Sri Lankan visa scam revealed

Something to add to the immigration debate.

RNZ: Sri Lankan visa scam revealed, but no review of past applications

Immigration officials are investigating a major scam involving student visa applications from Sri Lanka.

The New Zealand immigration office in Mumbai that handles Sri Lankan applications received a tip off at the start of the year.

Inquiries led officials to conclude a Sri Lankan based company was fraudulently creating documentation to help students meet the criteria of having money in the bank.

Official briefings to Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway show investigations are under way into the potential involvement of education agents in Sri Lanka, the finance company, whose name is redacted in the papers, and students as a result of these revelations.

There were 88 pending applications when the fraud was discovered and after further checks were done 83 were declined. The tip-off was in January.

The National Party wants to know why hundreds of past visas that have been granted to Sri Lankan students won’t be reviewed.

Former Immigration Minister and National Party spokesperson Michael Woodhouse asked Mr Lees-Galloway whether he would look at past years to make sure the visas approved were legitimate.

Mr Lees-Galloway said that after scrutinising, then rejecting, most of the 88 applications the focus would now be on any future signs of fraud.

“To identify applications with similar characteristics already decided by INZ [Immigration New Zealand] would require substantial collation which I do not believe is in the public interest.”

According to Mr Woodhouse up to half of Sri Lankan applicants could have used the company “fraudulently”, and said that should be enough for officials to find how widespread any fraud was.

Has Turei paid back the WINZ money?

Metiria Turei promised to pay back the money she received (allegedly fraudulently) from Work and Income NZ (WINZ) in the 1990s. The self revelation blew up on Turei in July 2017 and led to her resignation as Green party leader, and her decision to withdraw from the Green Party list. She stood in the Te Tai Tonga electorate and failed to win in the September election.

This came up on Reddit a couple of days ago: Did Turei ever pay back all that defrauded money?

The media just dropped the issue, and MSD basically pussyfooted around it. As someone that gets pinged now and then for earning $10 above the threshold of student allowance, seeing a government official getting away with clear fraud for tens of thousands of dollars makes me real sad for NZ.

Many of the comments in response diverted to other politician’s problems, in particular Bill English’s housing allowance issue in 2009. Despite as one person said “I thought “whataboutism” were frowned upon on this sub.” That’s nearly nine years ago, English paid money back, and was found to have checked and was told his arrangement was within the rules before it was publicised.

From RNZ in August 2017 – Timeline: Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei’s downfall

This story was followed up by the herald last month (January 2018): Silence over Metiria Turei’s alleged benefit fraud investigation irks

Six months after Metiria Turei revealed her historic benefit fraud, neither she nor the Ministry of Social Development are commenting on the case – including whether the former MP has repaid the debt.

MSD launched an investigation in August after Turei – then the Green Party co-leader – said that she had received benefit payments she wasn’t legally entitled to while studying law as a solo mother in the 1990s.

Six months on and neither Turei or MSD are commenting.

Turei – who has previously said she would pay back any money she owed – didn’t respond to messages left by the Herald on Sunday and a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Social Development said it “will not and cannot” comment on individual cases.

Former Green Party member David Clendon, who along with Kennedy Graham resigned in protest at Turei’s actions, told the Herald there was a fine balance between the public interest and Turei’s privacy.

“I would expect there would be some sort of information that would come into the public domain if for no other reason than to retain the integrity of the system. Obviously there’s a huge public interest.”

Clendon was one of two Green MPs who had pulled their support for Turei and were not allowed to stand for the Greens after Turei resigned.

So this appears to remain an unresolved issue.

Judge rules no copyright issue but fraud valid for extradition in Dotcom case

A judge has ruled in favour if Kim Dotcom on there being no equivalent “copyright” crime in New Zealand, but also ruled that Dotcom could be extradited on fraud charges.

NZH: Kim Dotcom legal saga: Extradition to US over Megaupload still on cards but he claims court ruling is a ‘major victory’

This latest legal milestone is this afternoon’s ruling from Justice Murray Gilbert who had been asked to overturn a decision that Dotcom was eligible for extradition to face criminal charges in the United States.

After five months of deliberation, Gilbert found that Dotcom remained eligible for extradition to the US – but not on copyright charges.

