Editorial: A tangled web indeed

By Peter Jackson

Metiria Turei has become the poster girl for our national sense of entitlement and the abrogation of personal responsibility, says Peter Jackson
Metiria Turei has become the poster girl for our national sense of entitlement and the abrogation of personal responsibility, says Peter Jackson

Who knows if Metiria Turei is a fan of Scottish poet Sir Walter Scott? She certainly should be now, if only for the line, 'Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.'

Ms Turei has created a spectacularly tangled web, even if she steadfastly refuses to see it.
Her extraordinary confession to defrauding social welfare in the 1990s, and illegally, and quite wittingly, enrolling to vote within a electorate in which she was not living is significant not so much for the admission that she had done some "foolish" things when she was young, as, no doubt, have we all, as her smug defence of lying to social welfare on the basis that it was necessary for her and her child's survival.

Ms Turei clearly believes that the ends justify the means. She is unashamedly prepared, even in signing a legal document, whether that be to establish her benefit or to enable her to vote for a friend in a general election, to do whatever it takes to get what she wants.

"That is what lies at the heart of this; Ms Turei has become the poster girl for our national sense of entitlement and the abrogation of personal responsibility.

She believed she was entitled to more, so she took it."

Peter Jackson

It gets worse. It was quickly established that her undeclared flatmates over the benefit years included her mother, from whom she was supposedly financially independent, and the father of her child, who she had declined to identify to social welfare so was never called upon to contribute to the cost of raising said child.

By the time Ms Turei lied on her electoral enrolment form, stating that she was living at the father's address, he had bought a house in Mt Albert, so was obviously not entirely without means.

Now, however, we are expected to believe that both he and Ms Turei's mother cohabited with her for some time, in the mother's case a couple of years, without making any financial contribution to raising their child/grandchild.

That stretches the bounds of credibility. We can assume they contributed to the extent of sharing the rent, given that that is the basis of the admitted fraud, but it is drawing a very long bow to suggest that neither ever bought a packet of nappies or a tin of baby food.

We only have Ms Turei's word for the 'fact' that she received no financial assistance from her mother, the father of her child or anyone else.

Trouble is, her word doesn't mean much any more. It meant nothing when she applied for the DPB, and no doubt made regular declarations that her circumstances had not changed, or when she enrolled to vote in two elections in Mt Albert.

How much she benefited from her dishonesty will never be known, but what is important is that we have a politician, the co-leader of a party that clearly has aspirations to govern, who has revealed her flawed character.

There is absolutely no doubt that in the 1990s at least she was dishonest. Perhaps she is no longer so. We don't know, but regardless, we are entitled to expect a higher standard from those who would govern this country.

Most concerning though is Ms Turei's continued defence of her actions as forced upon her by an uncaring social welfare system. She is not alone in displaying that attitude. Benefit fraudsters are prosecuted every day, many of them labouring under the same belief that their entitlement exceeds what the system provides.

That is what lies at the heart of this; Ms Turei has become the poster girl for our national sense of entitlement and the abrogation of personal responsibility. She believed she was entitled to more, so she took it.

Not surprisingly, many are now calling for her resignation from Parliament. She shouldn't need to be told. Even if we are assured that MMP provides a means of electing a Parliament that genuinely reflects society, in which case perhaps we should expect that a certain proportion of members should be crooks, as Ms Turei has admitted being.

So far she has only declared that, should her party have a role in the next government, she will not seek a Cabinet post. That's big of her, given that the woman who will presumably lead such a government has said that she would not be getting one.

So Ms Turei is not entirely oblivious to the expectation that Cabinet ministers should meet a standard of behaviour to which she can no longer aspire. Even so, abandoning her political dream says more about her acceptance of political realities than it does about her acceptance of consequences that she obviously did not expect.

And if she accepts that she's not fit to be a Cabinet minister, why does she believe she's fit to be an MP and party leader?

Certainly the time for expressing remorse is long gone, except, as is so often the case, that generated by the cost to her of her fall from grace.

Should she be prosecuted? Of course she should, assuming there is no statute of limitations.

Politicians should not get any special deal. Incidentally, unless the rules have changed, if she is prosecuted, and convicted, she will have no choice but to resign from Parliament. A conviction punishable by two years or more in prison will disqualify her by statute.

One also has to wonder whether she has destroyed any potential career as a lawyer. It may well be that her past will haunt her there too.

The other question is whether her refusal to resign will have an effect on next month's election. Hard to say; committed Green voters are unlikely to desert in droves, and die hard Labour voters have nowhere else to go.

Those on the Right probably hope she will stay where she is, and continue providing ammunition to fire against the Left. It will be interesting to see, if it comes to that, whether Ms Turei will put the interests of her party ahead of her own ambitions.

All of which is in stark contrast with the election of Kelvin Davis as deputy leader of the Labour Party. His mother said last week that all she asked of him was that he retain his integrity. She has no cause for concern.

Mr Davis is from a remarkable family, he and his siblings having displayed a laudable ability to rise above humble beginnings. It is inconceivable that they would be tempted to pursue personal benefit contrary to the law or the highest standards of behaviour.

The darkest secret in his past might well be the measures he took when he was principal at Kaitaia Intermediate School to ensure compliance with the uniform.

Mr Davis deserves his elevation, given the work he has done in Parliament in the course of his two terms (rather more, one suspects, than Ms Turei can claim) and the fact that he embodies the principles that were once fundamental to the Labour Party. His promotion brings honour to himself, his family, his electorate and his party, and political friends and foes alike will wish him well.

Kelvin Davis is an example of all that is good about this country, and of what we should expect from those who aspire to govern it. Metiria Turei has exposed herself to be much that is not good, not only for her "foolish" actions years ago, but her refusal to understand the ramifications of those actions and the need for parliamentarians, perhaps above all others, to set and meet an exemplary standard.

We deserve, and should demand, nothing less.

- Northland Age

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