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Paula Bennett and beneficiaries should be given the benefit of the doubt

Written By: - Date published: 10:00 am, February 13th, 2015 - 33 comments
Categories: national, national/act government, paula bennett, same old national, welfare - Tags:

Twitter became quite excited yesterday. It was disclosed that Paula Bennett (or at least someone in her office) used a Crown Credit Card to withdraw $1,200 in cash against all the rules imaginable. Initially reports suggested that she had done this.  Subsequent reports suggested that it was a staff member in her office.

And the money has been repaid.  So no harm done and that normally should be the end of the matter.

I don’t know the details apart from what I have seen in the DIA release.  I am prepared to extend to Paula and her office the benefit of the doubt.

But I cannot help but wonder at the unfairness of it all when comparing Paula’s treatment to the treatment of beneficiaries.  For instance beneficiaries with an arrest warrant out for their arrest face the cancellation of their benefit thanks to one of Paula’s reforms.  No ifs, no buts, no allowance for human fallibility, just the end of their benefit if they do not act quickly enough.

My many years working in Courts has shown to me that people, particularly people whose lives are really chaotic and who rely on a benefit to survive, accumulate warrants for all sorts of things.  Fines that have not been addressed because they cannot afford to, a minor court case forgotten because they had too many, a night on the town where they consumed too much of some narcotic substance and then forgot to turn up to Court in the morning, or some minor matter where the authorities had the wrong address and obtained a warrant in lieu can all result in arrest warrants.

Bennett’s reforms had some ameliorating features.  For instance if they had dependant children their benefit will only be halved.  They could not survive on the original benefit, but it is a sign of how out of touch National is that they would think that halving a benefit would somehow make it OK.  Or maybe it is a sign of how indifferent National is to poverty.

Poor people live so close to the edge that any temporary interruption to payment of their benefit will cause chaos.  A week’s missed rent or important bills not otherwise paid can mean that the misery of poverty will be amplified really quickly.

By all means let us accept that within the offices of our Ministers mistakes can be made and they should not invite an adverse response.  But let us also extend this good will to those in our communities who are struggling to make ends meet.

33 comments on “Paula Bennett and beneficiaries should be given the benefit of the doubt ”

  1. Brian 1

    Well said.

  2. Murray Rawshark 2

    The staff member will cop the flak for this in any case. Couldn’t possibly be Paula’s fault. She’s a future leader, after all.

  3. Tom Gould 3

    However, treating ‘poor people’ as you would a ‘valued staffer’ would collapse the whole Tory divide-and-rule narrative. Hypocrisy comes so easily to them.

  4. shorts 4

    Those on a benefit, simply hire a staff member to take the blame for all your indiscretions

    no harm done

  5. vto 5

    Completely agree mickysavage, well said.

    One rule for the Nat arseholes

    And one rule for our society’s strugglers.

    The Nats stink and have everything upside down

  6. ghostwhowalksnz 6

    Does this person have some political connection to defrocked westie Paula Bennett.

    Normally if you have been in the public service you know the rules, especially about cash withdrawals.

    So this sounds like its a ‘novice’ who got her/his job via political connections to the national party ( which is common in ministerial offices).

    Interestingly Paula has been trying to turn herself into the new Bill Birch, so having financial scandal right under her nose has interesting political implications.

    We are hardly past the election and we are into ‘paid it all back’ territory

    • NZJester 6.1

      I would think to defuse something like that she would be the type to push a staffer under the bus, so you do have to wonder if it was someone with political connections or Bennett herself that made the mistake.

  7. freedom 7

    Has anyone asked what the $1200 cash was actually for?

    How was it withdrawn?
    the docs say Westpac Lambton Quay
    Was it from a bank ATM -?- there would be a photo record of the person who withdrew it.
    Or from a bank teller ? – there would be a photo record of the person who withdrew it.
    -Also one would imagine a Ministerial Credit Card has clearly
    formatted identification protocols that if a person was handing one over at a bank branch to withdraw cash, the teller would be alerted to check the authorization of the person.

    And finally

    How many people even know the PIN of the card?

    • dv 7.1

      And I wonder how much interest it cost, as they charge the CC interest ON the whole due amount.

      • freedom 7.1.1

        Isn’t that covered in the notes pertaining to the repaid sum of $1220?

        Some of the other figures are interesting from down here in the bleeches.

        Internal Affairs Ministerial Services – current balance of 22,628.07 DR ?
        Aren’t these cards settled every month?

        cash advances of 1,867.01 ?
        less the $1220 repaid leaves $627 cash for what ?

        have always wondered so it is as good a time as any to ask-
        Can anyone shed some light down here in the cheap seats and explain to us mere mortals what a Minister needs cash for that qualifies as a Ministerial expense?

        • dv 7.1.1.1

          Nope the WHOLe balance has to be paid to avoid the interest.

          Drawing cash from a CC is only smart if you don’t pay the bill. Unless you have a positive balance.