The judge found in favour of arguments put by Dotcom’s legal team, led by Ron Mansfield, that there was no equivalent “copyright” crime in New Zealand that would activate the extradition treaty.

However, the ruling also saw Justice Gilbert finding in favour of the US argument that Dotcom – and his three co-accused – could be extradited because it was at essence a “fraud” case and there was such a crime in the extradition treaty.

Dotcom, Mathias Ortmann, Bram van der Kolk and Finn Batato face decades in a US prison after a 2012 raid brought down the Megaupload file-sharing super-site Megaupload they set up and ran.

In an interview with the Herald, Dotcom said the ruling was a “major victory” because it ruled that there was no New Zealand equivalent to the US criminal charges of copyright violation.

“The major part of this litigation has been won by this judgment – that copyright is not extraditable.

It may be a major battle win, but the war against extradition could still be lost.

The ruling today has created an unusual bureaucratic contradiction – the warrant which was served on Dotcom when he was arrested on January 20, 2012, stated he was being charged with “copyright” offences.

Likewise, the charges Dotcom will face in the US are founded in an alleged act of criminal copyright violation.

Mansfield also claimed victory, saying the case was no longer the “largest criminal copyright case”.

“As we have said all along, there is no such offence under our Copyright Act. We were right.

“To win the major plank of the case but to get that outcome is extremely disappointing. It is hard to accept the logic that, if the conduct that all accept at its heart relates to assertions of breach of copyright … how it can nonetheless be massaged into a general fraud offence.”

Lawyers acting for the US began referring to the case as one of “fraud” after months of hearings.

By the time of the extradition hearing in late 2015, it was a main plank of the case with the lawyer acting for the US, Christine Gordon QC, telling Judge Nevin Dawson: “When distractions are stripped away, the evidence boils down to a central scheme of fraud. The scale of that fraud and the way it was conducted might indeed be novel. This is mainly as a result of the reach of the internet and the behaviour of mass audiences.

“Yet the dishonesty at the core of Megaupload’s operation can be expressed in straight-forward terms. The basic features do not differ significantly from earlier cases of fraud against copyright owners.

“The respondents were part of a conspiracy. They deliberately attracted copyright infringing material to their website. They deliberately preserved it, deliberately took steps to profit from that material and made vast sums of money which they applied to various purposes knowing it had been unlawfully acquired.”

Both sides are expected to challenge aspects of the ruling before the Court of Appeal – and eventually the Supreme Court, if it accepts the case.

If the Supreme Court upholds the decisions of the District and High Court, the Minister of Justice is then able to sign the extradition order – which itself can be challenged in the courts.

On that basis, there are at least two years of Dotcom hearings yet to run.

It was five years ago, in 2012, that Dotcom and his associates were arrested in an over the top raid on his ‘mansion’.


Green hero now a liability?

A week or two Metiria Turei was riding on a surge of Green support after she admitted lying in relation to getting a benefit in the 1990s. She says it was necessary “to feed my child”, and also to enable her to study for a law degree. She later said she should also have been able to have some fun after asked about standing for Parliament in 1993 and 1996.

With Labour languishing it seems that the Greens poached a chunk of their support, and all was looking great for the Greens, with hopes they would get ahead of NZ First and possibly even challenge Labour for the second biggest party prize.

That bubble of ambition appeared to have been burst when Jacinda Ardern took over the Labour leadership and sucked up all the media attention. And Ardern threatens to compete with a similar demographic that Turei appeals to.

A shaken looking Turei had a meeting with MSD yesterday to discuss her benefit transgressions – she had already said she will pay back any money she fiddled out of the system.

And then a double whammy last night when a reality check Newshub poll showed that 73.9% of people responded yes to ‘Was it wrong for Metiria Turei to lie to get a bigger benefit?’, including 51% of Green supporters.

Newshub also asked questions about Turei’s living arrangements while she was claiming a benefit. She had already admitted lying about having flatmates, but has now conceded that for two years one of those flatmates was her mother.

“I also wish to confirm that my mother was my flatmate for a period during the mid-1990s.

“We were financially independent while living together in the same home.”

Newshub also showed that she shared an address for two years with the father of her child,

“I did not live at the same address as the father of my child.

“I was, however, enrolled to vote at the same address as him, which was in the Mt Albert electorate. A friend of mine was running as a candidate in Mt Albert in 1993, and I wished to vote for them.

