Paula Bennett

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The Honourable
Paula Bennett
Paula Bennett.jpg
Minister of Local Government
Assumed office
28 January 2014
Prime Minister John Key
Preceded by Chris Tremain
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Upper Harbour
Assumed office
21 September 2014
Preceded by constituency established
Majority 9,692
Minister of State Services
Assumed office
8 October 2014
Prime Minister John Key
Preceded by Jonathan Coleman
Minister for Social Development and Employment
In office
19 November 2008 – 8 October 2014
Prime Minister John Key
Preceded by Ruth Dyson
Succeeded by Anne Tolley
Personal details
Born 1969
Wellington, New Zealand
Nationality New Zealand
Political party National Party
Occupation Consultant
^[a] At 2011 general election

Paula Lee Bennett (born 1969) is a New Zealand politician and member of parliament for the National Party. She is a Cabinet minister with the roles of Minister of Local Government, Minister for Social Housing, and Minister of State Services. She also represented the electorate of Waitakere, which was abolished prior to the general election in 2014.[1][2] She was elected to Parliament as member for Upper Harbour after the 2014 general election.

Early life[edit]

Bennett was born in 1969 to Bob Bennett and Lee Bennett. She has 1/8th Tainui ancestry through her half-Māori paternal grandmother, Ailsa Bennett.[3] Her father had a flooring business in Auckland, then in 1974 bought the village store at Kinloch, near Taupo. Bennett attended Taupo-nui-a-Tia College in Taupo. At 17 she gave birth to a daughter, Ana, and raised her alone whilst receiving welfare payments from the New Zealand Government.[4]

Bennett moved to Auckland in 1992[5] where she worked in a rest home, first as a dishwasher and then as a nurse aide. She began studying social work at the Albany campus of Massey University in 1994.[4] She became the welfare officer of the Massey University at Albany Students' Association, then, in 1996, the president, which gave her a taste for politics. She dropped the social work component to her course, leaving simply social policy,[4] graduating with a BA.

Political career[edit]

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate List Party
2005–2008 48th List 45 National
2008–2011 49th Waitakere 41 National
2011–2014 50th Waitakere 14 National
2014 – present 51st Upper Harbour 9 National

After graduating, Bennett worked as an electorate secretary for Murray McCully, National Party member of Parliament for East Coast Bays, until the 1999 general election. She then worked as a recruitment consultant for several years and assisted McCully in the 2002 general election campaign.

In the 2005 general election Bennett stood – unsuccessfully – as the National Party's candidate for the Waitakere seat. She nevertheless entered Parliament as a list MP, ranked 45th on the National Party list.

Election to Parliament[edit]

In the 2008 election, she unseated Waitakere MP Lynne Pillay, winning the seat with a majority of 632.[6] Bennett was then appointed to Cabinet as Minister of Social Development and Employment, Minister for Disability Issues, and Minister of Youth Affairs.

In the 2011 election Paula Bennett first won the seat by 349 votes.[7] But after special votes were counted it swung towards Labour candidate Carmel Sepuloni. Following a judicial recount, Paula Bennett was once again declared the winner and Member of Parliament for Waitakere.[8] Carmel Sepuloni was not placed high enough on Labour's list to remain an MP and was ousted from Parliament as a result of her loss.[9] Meanwhile, Paula Bennett was promoted to the front bench by Prime Minister John Key.

For several years Paula Bennett appeared on TV One's Breakfast with friend and Labour MP Darren Hughes.

In late June 2009 Bennett asked Prime Minister, John Key, to reassign the Disability Issues portfolio so that she "could focus on the Social Development and Employment position".[10] The post was subsequently given to Minister outside Cabinet and Māori Party co-leader, Tariana Turia who has continued to work alongside Bennett as an Associate Minister ever since.