          • freedom 7.1.1.1.1

            there is a note on the statement about some interest due will be showing on the January accounts, but financial statements are not my forte 😉 probably why I find it easier to remain in poverty 🙂

          • Lanthanide 7.1.1.1.2

            ???

            Typically, cash advances accrue interest from the day they are drawn – there is no interest free period.

            Repayments made to the card will normally go to any cash advances first, before other items on the card.

            The presence of a cash advance doesn’t magically make other items on the bill start having interest charged.

            • dv 7.1.1.1.2.1

              The statement I recall seeing was that the interest would be charged on the balance of the card from the day of the cash advance.
              Have I misinterpreted?

  8. sabine 8

    someone please explain to me how a “Staffer” will just decide to take out 1200$ cash of a credit card that belongs to the business they work for in this case the government?

    And did the “Staffer” only re-pay the money because it was found out or before that.

    We are sending beneficiaries letters that threaten with debt collection should they not re-pay immediatly any monies that they were overpaid by winz or that they have received without being eligble, but in this case…lalalal somone appropriated 1200$ cash from a credit card MISTAKENLY?

    please explain, cause I don’t get it. In any other business that would be called theft or a crappy attempt at fraud, and that person would not only repay but would also be ” let go”.

    • Visubversaviper 8.1

      Remember how the Press hounded Chris Carter when his staff used a Parliamentary credit card to send flowers to Peter after a berevement? The staff had taken up a collection and the money was paid in at the time but the gutter “repeaters” chased him around for weeks afterwards.

  9. Jay 9

    Well I’ve worked in court for years and years as well, and I defy anybody not to become fed up with people failing to appear.

    It must cost the country millions in delays and extra work for police and court staff, usually with no consequences for the offender. It’s actually a serious problem.

    The only one of your examples that might not be the offenders fault is a warrant in lieu being issued, the rest of them are all personal responsibility. Many might say if you’ve got money for narcotics or to drink so much you forget you were summonsed, you’re being paid too much anyway.

    Basically this article just makes excuses for these people. They’re actually lucky their bail isn’t revoked after two non-appearances.

    In my experience by far the most common reason for non-appearance is that they’re just too bloody useless and don’t take it seriously enough to be bothered going to court. Maybe once they’ve been hit in the pocket they might learn to take responsibility for themselves.

    And how is it okay for my tax dollars be spent on chasing them around to get them to court, but not okay for them to be hit in the pocket?

    It’s all about personal responsibility and facing up to the consequences of your action. This is how we learn.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 9.1

      Except when it comes to higher child mortality from preventable infectious diseases. Then you bear no responsibility at all. No sirree, not you, despite that you advocated for lower incomes and voted for bigots who implemented them.

    • Molly 9.2

      “… I defy anybody not to become fed up with people failing to appear…”

      As mentioned in earlier comments – there are a myriad number of reasons that people do not appear. Discomfort in being in such a situation may be one of them.

      It is telling that you become frustrated – even though you have multiple instances of non-shows. More realistic of you to come to recognise that those non-shows are a nature of the job you do rather than a personal affront. I’m guessing you still get paid, so spend that unscheduled free time trying to work out a system that would work.

      “It’s all about personal responsibility and facing up to the consequences of your action. This is how we learn.”

      No it is never all about personal responsibility blah de blah…

      Has it occurred to you that there is a degree of shame turning up to court, a completely hostile and uncomfortable environment to those who don’t have the experience of working there. People who are subtly trained by their experiences to know that whenever they are in an authoritative presence or an institutional environment, that it is not going to work out well for them?

      They have learned.

      They have learned that if possible these places are best avoided. Understanding that would help you to figure out a better way of getting people to show up.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 9.2.1

        Personal responsibility means that the people you step on are to blame for their own misfortune.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 9.3

      Same as lots of places.
      Airlines have no shows, even though the seat is booked and paid for, so they ‘overbook’
      Which is how the courts deal with it as well.

      Hospitals normally book more people for consultations then they have time for , as they know some wont show up.

      if you think deeper, your frustration is because you cant ‘punish’ someone. Perhaps you have worked too long in an environment where punishment is the answer to everything.

  10. Jay 10

    How did this get twisted into child mortality?

    You’re still making excuses for them. Most who fail to appear have done it time and time again. They aren’t Joe blogs, they are almost always convicted criminals already a burden on society from all the harm they cause from the crimes they commit. Court uncomfortable? For most criminals court it’s like a second home. If they don’t like it, they can always stop committing crime.

    If they were filled with such a sense of shame coming to court they might like to stop driving around drunk, beating up their wives, stealing, and committing burglary

    We’ll see how understanding you are of them when you come home to a ransacked house, and later find out the offender was supposed to be in court that day.

    I didn’t get any spare time when they failed to appear, I had less thanks to the amount of paperwork all the non-appearances caused. I did think up a solution though. Since bail is a privilege not a right, let’s lock them up when they fail to appear.