Technically that appears to be an offence under the Electoral Act.

“That was a mistake – one of many I, like many other people, made as a young person”.

It is now apparent that Turei was making a number of deliberate’ legal mistakes, at the same time she was studying for a law degree.

Two weeks ago Turei even went international with her story. In The Guardian: I told a lie to claim benefits. Now I am an MP and I want to tell you why

‘A lie’ seems to be somewhat understating what she did over several years.

Over five years, I received a training incentive allowance (a benefit that has since been ditched by our current government), as well as a payment for single parents. I also had help from my family, and my daughter’s father’s family.

Despite all that support, which is much more than many people in similar circumstances have, I did not have enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table. And so, like many – but not all – people faced with that choice, I lied to survive.

I lived in a few flats over the years with a few different flatmates. I didn’t tell the government department in charge of my benefit about some of those flatmates. If I had, my benefit would have been reduced, and I would not have had enough money to get by.

Many sole parents do get by – with financial difficulty for sure, but they manage.

Still not clarified is what her daughter’s father was doing to provide for and support his child, if anything.

Turei is now claiming that this examination of her past and her ‘private life’ (that was publicly funded) is a reason why benefits have to be much higher and no questions should be asked.

But she has been a politician for 15 years, and should have known that if she used her personal story for political purposes, in an election campaign, it would likely attract some scrutiny.

The Greens have promoted their integrity. In June Turei posted on Facebook:

Todd Barclay’s actions damage the relationship between the public and the politicians elected to represent them. The Green Party wants to be part of a government you can trust and already have policies in place to show we are more than just talk.

She has deliberately revealed aspects of her past that she should have known had risks, and it now threatens the relationship between the Greens and the public.

So far co-leader James Shaw has supported her beneficiary campaign…

Turei’s co-leader James Shaw said he was proud of Turei for coming forwards.

“We actually treat poor people in this country terribly, and the law is an ass, in this case,” Shaw said.

…but there must be growing concerns in the Green camp after yesterdays developments.


The Turei show continues

Metiria Turei and media have ensured her confession about benefit fraud and her campaign for beneficiaries stayed as one of the biggest political stories.

Turei has advised that the Ministry of Social Development has been in touch with her after she wrote to them, and she will be interviewed next week.

She continued with her focus on beneficiaries in Parliament yesterday.

And media have widened the scope of their questions, including whether her daughter’s father was a flatmate, and what part if any the  father had in her support – Turei said this was a private matter.

As a press release from the Green Party:  Statement from Metiria Turei on MSD

“Today, I have spoken over the phone with an investigator from the Ministry of Social Development.

“I was phoned by this person after their office received a letter from me (attached), which I sent on Monday.

“The letter asserted my willingness to co-operate fully with an investigation into the period of time I received a benefit during the 1990s, and I confirmed that over the phone today.

“During our phone call, I made myself available to be interviewed about my case.

“We are in the process of confirming the details of that meeting, but it will take place next week.”

Patrick Gower: Conviction for fraud could see Metiria Turei quit Parliament

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei could be forced to quit Parliament if she is convicted of benefit fraud.

“While benefit fraud is legislated under the Social Security Act, we generally prosecute under the Crimes Act,” a spokeswoman for Ministry of Social Development told Newshub.

The charges usually used are:

  • Obtaining by deception or causing loss by deception (punishable by up to three years imprisonment)
  • Dishonestly taking or using document (punishable by up to seven years imprisonment)

Under the Electoral Act, if an MP is convicted of a crime punishable with a sentence of more than two years, they have to leave Parliament.

Ms Turei lied to get more money, and it goes back to when her daughter Piupiu was born. She says she had no other option, although she did have time to campaign for the McGillicuddy Serious Party in 1993 and the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party in 1996.

Ms Turei was on the Domestic Purposes Benefit from 1993 until 1998. In three flats during that time, she lied about how many flatmates she had to get extra money.

My guess is that she will pay any money deemed to have been overpaid to her back but she won’t be prosecuted.

NZ Herald: Metiria Turei explains silence on flatmates in fraud case

In a sit-down interview with the Herald, Turei said she couldn’t condemn people who were faced with hard choices because of financial hardship.

