Editor's Pick

Person Of Interest - Watch First

Series 4, Episode 5 Prophets 22 Oct 14 00:41:52

Top Shows

Contact Q+A

Q+A: Panel discussion on Paula Bennet interview

Published: 3:43PM Sunday September 23, 2012 Source: Q+A

GREG

Time now to welcome along our panel. Dr Raymond Miller from Auckland University, good to have you along. This week Nicky Hager, author and investigative journalist, welcome along to you too. And Paul East, former National Cabinet minister and public law consultant. Good to have all three of you along. Nicky, can we start with you? Paula Bennett’s announcement stressed how important these all are and then we’re led to believe a lot of them are quite optional. What do you make of what she’s saying?

 

NICKY HAGER - Author

I was amazed by her, actually. I thought she was tremendously confused. She was saying she cares about the kids, yes. She doesn’t believe that the parents are bad parents. She doesn’t want to force people to do things that they don’t want to do, because parents should be able to make their own decisions, and yet she’ll take people’s benefits off they don’t make certain decisions. And what I took out of all that was that it’s almost like she’s in the wrong party, because the answer to all of these things is the issues of poverty and inequality in New Zealand, which her party has no policies for, which actually might make a difference, whereas she’s stuck with the policy of benefit reform. So she’s trying to find some kind of punitive way to address something which isn’t going to solve the problems she’s talking about, which she’s not comfortable with and which she struggles with, and the whole thing feels desperately incoherent to me.

 

GREG

Paul East, a kick-start or a kick up the bum? Is she in the wrong party?

 

PAUL EAST - Frm National Minister

No, no, she isn’t, and I think we’re fortunate to have somebody with her experience and background who understands the welfare portfolio. Look, there’s a lot of hard-working taxpayers in New Zealand who pay a lot of tax. Many are working two jobs. They want to know that money’s wisely spent. And, sure, there are a lot of people who need support from the state, but getting support from the state by way of a benefit brings with it responsibilities. And one of the responsibilities is if you have children is that you look after them properly, and many parents- not many but a minority of parents aren’t looking after their children adequately. We see it in the court statistics; we see it in the health statistics. Now, I think it’s quite right that those people should be required to ensure their children are enrolled with a doctor. I can remember a debate 25 years ago where we wanted to ensure that beneficiaries at least had their children immunised or saw a doctor about immunisation. And that never passed, because it was seen as too intrusive. I think times have changed. Health statistics have gotten worse for some of those people, and it’s time something was done about it, so I certainly support the policy.

 

GREG

You feel the National Party is changing? This is not something you think you would have gotten away with - what Paula Bennett’s talking about here - in your day?

 

PAUL

Well, I remember when- I have to go back to the 1970s when the domestic purposes benefit became a statutory entitlement, and the numbers went from 3000 to 30,000 in a matter of a year or two. Now, it did seem to me, and I think many New Zealanders, that for some it became a lifestyle option rather than a real need, and it’s a minority I’m talking about. Now, since then, not much has been done on welfare. It’s growing inexorably, and I think it is time to take stock and to look at how we can get some responsibility sheeted home to some people who don’t take it that rely on the state.

 

GREG

Raymond, as she said right at the beginning, this is a stick. I’m just sort of trying to struggle with where this stick is actually pointed and how straight this stick is.

 

DR RAYMOND MILLER - Political Scientist

You’re struggling as well as Paula Bennett.

 

GREG

I am struggling.

 

RAYMOND

There’s a lot of struggling going on, really, and I lost count of how many times she struggles and grapples with this. But, really, it revealed to me that there’s a huge chasm between dogma and practice here, and I think that’s part of what she’s struggling with. The National Party has its basic value - a commitment to equal citizenship and a commitment to individual freedom and choice. Now, both of these things are at the heart of their belief that we shouldn’t have big government telling people what to do; we should maximise people’s right to make decisions. And here we’ve got a section of society which is being singled out and told, ‘We know what’s best for you. We will tell you what to do.’ The other thing is I think it’s largely unworkable and she’s almost admitting it.

 

GREG

Well, the case she cited about the woman in Wainuiomata, had to go to Petone, a bus and another bus and a walk, and it was an hour to get to work - there’ll be dozens of those real cases or cases that are quite close to it, won’t there?

 

RAYMOND

Well, there will be, and, you know-

 

PAUL

But there’ll also be cases where there’s a chap who’s got a job offer down the road and doesn’t take it and-

 

GREG

How do you check up on that?

 

PAUL

Well, you’ve got to do it. She’s quite right - there’s going to be a lot of work involved. It’s got to be done on a case-by-case basis. But there’s no doubt the woman in Wainuiomata, it’d be unfair to see her struggle to work in that way, but there are others where it wouldn’t be unfair and they should jolly well work.

 

NICKY

But you’re like many people. You say of course the vast majority of the cases- the majority of cases aren’t like this and we don’t want to penalise them, but these rules do affect everybody. And they make everybody who happens to have found themselves in the uncomfortable position of being on a benefit of feeling like they’re doing something wrong and they’re having-

 

PAUL

No, they’re not. All they have to do is say, ‘Look, here we are. It’s a very difficult situation. Can’t take the job.’ ‘Right, you can’t take the job.’ Isn’t that a responsibility if you’re getting money from the taxpayer to support you that you should have some responsibilities like that?

 

NICKY

And you should have to have childcare at 3 years old when other people don’t have to? Why should a parent be told what to do like that?

 

GREG

Paul East, what about- the whole thing we’re talking about here is kids that start off, you know, they’re two steps behind they’re disadvantaged. Surely, whacking half the beneficiary of Mum or Dad off if you deem they aren’t doing the best they can, either early-childhood education or GPs - aren’t you going to make them more disadvantaged?

 

PAUL

But they’re not going to be whacked, because they’re going to make sure the child goes to the doctor and make sure the child-

 

GREG

And if they don’t, they’re going to sanction.

 

PAUL

Well, they’ve got to have some jolly- Why shouldn’t they do that? I think they should be required to do that.

 

RAYMOND

My problem-

 

PAUL

Otherwise, they’re disadvantaging the child. He’s got no say in it and is going to be left behind.

 

RAYMOND

My problem with this, however, is that the Government clearly lacks the resources to be able to deal with this fairly across all of those who are beneficiaries, so some are going to be-

 

PAUL

We don’t know that yet, Raymond.

 

RAYMOND

Yeah, well, the Minister’s made it very clear that she can’t possibly check on everyone. She can’t- I mean, we’re talking about this one-strike policy with respect to those people who are looking for work, compulsory preschool education for 3- and 4-year-olds. Only a portion of those people will actually be singled out. The others will clearly get away with it, and it’s pretty indiscriminate in the sense that they can’t- they don’t have the resources to check on absolutely everyone. I mean, this sort of policy of workfare and in terms of preschool education has- it’s old. It goes back a long way, and, you know, workfare goes back in the United States to the ‘70s and ‘80s and so on. And it’s largely failed for a variety of reasons.

 

GREG

Nicky, just finally, in the ideal world, if this does all work and they are all put in place correctly, is this going to be good for kids? The kids we’re talking about.

 

NICKY

It doesn’t feel like it to me, because it’s the wrong policy for the purpose, that Paula Bennett is stuck in a party that doesn’t want to mention the word poverty, which isn’t addressing inequality, which is at the basis of all of this, and is telling people that by having some kind of punitive approach to people on a benefit that they will solve the problems. The problem is that even if they do everything, it won’t solve the problems.

 

GREG

All right, we will leave that one there. We will come back in just a moment.

Advertising