Paula Bennett says she never 'deliberately' misled WINZ
Acting Prime Minister Paula Bennett has refused to condemn Metiria Turei's admission she committed benefit fraud in the 1990s.
The Green Party co-leader made the admission on Sunday whilst introducing the party's bold new welfare policy. She said as a solo mother in the early 1990s, she told Work and Income she was living alone so her accommodation payment wouldn't be reduced, even though she was actually living with flatmates.
Ms Turei was studying towards her law degree at the time and made a calculated risk so she could make ends meet for her and her daughter, Piu.
Ms Bennett also spent time as a beneficiary in the 1990s, but says she never "deliberately" misled welfare officials.
"I'm not perfect," she told The AM Show on Monday. "I've never led a perfect life, but I certainly never deliberately misled them or took money that I shouldn't of."
She said Ms Turei's actions were "disappointing for all those taxpayers that pay", but she was not "interested in sitting here and throwing stones".
"I know when I was on a benefit I always wanted to get off and kept trying to get off, and get jobs and do everything else... She can just be judged on her own merits, and others can make that kind of decision."
A smart move?
Ms Turei's confession has been praised by law expert Professor Andrew Geddis, saying it'll resonate with the Green Party base and is unlikely to land her in legal trouble.
"She's being honest about the situation she found herself in, and the last thing you can accuse her of is hypocrisy," the Otago University professor told Newshub.
"By being open and honest about it, it allows the Greens to address that up front and to say if this is the consequence we're finding in New Zealand, we should do something about it.
"I just really can't see the police wanting to spend their time chasing this sort of thing up."
Ms Turei's time on the benefit came in the wake of National Finance Minister Ruth Richardson's 1991's 'Mother of All Budgets', which slashed social welfare spending and introduced fees for health and education services.
Conversely, the National Government in 2015 gave beneficiaries and some low-income families perhaps the biggest income boost they've had in decades, bumping up in-work tax credits and welfare payments.