“We have a system that leaves people with too few choices. That the only choices are bad ones. Not to pay the rent, not to pay the power bill, not to have enough food for your kids. Or, lie to WINZ and keep a secret.”

There is also the choice to work to supplement your income, or to live in a relationship with someone who contributes to your costs of living.

Metiria Turei won’t say whether one of the flatmates she failed to tell Work and Income about was a boyfriend – saying the state has no right to investigate a woman’s intimate personal life.

Actually the state does have a right under law to question whether someone claiming a sole parent benefit is living with a partner or not, and whether they are being supported by a partner. This is fundamental to how benefits are calculated and paid.

Asked if living with a partner without disclosing that to WINZ was more serious than failing to tell the agency about flatmates, Turei said it was treated differently by the agency.

“And one of the things that I will do if I get the chance is to fix that system so a woman’s personal life is not subject to questions by WINZ, by MSD. We have seen a lot of that directed at solo mums.

Currently a person stops being eligible for sole parent support if they are in a relationship.

Like it or not, that’s the rules now and it was when Turei was a beneficiary.

She said that the need to care for her baby and not her political beliefs led her to lie to Work and Income. Turei campaigned for the McGillicuddy Serious Party while receiving her benefit, and was a part of a theatre group.

“None of us had any money. I think that’s the thing – people on benefits are entitled to a life as well. They need the financial resources so they can pay the rent and put food on the table, they need a pathway out of welfare.

“But they also need to engage in the world, to be able to be with family, to have friends, to do other things, be politically engaged if that is what they choose. We shouldn’t have a benefit system that locks people out of their community.”

Some like Turei think that the state should fund a choice of lifestyle.

Others cut back on some of their social life when they have children, and when they are on a benefit.

Audrey Young:  Metiria Turei turns spotlight on her own failures

MSD investigators would not be doing their job if they did not ask whether one of the flatmates was a boyfriend living in a de facto relationship and whether they could talk to some of the flatmates.

That would elevate the issue from an overpayment to a more serious breach of the law. It is a simple question Turei has repeatedly failed to answer because she believes that the state is intruding on private lives.

On the other hand, she might discover that any offending is considered at the lowest level or that there was no offending at all because she was within the flatmate allowance.

But the actual offending and any debt has been of less concern to many of Turei’s critics than her attitude which has remained one of unswerving entitlement to break the law.

This is where Turei has got herself and her party into a quagmire from which it will be difficult to extricate itself.

Her sense of entitlement to break the law has invited a host of examples moral equivalents – hypothetical offending by other types of people, including say farmers, and other types of offending, including say tax fraud, in order to justify getting more money to feed the kids.

Many people starting small businesses suffer from financial hardship for some time, and it’s not uncommon to not pay taxes because there is a choice between that and feeding their families and paying basic bills.

But taxes shouldn’t be just waived for anyone who claims to be in financial hardship.

In the meantime, the focus is finally starting to turn away from Turei and towards the Greens’ new social welfare policy which is to remove sanctions and obligations from welfare recipients.

That includes women receiving sole parent support (the old Dpb) living with their boyfriends.

Under the Green Party policy, a man and woman can be living in a de facto relationship for three years with one of them working and earning and the other getting a benefit without losing the benefit.

There are not too many people who would see that as the fair application of a safety net.

Under that policy the state would need the right to investigate someone’s private circumstances, unless the Greens want it to operate on a trust system, where it’s leader says that breaking the law to get more benefit is justifiable.

Turei’s actions were designed to turn a spotlight on the failures of the system. They have instead turned the spotlight on her own failures as a politician.

This could become a quagmire for Turei and the Greens. I don’t know how well they thought this through before making an issue of it – I suspect some idealistic tunnel vision may have missed the possible jeopardy.

Turei condoning benefit fraud

I understand to an extent what Metiria is trying to do with her stand on benefit fraud. Many people on benefits really struggle financially, and that’s an issue that deserves attention. Sure she is trying to maximise votes in the upcoming election, but I believe she passionately believes she can do good for poor people.

But there are aspects of Turei’s agenda that I have real problems with, especially her condoning of benefit fraud.

Her own admission suggests more than a solo mother fibbing a bit to ‘feed her child’.

It happened over a three or five year period, which is sustained cheating.

It happened in three different flats – so when Turei got a new flat she chose to rent more rooms than she needed, with the implication that she was planning to rort the system several times.

