In another truly inept interview Close Up's Mark Sainsbury managed to avoid asking the Minister of Social Development and Employment the crucial questions: Had she breached the Privacy Act by releasing confidential information about two solo mothers? If she hadn't, could she point to the legislation that allowed her to disclose personal information to the media?

Fortunately, these were the first questions that TV3's John Campbell asked tonight. Paula Bennett attempted to sidestep the questions but eventually she said that she had found 'something' on the website of the Privacy Commissioner that backed her actions.

Campbell also asked her if she had consulted her officials before she released the information. She said she did.

This directly contradicted what she said in Parliament this afternoon. She said that she did not seek any official advice before releasing personal details about the benefits received by the two solo mothers, Jennifer Johnstone and Natasha Fuller.

But, as has been pointed out on other blogs, there is nothing on the website that comes close to giving Bennett the authority to release confidential personal information held by Work and Income.

The appropriate section says that if the Minister feels that a individual has misrepresented the facts on which the Department's actions were based and 'the Minister could say that there are some undisclosed facts which give a somewhat different picture and, if the individual would authorise release of further details from the Department's files, the Minister would be happy to oblige.'

Bennett did not seek that permission from either Fuller or Johnstone.

So as the unemployment figures continue to rise and spending cuts begin to bite, Bennett is clearly seeking to intimidate beneficiaries into silence. Her attempt to portray herself as a understanding and helpful friend becomes more unconvincing by the day.


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