New Zealand

Soper: Still waiting on consequences for Metiria's benefit fraud

The woman who did more than any other to change the course of the last election now has the protection of the state.

Metiria Turei brazenly declared before the Greens AGM last year that she'd been a benefit fraudster to draw attention to the dire straights that solo parents find themselves in. She was asked whether she was encouraging others to also lie to welfare authorities like she had but said it was up to them.

It was an admission that ended her career but not before The Greens briefly soared in the opinion polls at Labour's expense. Andrew Little, who was to resign as leader just a few weeks later, said at the time of Turei's admission that it was a brave thing for a politician to do but he wasn't worried about any fallout action.

How wrong could he be?

Turei said at the time she felt a responsibility to tell it how it was because others didn't hold a privileged position like she did. How privileged that is, she's now discovering. She acknowledged at the time that she could face the consequences of her illegal actions in the 90s but offered to pay the money back. But what, if any consequences she faced, looks set to remain a mystery.

A request under the Official Information Act to find out what happened to her, came up with a blank. The Social Development Ministry, which impressed in a letter how seriously it takes its responsibilities of spending $23 billion dollars of taxpayers' money every year, said it had consulted with Turei and had determined that "the public interest doesn't outweigh the need to protect her privacy at this time."

In publicly making her admission of breaking the law, surely she'd forfeited any of that protection!

But in what seemed to be in her defence, the bureaucratic boffins said the former Greens co leader had publicly advised that she had contacted the Ministry regarding "her historic benefit receipt and non declaration of income."

They confirmed that she'd met with fraud investigators in August last year. Based on that it doesn't take a rocket scientist to deduce that no charges were brought against her, despite her public admission of fraud. We don't even know whether she made good her assurance that she'd pay the money back.

But it's hard not to reach the conclusion that there's one rule for a politician and another for the many hundreds of welfare fraudsters each year who face the courts and take the consequences for defrauding the welfare system.

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