From Stuff:  Greens co-leader Metiria Turei won’t report woman committing benefit fraud

At her party’s annual conference earlier this month Turei make a risky admission while launching a major policy to dismantle the Government’s welfare reforms, dramatically hike the benefit and remove nearly all sanctions and obligations to collect it.

Turei told party supporters she had lied about her living situation to Work and Income (WINZ) while she was collecting the Domestic Purposes Benefit.

While she’s willing to pay the money back, Turei stands by her decision to commit benefit fraud, which she says she did in order to “take care of my baby”.

It doesn’t appear that it was simply a matter of not being to be able to by enough food one week so she got in a flatmate.

On Tuesday Turei confirmed she had met with a woman while travelling in the South Island last week who told her about a flatmate with a baby “who is doing exactly what I did”.

“She’s trying very hard to be the best Mum she can be but she isn’t telling WINZ about all her flatmates and I won’t condemn her.”

“I’ve had people come and disclose to me their circumstances and I’ll never abuse that trust. What I will do is fix the system so they never have to lie again.”

Turei said she is supporting this woman in trying to be “the best mother she can be” by defrauding the state.

This sounds like condoning wider benefit fraud, but Turei wants to do more than approve, she wants the slate wiped clean presumably for all levels of benefit fraud. In Parliament yesterday:

Metiria Turei: When so many stories of people being driven into poverty and despair by the broken welfare system have emerged in this last week, will she instruct the MSD to hold an amnesty for every current beneficiary—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Oh! Now we get to it.

Metiria Turei: —for every current beneficiary, so not me, Minister—so that they can talk to Work and Income about—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the member complete her question. It is a very long question.

Metiria Turei:—so that they can talk to Work and Income about their full entitlement without risking investigation or financial punishment?

She is proposing an amnesty for every current beneficiary, apparently no matter what level of fraud they may have committed, and no matter how desperate or calculated the fraud was.

From Mending the Safety Net – Metiria Turei’s speech to the Green Party 2017 AGM:

No beneficiary should have to live with the threat of losing the money the need for the rent.

So, the Green Party in government will immediately remove all financial sanctions and obligations that treat beneficiaries as criminals and second-class citizens.

That includes the sexist, punitive section 70A, which cuts women’s benefits if they can’t or won’t name the father of their child.

But also, the constant demands to prove you still have a disability, piles of job application rejections, having to get budget advice over and over because your winter power bill is too high, risking half your benefit if you miss your appointment because your child is sick.

And it includes the intrusive interrogation of a sole parent trying to find a life partner.

Under this government, sole parents, mostly women, are forced to reveal the most intimate details of their lives – who she’s sleeping with and how many times a week, under the threat of losing the money her and her kids rely on to pay the rent.

In my books, that’s discrimination. It’s persecution. And it’s wrong.

Women will no longer be threatened by WINZ simply because they are trying to form a loving relationship that benefits them and their children.

A good government, a decent government, does not use the threat of poverty as a weapon against the poor.  Not now, not ever – and under a Green Government, never again!

So no problem about fraud in the past and no questions asked in the future.

Turei has just spoken with Guyon Espiner on RNZ, that interview will be worth checking out further.

Espiner asks her about standing for Parliament twice during this period (for the McGillicuddy Serious Party in 1993 and Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis in 1996) but Turei says that beneficiaries should be able to have some fun.

Turei says that if benefits are generous enough fraud won’t be necessary to survive, and only serious cases will need to be dealt with.

I don’t think it is that clear cut or simple.

Turei means well, there are serious issues that deserve attention, but there are problems with what she is condoning and proposing.

Turei versus Tolley on benefit fraud

Metiria Turei continues to attract much of the media attention on her stand on benefit fraud.

Stuff:  Greens co-leader Metiria Turei won’t report woman committing benefit fraud

On Tuesday Turei confirmed she had met with a woman while travelling in the South Island last week who told her about a flatmate with a baby “who is doing exactly what I did”.

“She’s trying very hard to be the best Mum she can be but she isn’t telling WINZ about all her flatmates and I won’t condemn her.”

Turei was completely against the idea of dobbing her in to the authorities and said her job now was to “make sure nobody needs to make those choices”.

“I’ve had people come and disclose to me their circumstances and I’ll never abuse that trust.

