WELL KNOWN ACTVIST Sue Bradford copped a fair amount of flak for this tweet. She was accused of trying to make political capital out of the Ashburton shootings which resulted in two people being killed and one person seriously wounded. One of her critics has been the principled and ethical blogger Cameron Slater.
Sue Bradford later said that posted the message in the immediate aftermath of the Ashburton shootings and before she knew that there had been fatalities. She deleted the tweet.
Perhaps it could be argued she was unwise to make such a comment when the incident was so raw in the minds of the public and emotions were running high. But I would note that talkback radio last night was dominated by calls about the shootings. None of the callers, or the talkback hosts for that matter, seemed to think to think that it was inappropriate and insensitive to make politically charged comments about what had happened. What a difference a few hours makes - apparently.
Similarly on Newtalk ZB and less than twenty fours after the shootings, local Christchurch morning host Chris Lynch opened his show by attacking Sue Bradford for 'politicising' the incident.
He and his callers then proceeded to politicise the shootings themselves with Lynch declaring, at one point, that government policies could not be blamed for the shootings. He did not bother to explain why he knew this and seemed more intent on attributing the shootings to the alleged gunman's mental state.
What was largely ignored in all this was Sue Bradford's observation which was this:
“The Work and Income office is the front line of the Government’s welfare policies. People are very, very badly affected by what happens there everyday. This is in no way excusing what’s happened. But I think it’s unfortunate that governments sometimes don’t understand or accept the risks that they put their staff under in implementing their policies.”
Indeed as the government's welfare policies have begun to bite, Work and Income staff on the front line are having to cope with the consequences of those policies, namely more and more angry and frustrated people, under enough stress as it is, responding to more and more bureaucratic obstacles being put in front of them.
Auckland Action Against Poverty commented earlier this year: '...we find that people are often so distressed by their experiences with Work and Income that they will do anything to avoid registering for a benefit; won’t ask for what they desperately need in supplementary assistance; or are simply denied support altogether.'
Between July and September last year, for example, nearly 2800 sole parents had their benefits cut by 50 percent because they supposedly were not doing a good enough job of looking for paid work - at a time of high unemployment and underemployment. How did this help the 270,000 children already living under the poverty line?
While we grieve at the death of the two Work and Income workers let us also not forget the many welfare beneficiaries who are being driven to the wall by this government's callous welfare policies. But it seems that some people would rather lash out at Sue Bradford instead.