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Chris Ford: Paula Bennett Engaging In Fascist Tactics Against Critics

Contributor:
Chris Ford
Chris Ford

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett's decision to release information regarding the total benefit entitlements being paid to two Auckland Training Incentive Allowance (TIA) recipients, Natasha Fuller and Jennifer Johnston smacks of nothing short of fascist tactics.

Over the course of today, Ms Bennett's decision has been labelled by critics as Muldoonist. Yes, there are the overtures of the old master's style in terms of her use of the politics of divide and rule in order to create a wedge between single parent beneficiaries and working class and middle class Kiwis who are being portrayed as the 'strugglers' who have to pay to fund the 'lavish' welfare entitlements of the supposedly 'undeserving' poor such as the Jennifer Johnston's and Natasha Fuller's of this world.

But even Muldoon never released the private financial details of beneficiaries and superannuitants into the public realm (as the closest he got was to maliciously release former Labour MP Colin Moyle's police file in Parliament during a testy debate in early 1977). The decision reached by Ms Bennett is a truly astounding one and practically unprecedented. Even I do not recall Jenny Shipley having done this in her time as Minister of Social Welfare during her implementation of the benefit cuts of 1991 when individual beneficiaries did speak out to the media.

Even so Paula Bennett is showing how arrogant and smug the Government is becoming as it continues to enjoy high levels of popular support in the opinion polls too. Practically she could undertake this disclosure action without any fear of incurring widespread public wrath as would have been the case if National had been more unpopular. From the sentiment on the street and through listening to talkback today, this classic use of class-based wedge politics has been exceedingly (and sadly) popular and a useful diversionary tactic to distract people away from the real issue at hand - that is the cut to Training Incentive Allowances, an issue that I commented upon as Alliance Disabilities Spokesperson recently.

As a past TIA recipient who has probably repaid that assistance many times over through earning an income and paying tax (although I am back on a benefit after being made redundant but am doing some part-time paid work to supplement it), all I have to say is that I am in agreement that the Government was wrong to axe the TIA, particularly at a time of recession when people (like me as a part-time mature student) need whatever assistance possible to undertake further education or training. It must be remembered though that the previous National Government axed the TIA for postgraduate tertiary study in 1996 and since then I have had to rely on a student loan to help pay for course related costs.

In the end run, I have had to pay back my student loan just like everyone else but without it my student loan debt load would have been higher and I challenge anyone out there to think of how difficult it is to get a decent, good paying job if you have a disability. I have had one or two but I have had to jump through more hoops than most people have had to to get there. Same for these single parent women who have spoken up, I would just say to you that it is difficult to go up to an employer (particularly in tight economic times) and say that you are a single parent and would you give me some child friendly work hours? I don't think many (mainly male) employers are that way inclined at the moment.

Another thing to point out too is that Paula Bennett should watch her step on this issue. Even though she is winning plaudits from the talkback and letters to the editor writing commentariat right now, this could have the potential to come back and bite her in the bum as somebody out there could have potentially embarrassing or damaging private information about either her or another National minister or MP that could be leaked by someone to either the media or an opposition party in retaliation for what has happened.

While her moves might be considered in some sections of the media to be politically astute right now, I can't see that this act of fascism will serve National well in the long-term. I predict that within six-nine years when National is looking a bit more worn in (and probably out) as a government that all sorts of embarrassing leaked documentation about the private financial and other interests of government MPs and those from their support/coalition partners will make its way to the media. And who will be feeling the heat then? I don't think it will be the likes of Jennifer Johnston and Natasha Fuller at all!

Ponder that possibility Paula Bennett and others!

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