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August 7, 2017 | by  | in Politics |
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Political Round Up

Metiria Turei

The Greens unveiled their welfare policy, “Mending the Safety Net”, on July 16, which co-leader Metiria Turei described as “the most significant changes to our welfare system in a generation.”

The package would increase all benefit payments by 20 per cent, remove sanctions on beneficiaries who do not actively seek work, and reduce taxes for low income workers while creating a new top tax rate of 40 per cent for those who earn over $150,000 per year.

During the policy launch, Turei disclosed that, before her political career and while raising her daughter on the Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB), she had lied to Work and Income to increase her allowance. She concealed how many flatmates she had, creating the impression that her accommodation costs were much higher than they actually were.

Turei stated at the launch: “This is what being on the benefit did to me — it made me poor and it made me lie.”

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett, who had also been on the DPB in the past, said in an interview on July 17 that while she “certainly never deliberately misled [Work and Income] or took money that [she] shouldn’t have,” she was not “interested in sitting here and throwing stones.”

Wary that support for Turei could damage his party’s reputation, then-Labour leader Andrew Little distanced himself from the Greens on July 26, saying that “it’s not right for MPs to condone breaking the rules.”

Turei’s admission, and the release of the welfare policy, has helped the Greens move on from its centrist Budget Responsibility Rules (BPRs). The BPRs were agreed to by the Greens and Labour on March 24 as part of the Memorandum of Understanding between the two parties, and state that the Labour/Greens prospective alternative government would reduce the national debt, retain a surplus, and ensure that government spending does not exceed 30 per cent of Gross Domestic Product.

The BPRs alienated Green Party stalwarts like Sue Bradford, who saw them as a sell-out to the pro-business political Right. Following the announcement of their welfare policy, the Green Party may be able to regain the support of its more radical supporters.

A Colmar Brunton poll published on July 30 showed that Turei’s admission appears to have paid off, with the Greens gaining two points to reach 11 per cent. The Greens’ bold policy announcement and the unorthodox admission from Turei are resonating with voters just seven weeks out from the general election.

 

Māori Electorates

In a speech at a NZ First convention on July 16, titled “The Battle for New Zealand”, leader Winston Peters announced that his party would push for a referendum on whether to abolish the Māori electorate seats.

Peters believes that the separate electorates do not benefit most Māori because it is “a terrible message to send to young Māori” that “they are not good enough to be equal.”

Peters faced dissent on this issue from within his own party. NZ First’s candidate for Whangarei, Shane Jones, said that “the Māori seats will subsist for as long as people of Māori extraction remain on them or want them to continue, but it’s a kaupapa for the people to decide.”

Ironically, the party has previously gained much political support in the Māori electorates. NZ First won every Māori electorate seat in the 1996 general election.

While the National Party is officially opposed to separate electoral seats, it has not pushed for their abolition since it formed a government in 2008 due to its reliance  on the Māori Party as a coalition partner. However, it is in National’s interest to remove the electorates, with Labour winning six of the seven Māori seats in the 2014 election.

Some of National’s Māori MPs support removing the seats. Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett said “you know, I’m a Māori woman who has stood in a general seat and won that.”

Nevertheless, National will not endorse Peters’ referendum proposal. Prime Minister Bill English said on July 24 that National is “not taking that [proposal] particularly seriously.”

Labour rejected NZ First’s call for a referendum, with former leader Andrew Little saying that the seats give “good representation of Māori in our Parliament and I foresee that continuing.” Labour will focus on retaining its Māori electorate seats during this election campaign.

Winston Peters was forced to apologise to Parliament on July 26 after he yelled across the House at Te Ururoa Flavell to stop “hiding behind the Māori language” when Flavell answered a question in Parliament in Te Reo.

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