Just six months later Bennett got a name as a feisty Minister after breaking up a fight among brawling teenagers outside her local mall in Henderson in 2009.[11]

Portfolio related[edit]

Job Ops and Community Max programs were introduced by Bennett in August 2009. Job Ops provided a $5,000 subsidy to employers to take on a young person at risk of staying on a benefit for a prolonged period. Community Max provided a subsidy for community group to take on young people to do work programmes locally. Job Ops was pitched largely at urban areas where more employers were available to offer placements and Community Max was pitched primarily in rural areas with fewer employers, but plenty of community groups and a strong demand for youth to give back to local communities. Both schemes were intended to keep young people in work and engaged in activity during a recession. By 2011 more than 12,000 young people had received a subsided job placement through Job Ops and 5,000 young people had completed a Community Max placement.[12][13]

In May 2009, The Community Response Fund was announced by Bennett with $104 million for social service providers. It was her flagship social service ‘lifeline’ to help community providers cope with soaring demands in a recession as the usual funding sources were drying up.[14]

In May 2009, Bennett controversially appointed Christine Rankin as a Families Commissioner, prompting an avalanche of negative media publicity focused on Rankin’s relationship with a man whose wife committed suicide.[15]

In September 2009 the Never Ever Shake a Baby campaign was launched to highlight the dangers of shaking small babies. It was the first of many major public platforms Bennett used to highlight child abuse. [16]

In February 2010, "Fresh Start" legislation was introduced into Parliament, aimed at the most serious, repeat young offenders. It included the Military Activity Camps which came to be known as ‘boot camps’. The legislation also extended Youth Court jurisdiction to include 12 and 13 year olds accused of serious offences. Previously 12 and 13 year olds were seen in Family Court.[17]

March 2010 – Future Focus changes to the welfare system were introduced by Bennett who instituted a requirement for Domestic Purpose Benefit recipients to look for part-time work when their youngest child turned six. Previously there was no work requirement until the youngest child turned 18 years old. Bennett also introduce a requirement for those on an Unemployment Benefit to reapply after one year. [18]

In March 2010, Bennett accepted an Eisenhower fellowship. The prestigious six week Fellowship in the United States was awarded to only 20 women around the world who were identified as outstanding leaders.[19]

In July 2011, a Green Paper on Children launched in Auckland. The paper focussed on issues surrounding child abuse and protection of children, stirred debate, and was roundly condemned by opposition parties. [20][21]

In December 2012, a report from the Children's Commissioner recommended a universal child benefit, which Bennett rejected as being too costly.[22]


Family connections[edit]

In May 2009 Bennett again came under scrutiny for her support of former head of WINZ, Christine Rankin, for a position with New Zealand Families Commission after it was revealed that Rankin had married her fourth husband only weeks after his late wife's suicide.[23]

Release of private information about beneficiaries[edit]

In July 2009, Bennett released the benefit details of two beneficiaries, Natasha Fuller and Jennifer Johnston, who had criticised the Government's policy of getting rid of the Training Initiative Allowance (TIA).[24] She said she believed she had "implied consent" for the release of the information.[25]

There has also been considerable criticism of Bennett for abolishing the TIA.[26][27] Both Fuller and Labour MP Charles Chauvel said that they would make complaints to the privacy commissioner and Schroff, respectively.[24]

The Privacy Commission investigated Bennett's actions after receiving a complaint.[28] In late 2010, Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff closed her investigation into the privacy complaint and referred the matter to the Director of Human Rights Proceedings for the Human Rights Commission, Robert Hesketh. On 15 August 2012, Hesketh announced the resolution of the complaint under the Privacy Act against Bennett, saying, “On the basis of the Minister’s letter to me, I have agreed to close my file. The matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.”[29] In her letter to Hesketh, Bennett wrote,

"I have on previous occasions expressed to you through my counsel and to Ms Fuller, when I met with her in person, my regret at the personal cost that this incident has caused Ms Fuller. The purpose of this letter is to formally convey that.


"As you know, I took the view that it was appropriate for me to respond to some of Ms Fuller’s comments in order to provide what I considered to be information relevant to the public debate that was taking place at the time. I acknowledge that you consider that I was wrong to do so and that this resulted in a breach of Ms Fuller’s privacy.

