Vernon Tava: Metiria Turei's attitude proves the Greens aren't 100 percent pure

We are now entering the third week of Metiria Turei's welfare fraud scandal with less than eight weeks until the election, and it is still a story.

Labour have distanced themselves, understandably concerned that her stance is anathema to the political centre; her welfare policy announcement has been eclipsed, and it seems that she has done irreparable damage to both her personal integrity and the Green brand.

Turei's lack of contrition is irksome. Her evasion of any sense of personal responsibility in saying that the Government "made me poor and it made me lie" have infuriated both law-abiding beneficiaries and those of us who get up and go to work each day. Her offer to repay the debt was grudging and subject to an investigation. It seemed like an afterthought.

The timing has not helped. Imagine the difference in public perception if Turei had quietly arranged with WINZ to repay the money some time before election year. She would have been able to use her own personal example to illustrate her narrative of a lack of care for beneficiaries from the far stronger position of having taken responsibility and dealt with the consequences. But honesty without integrity is just naivety.

Saying, as Turei does, that the solution to poverty is "simply to give them more money", without conditions or obligations to seek work, and that fraud is an acceptable means of obtaining whatever money one feels they need, makes a very poor case for redistributive justice through taxation and does little to end dependency.

The #IAmMetiria hashtag makes for challenging reading as a repository of the struggles of vulnerable peoples' challenges in obtaining Government assistance. But rather than starting a wider conversation about the accessibility and adequacy of our social safety net, this worthy subject has been overshadowed by the minutiae of Turei's own personal circumstances.

It also demonstrates the grave risk of using Wellington Twitter as a barometer of public opinion. New Zealand has a strongly egalitarian culture, but it is also one that prizes integrity and has little patience for murky moral relativism.

Lawmakers cannot credibly advocate breaking the law. Turei has been in Parliament since 2002 and seeks the position of Minister of Social Development, but has been unable to answer questions about how she could pursue prosecutions against those who would defraud even the more generous entitlements she advocates.

Turei's defenders wax lyrical about the "privilege" of her critics. Ironically, she is indulging in another, more insidious, form of privilege in inciting fraud and attempting to argue some kind of moral justification. Others who follow her example will not be able to evade the consequences that someone on her considerable taxpayer-funded income is able to.

This is deeply irresponsible. Benefit fraud is not civil disobedience, nor is it a noble protest against a supposedly unjust system. It is cheating.

The tension between being a protesters' collective or a parliamentary party has always been an issue for the Greens, but Turei has gone a lot further than merely admitting legal wrong-doing - she has condoned it.

Metiria Turei may have secured a hard-left segment of the Green base and appealed to demographics who tend not to turn out on election day, but it will be at the cost of a far larger group of voters disappointed to discover the party that earlier this year claimed that "honest politics is what we stand for" is not 100 percent pure after all.

Vernon Tava is a business broker and former Green Party co-leader candidate.