    Or we can just keep making excuses for them and continue to pour money, time and resources down the toilet, all of which might be better spent on the truly needy.

    Poor children for example.

    • Molly 10.1

      Jay, you have lost perspective.

      Your frustration on being powerless to stop the continuation of the violence and crime that you are witness to everyday in your job, makes you less likely to recognise that the system you are a part of is not producing results in terms of reducing those crimes.

      If you can’t see that – then you will continue to believe that doing more of the same will improve the results.

      That is not supported by reality.

      Most people would be supportive of a system that works when it comes to reducing domestic violence, drink driving etc. But we would also expect this system to work equally when it comes to higher value crimes, corporate abuses and people of privilege.

      We see that it doesn’t.

      “let’s lock them up when they fail to appear.

      Or we can just keep making excuses for them and continue to pour money, time and resources down the toilet, all of which might be better spent on the truly needy. “

      Your final point – takes money to do something that produces no positive result, apart from the need to punish being appeased.

      Portugal’s case – regarding the war on drugs – over the last fifteen years, (which has been posted several times recently), shows the benefits of changing a punitive system to a supportive and rehabilitative one.

      It is worth looking into.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 10.2

      Child mortality got brought into it when you played the personal responsibility card. Oh, and when you suggested attacking low income families in the pocket, and pretended it had something to do with justice.

  11. Descendant Of Sssmith 11

    “And how is it okay for my tax dollars”

    And lets not forget that as a public servant you don’t pay any taxes – the reference to my tax dollars by any public servant is a nonsense.

    Other taxpayers pay both your salary and your PAYE.

    As a public servant you take far more out of the tax system than you will ever, ever pay in tax. Far more than anyone on benefit by miles.

    And if you need reminding – by far the majority of people on benefit work at various stages of their lives and pay tax in order to pay for their benefits when they need one.

    It’s not your tax money.

    • Lanthanide 11.1

      The only reply that seems relevant to this drivel of yours: 🙄

      • Descendant Of Sssmith 11.1.1

        As a public servant you take far more out of the tax system than you will ever, ever pay in tax. Far more than anyone on benefit by miles.

        You disagree with this?

        • Lanthanide 11.1.1.1

          They “take” from the tax system in exactly the same way any other employee “takes” from their employee – they get compensation for performing a task, aka employment.

          A beneficiary, however, gets a payment largely for existing; they don’t return any direct benefit to the state in order to receive the payment.

          So conflating the two here, no matter how odious the original commenters views, is a complete misnomer and comes across in the same vein as typical right-wing mythology that “people on benefits don’t pay any tax”.

          • Descendant Of Sssmith 11.1.1.1.1

            “comes across in the same vein as typical right-wing mythology that “people on benefits don’t pay any tax”.

            That was my point and I didn’t think it was that obtuse.

            “A beneficiary, however, gets a payment largely for existing; they don’t return any direct benefit to the state in order to receive the payment.”

            On that point however I would largely disagree with you. By far the majority pay for their benefits while they are working. Most of those who don’t are often quite unwell or have significant disabilities.

            And in many cases I would also argue that for young people their parents have paid the way for at least their early years.

            To believe otherwise means you fall into the trap of equating a benefit payment to a payment isolated from the bigger context around both that individual and the taxation system overall.

            It’s like saying my monthly insurance premiums don’t contribute on an ongoing basis to any eventual claim.

            Regardless whether you receive income when not working from a benefit system, from ACC or from private insurance it’s more often than not as a result of previous contribution – in the case of benefits previous contribution to the tax system.

            The overall point being it’s as much their money as yours or mine.

            • just saying 11.1.1.1.1.1

              You make important points, DoS.

              We have structural unemployment that is deliberately built into the system as a benefit to capital. It is kept at a minimum of about six percent. With underemployment and precarious underpaid work, I’d guess the percentage of the worst affected to be about 20 percent of working age people. As you point out people who are sick or who have a disability bear a big brunt of the punishment that is dished out to this one-in-five.

              What do we give to the system?
              Our misery, as an example to others, mostly, Lanthanide. Capital gets low wages, pitiful conditions and a scared, cowed populace.
              I’m guessing you are doing pretty nicely somewhere in between.

              But the comfortable middle (always a minority) is going to get smaller and smaller. Many of you can be replaced very easily, either by cheaper workers or by technology. Also, hard work and good behaviour cannot protect you against illness or disability and insurance companies are notoriously ruthless to those who can’t fight back – the house usually wins.

              Still there’s always social capital…..

  12. allnewiain 12

    I would be safe in assuming Bennett knew all too well that this had happened.

    Normal practice for this government – make the big blunders small, make the small gains as big as a mountain.

    Taking Claudette Hauiti’s case as a reference to this party’s policies this is a cause for resignation of this dreadful woman.

    If she says she didn’t know there are only one of two choices in terms of truth.

    She either did know or she certainly should have known as the custodian of the card.

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