"As you also know, I do not accept that view."[29]

Job numbers claims[edit]

In November 2012, a week after unemployment was reported at 7.3 percent – a 13-year high – Bennett read out job listings in Parliament, claiming there were "300 jobs" available at retailer The Warehouse, if anyone wanted them, as well as 40 jobs at Bunnings. The Warehouse refuted this claim, saying it only had 30 jobs available, and Bunnings only had three advertised.[30]

Alleged hypocrisy[edit]

Bennett has also been criticised by opponents for a perceived hypocritical approach with regards to her attacks on beneficiaries. This specifically relates to her having relied on state support throughout her adult life to enable education and development of her career, only to remove the ability of solo parents to do the same through her removal of the Training Initiative Allowance. More generally, Bennett has often been criticised for policies such as requiring solo parents to enter the workforce when their children turn five, when this policy would have made her own education impossible.[31]


  1. ^ Paula Bennett to seek Upper Harbour nomination. 3 News NZ. 21 November 2013.
  2. ^ Bennett to contest new seat. Radio NZ. 21 November 2013.
  3. ^ Outrageous Fortune article by Ruth Laugesen in New Zealand Listener 20 June 2009 pages 16–20
  4. ^ a b c Collins, Simon (22 November 2008). "Cabinet's new poster girl". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 22 November 2008. 
  5. ^ "Hon Paula Bennett – Biography". New Zealand National Party. 2008. Retrieved 22 November 2008. 
  6. ^ Election results – Waitakere
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ [2]
  9. ^ [3]
  10. ^ Parliament TV, Wednesday, 1 July 2009
  11. ^ Trevitte, Clare (20 January 2009). "'Tough lady' minister breaks up mall fight". NZ Herald. Retrieved 20 January 2009. 
  12. ^ Scott, Hammond. "Keen teenager finds work a buzz". Marlborough Express. Retrieved 23.0-8-2011.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  13. ^ Collins, Simon (14 June 2011). "Cycleway already making a difference in Northland". NZ Herald. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  14. ^ Norton, Hannah. "Boost for charities". Manukau Courier. Retrieved 9.10.2009.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  15. ^ TVNZ website. "Rankin appointed to Families Commission". TVNZ. Retrieved 12 May 2009. 
  16. ^ "Never Ever Shake a Baby advertisement". YouTube. 
  17. ^ Radio NZ. "Boot Camps". RNZ. Retrieved 16 Feb 2009. 
  18. ^ Kinnealy, Mellissa. "Beneficiaries Face Squeeze". Domion Post. Retrieved 22 October 2010. 
  19. ^ "Eisenhower Fellowship". Retrieved 9 March 2010. 
  20. ^ "Children's Action Plan website". Green Paper. 
  21. ^ Levy, Danya. "Child abuse review called political stunt". Dominion Post. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  22. ^ "Report calls for universal child payment". 3 News NZ. December 11, 2012. 
  23. ^ John Armstrong (19 May 2009). "Key treads with caution in deepening moral minefield". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 3 July 2009. 
  24. ^ a b "Privacy issues stir Bennett welfare debate". ONE News/New Zealand Press Association. Television New Zealand. 29 July 2009. 
  25. ^ Trevett, Claire (28 July 2009). "Bennett: I consulted website before releasing mums' benefits". The New Zealand Herald. 
  26. ^ Trevett, Claire (29 July 2009). "Minister accused of breaking privacy law". The New Zealand Herald. 
  27. ^ "The double-edged sword". Business Day (Fairfax New Zealand). 28 July 2009. 
  28. ^ "Privacy Commissioner confirms investigation into Paula Bennett". (Fairfax New Zealand). 11 August 2009. 
  29. ^ a b "Media statement on Paula Bennett privacy complaint". (Scoop Media). 15 August 2012. 
  30. ^ "Bennett's job numbers don't add up - Ardern". 3 News NZ. 14 November 2012. 
  31. ^ "Bennett rejects 'hypocrite' claims". New Zealand Herald. 28 February 2012. Retrieved 28 February 2012. 

External links[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Lynne Pillay
Member of Parliament for Waitakere
2008 – present
Political offices
Preceded by
Ruth Dyson
Minister of Disability Issues
Succeeded by
Tariana Turia
Minister of Social Development and Employment
2008 – present
Preceded by
Nanaia Mahuta
Minister of Youth Affairs
Succeeded by
Nikki Kaye