.

This is why I did it.

I had my daughter, Piupiu, at 22. I was a single, young mum with no formal education qualifications. After she was born, I knew I needed to forge a career for myself so that I could financially support us and give my girl the best life possible. I made the choice to go to law school.

Over five years, I received a training incentive allowance (a benefit that has since been ditched by our current government), as well as a payment for single parents. I also had help from my family, and my daughter’s father’s family.

Actually I also kept the father's identity from the "goverment ministry" so he wouldn't have to pay child support. Some other strangers with children of their own to feed could face that responsibility.

Despite all that support, which is much more than many people in similar circumstances have, I did not have enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table. And so, like many – but not all – people faced with that choice, I lied to survive.

I lived in a few flats over the years with a few different flatmates. I didn’t tell the government department in charge of my benefit about some of those flatmates. If I had, my benefit would have been reduced, and I would not have had enough money to get by.

I told the government department that I was paying the rent all by myself or maybe with just one or two others. And the other flatmates won't come forward now because they were possibly doing exactly the same. None of us could get by. We'd never heard of pooling benefits.

Of course, I had no idea that when I made that decision that 20-odd years later I’d be a politician, campaigning on benefit reform, two months out from an election.

"That decision" was many decisions, year-on-year. It wasn't a solitary desperate mistake.

I am in a privileged, fortunate position now; I have a voice and I have a platform. Thousands of other New Zealanders who are on a benefit don’t have that. In fact, they’re routinely silenced, marginalised and persecuted for the mere fact that they are poor.

Everybody on income support has a voice and a vote. If the benefit system was so mean and so degrading and so inequitable, the Greens would have been in government long ago.

That came into sharp focus a couple of weeks ago when we were preparing for our policy launch. I came across a news story about a woman who took her own life after she was accused of benefit fraud and told that she was to be prosecuted. It was eventually found that she had committed no offence but it was too late for her and the family she left behind. Reading about that case is what spurred me to tell my story – the whole story, not the redacted, PR version.

Some people have asked why it took me 15 years as an MP to do it. To that, all I can say is that nobody wants to be defined by a lie – I certainly never wanted to be. But the outrage and the urgency I felt after reading that woman’s story was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. For me, it felt like it was now or never.

So "never" was a consideration? That just adds to the sense of mistrust the Greens (via Turei) have engendered.

I also think that as a country we are ready to have a conversation about what life is really like for people on benefits and for the 200,000 Kiwi children growing up in poverty. How the welfare system set up to help people actually keeps them living beneath the poverty line; how the government uses the threat of further poverty against the poor; how the best thing we can do to lift people out of poverty is simply to give them more money.

And if we don't just "give them more money" they should take it. Like I did. Oh, and by the way, if you don't vote Green you may just have to. Don't follow the rules that have been designed to make the system sustainable and fair. And make sure you tell your children that you are ripping the system off to set a good example. Inter-generational fraud should be the goal.

In the days since the speech, I have heard from scores of people, mostly single mums, who have had to make the same choice I did. I’ve had people come up to me on the street and say the same. That reaction was unexpected but has been quite amazing.

So many people have admitted benefit fraud to me but despite being an MP, their secrets are safe with me. I made them kneel down and I touched their shoulders.

I’ve also heard from people who are outraged. They think I’m a fraud and a criminal. (Of course, as I’ve said, I will pay back what I owe.) 

Well, I ruminated over that decision for a few days (and years prior to disclosure.)

But importantly, all the abuse and vitriol that beneficiaries face today, by the agencies and in private, is now being levelled at me, in public. That reaction was expected. And it has broken the silence about how awful life on a benefit really is.

I don’t know whether people’s feelings towards me will change over time. And actually, it doesn’t matter at all. What matters is what comes out of these conversations, and whether we will see the day when our welfare system is restored to its original purpose – to be a true safety net that helps our people when they need it.

Which is what it already is. At the very least.

11 comments:

Jim Rose said...

I thought the previous left line was benefit fraud was rare and the beneficiaries are good and honest people being tormented by a cruel bureaucracy

The Veteran said...

It just gets worse doesn't it ... and we know the 'unnamed' father whose details 'she' refused to disclose in order to prevent him from having to contribute to her daughters support (let the gummit pick up the tab) was, at the time, the son of a serving Labour Party MP.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Do we? I don't.

GCMC said...

Ann Hartley...former Labour MP for Northcote, & former Mayor of North Shore City

Lindsay Mitchell said...

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=2197711

Anonymous said...

I tried to post a correction and clarification on the Guardians website and the article is now closed for comments. She is an awful woman and I hope she gets prosecuted for fraud.
Most beneficiaries don't need to lie to get enough to live on and certainly don't run for parliament like she did while on a benefit (twice!!).

I'm not alone in that thoughts and the echo chamber she hears support from is the fellow fraudsters and other left wing activists. Nothing you say or do will ever change their opinions either.

God help us.

Brian Marshall.

Mark Wahlberg said...

Wanting to add to the pot of condemnation, hurl some vitriol at Turei for her wicked ways. But I cant.

Over forty years ago I committed fraud and received a criminal conviction for my trouble. I make no excuses for what I did and have lived with that stain on my character ever since. But I have refused to let that fall from grace define me as a man and I believe it has made me a better person.

It has been one of many Damascus Road experiences which have shaped my life. From near death moments which cost me a leg and six months in hospital, to my recent battles with cancer, to name but a few. Some might look upon these as punishments for doing wrong. I see them as gifts given me by a just universe to use as tools to help me get to where I'm supposed to be going. I'm not sure where that is, but its a bloody lot of fun getting there.

I dont believe those who know me well,putting aside being stubborn and opinionated, find much fault with who and what I have become.
I thank them for the trust and faith they have shown me.

As for Turei, if the lady says she is older and wiser for the experience and like me, wishes it had never happened, then who am I to question her?


Lindsay Mitchell said...

"I make no excuses for what I did."

Which distinguishes you from Turei. Enough said.

Manolo said...

Some of us will never trust Mrs Turei.

Anonymous said...

"As for Turei, if the lady says she is older and wiser for the experience and like me, wishes it had never happened, then who am I to question her? "

As one of the people who has paid for her law breaking you are entitled to question her. She is so stupid she doesn't even want forgiveness let alone repenting of what was wrong. In the real world we judge right and wrong all the time and while it may make us uncomfortable because our own dirty deeds remain undiscovered that doesn't mean we can pretend its OK when it comes to light. I suspect she only confessed because it was coming out anyway - she's a shallow as a puddle and has no place in any legislative process while on the public teat.

3:16

Mark Wahlberg said...

Lindsay, would I not be a hypocrite if I condemned Turei for her behaviour, while I kept quiet about skeletons in my own closet?

Turei attempts to gain some moral high ground with her justifications for committing her crime and to mix metaphors, she exhumes embarrassing ghosts from her own "Christmas Past" as your later post about naming fathers highlights.

This election cheapens politics in my opinion and regardless of the final vote, its highly unlikely Turei will lose her place at the trough.

I'm happy to be wrong, but for the right reasons, not the wrong ones.