Having been struck down with the flu for the last couple of days, I've been watching a little of the proceedings in Parliament - although my tolerance for what passes for democracy these days is limited.

Question Time can often be entertaining though and I was interested to see how the Minister of Social Development and Employment - such a grand and misleading job description - would respond to questions about her privacy-busting behaviour.

She fielded questions,I think, from Labour's Annette King, Charles Chauvel, Trevor Mallard and Phil Goff and from the Green's Sue Bradford - who I thought displayed some of the old passion that has been sorely lacking from her of late.

Bennett's responses were staggeringly inept. Words came out of mouth but, at times, her answers bordered on incoherency.

Time and again, Labour and the Green's demanded that Bennett actually answer the question. Speaker Lockwood Smith merely responded that, well, she had 'addressed' the question.

If 'addressing' the question means standing up and saying something entirely meaningless then Smith is right.

But it seemed that Ms Bennett, who prides herself on her no-nonsense forthright approach, suddenly found that evasiveness was a much more preferable strategy.

The whole affair is a mess for the Government but Bennett seems intent on brazening it out. She's not going to apologise for her actions and, not surprisingly , the beneficiary bashing brigade have wheeled in behind her. They spend most of their time ringing up talkback radio - don't any of them work?

Bennett is still attempting to portray herself as a 'understanding friend' of beneficiaries. She often refers to her own time on the Domestic Purposes Benefit - although she won't reveal how much she received - as if it was a badge of honour. 'Look, I'm one of you,' she is saying to beneficiaries. 'I know what life is like on a benefit.'

The problem is that Bennett the 'working class battler' has done nothing for the people she claims to identify with. Her words don't match her deeds.

Beneficiaries got done over by Labour and Bennett is continuing in that tradition.

Earlier this month she flicked the disabilities portfolio to Taraina Turia in order, she said, to concentrate on getting people into jobs. She then informed us that we were out to lunch if we thought unemployment was not going to rise.

Given that the recession is cutting deep into the economy and the unemployment numbers are rising alarmingly, has Bennett actually done anything at all to ease the financial burden?


Bennett could, for example, relax the criteria around people receiving the Temporary Additional Support grant from Work and Income. For people struggling to meet the rent and buy groceries, the TAP is often their last option. Bennett though has refused to make it easier for beneficiaries to receive the TAP because, apparently, now is not the time to tinker with the rules.

A friend of mine has not been able to find work for some time but because his partner is working he cannot receive the unemployment benefit.

He told me that the disinterested woman on the reception counter at his local WINZ office told him that there was not much that WINZ could do to help him except register him as a job seeker. But she also added that she felt that, since he had a university qualification, he was unlikely to find any suitable jobs through WINZ.

'We don't have a lot of jobs at the moment anyway,' she said helpfully.

He is out of work, needs financial assistance, but can't get it. Bennett though will not countenance changing the rules for people like my friend whose partner is in paid employment.

So, despite Bennett's claims to be the 'understanding friend' of beneficiaries her 'sympathy' doesn't extend as far as any concrete action. Words are cheap, Minister.

It's just the same with the two solo mothers who had their personal financial details aired in public by Bennett.

They spoke out and challenged the government cuts to the Training Incentive Allowance . Despite the cut, Bennett still waxes lyrically about 'helping' people into training.

In Parliament yesterday Bennett claimed that she encouraged debate and even applauded the two women for speaking out.

Of course, after they spoke out Bennett went to their personal WINZ files - and released confidential information to the media. This is the action of a Minister trying to shut down debate - not encourage it.

Paula Bennett says one thing and does another. For beneficiaries she is proving to be a wolf in sheep's clothing.


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