The recent witch-hunt against solo-mums would have done the old Salem village-elders proud. The fires, though, could have been stoked just a bit harder and higher. But as a first attempt at demonising a minority in our community, it wasn’t a bad effort for Minister of Social Services, Paula Bennett.
When Bennett ordered her staff to look up the details of Jennifer Johnston and Natasha Fuller, to release to the media, she had at her fingertips the full power of the State as well as the personal details of Ms Johnston and Ms Fuller. It is the sort of power enjoyed by authoritarian regimes the world over, from Burma to Iran to Zimbabwe.
Of course, Bennett and her advisors knew precisely what they were doing. She was fully aware that her fellow New Zealanders generally have an almost schizophrenic attitude toward the underdog.
On the one hand, we sympathise and support the underdog. We try to understand their plight; not everyone was born in to a decent family; and not everyone has the good fortune never to lose their job or spouse through circumstances beyond their control.
But, on the other hand, we abhor the stereotypical welfare “bludger”. The caricatures made famous in movies like “Once Were Warriors”, highlighted in sensational media stories, or spread by word-of-mouth. We all know someone who has a friend who knows someone who’s cousin has a mate…
But New Zealand is no third World country and if push-came-to-shove, the majority of rational (note that word again: rational) New Zealanders would be unable to stomach the sight of women and children living rough in alleyways, cardboard cartons under bridges, or in parks.
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