What I will do is fix the system so they never have to lie again.”

I think that an MP is obliged to keep conversations with constituents confidential. What is different here is Turei choosing to talk about something like this publicly, using constituent confessions to promote her agenda.

But Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said members of parliament had “certain obligations” and while there’s laws people don’t agree with it doesn’t mean people “shouldn’t abide by those laws”.

“My advice to anyone struggling is to go and talk to their case manager, because sometimes there’s stuff that can be done, so that’s the advice I hope Metiria, or any member of parliament, is giving to someone who is really struggling,” she said.

There’s no doubt that Turei means well, but she is on potentially shaky ground if she approves of instances of benefit fraud.

Turei has proposed WINZ operate an “amnesty” for people who have broken the law so they can approach a case manager and not be judged.

An amnesty for any law breaking no matter how serious? Writing off all past instances of fraud? This is tricky territory, especially for an MP.

In Question Time in Parliament today:

9. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she believe that the Ministry of Social Development has a responsibility to treat unemployed people, sole parents, and people with disabilities with respect and dignity, and ensure every person on a benefit has all the support they are entitled to?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): I believe that the ministry should treat everyone with respect and dignity, regardless of whether they are on a benefit or not.

Metiria Turei: Does she think that her ministry lives up to this standard, given the hundreds of examples made public this week describing denigrating and obstructive responses by Work and Income deliberately denying people their entitlements?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have travelled all over New Zealand and have been into Work and Income offices and talked with staff. I have never met anyone yet who is not absolutely passionate about helping people get back on their feet, get into work, and live successful lives.

Metiria Turei: Given that a recent study into grandparents seeking financial support has found that “the service standards published by Work and Income are continually breached, not displayed in offices and are not subject to a complaints procedure, …” will she commit to changing the punitive culture in Work and Income so that it focuses on giving people the help when they need it?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: The benefit that the member is referring to is the unsupported orphans benefit. I think that is the name of it. There are procedures that do take a long time to process—determining whether or not a child is in the full care of a grandparent. I have met with Grandparents Raising Grandchildren on a number of occasions. What I can say to the member is that this issue in particular is being addressed through the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki, which focuses on the needs of the child and, therefore, will enable much better support, I believe, to be wrapped around any people who are taking care of those children and in particular, grandparents.

Sarah Dowie: What recent actions has the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) taken to ensure people do receive the support they are entitled to?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: We have been working our way through a number of issues to ensure that the practice aligns with the legislation and that people do receive their full entitlements. For example, one issue that was identified was a coding error that meant some clients were being paid the accommodation supplement at the wrong rate. When this was discovered, MSD took the appropriate action to reimburse 22,000 current clients at around $14 million and undertook to identify previous clients who may have been underpaid. MSD is absolutely committed to ensuring that people get the support that they are entitled to.

Metiria Turei: When Work and Income tells 85 percent of grandparents who are caring for their grandchildren that they are not entitled to benefits that they should in fact be receiving, will she instruct Work and Income to review every case to ensure every single person on a benefit is receiving their full entitlement?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I am not aware of where that figure comes from. If it comes from a survey that was done recently, then I would question the assertion that that relates to all grandparents. As I have said, there is a process by which Work and Income has to be satisfied that the grandparent now has the full care of and responsibility for the child, and that does cause, from time to time, some lengthy delays. As I say, this has been raised with me on a number of occasions by the organisation representing those grandparents, and we are addressing it as best as we are able to.

Metiria Turei: When so many stories of people being driven into poverty and despair by the broken welfare system have emerged in this last week, will she instruct the MSD to hold an amnesty for every current beneficiary—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Oh! Now we get to it.

Metiria Turei: —for every current beneficiary, so not me, Minister—so that they can talk to Work and Income about—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the member complete her question. It is a very long question.

Metiria Turei:—so that they can talk to Work and Income about their full entitlement without risking investigation or financial punishment?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: First of all, I reject the assumption that the social welfare system that this country so proudly has is broken. In fact, on the contrary, I would say the results—that people are working very hard throughout New Zealand—have shown a record number of people coming off reliance on a benefit and into work. Sixty thousand children in New Zealand now no longer live in houses dependant on a benefit, and I think that is a huge success for this country and a huge success for the people who are now living totally independent lives, able to support themselves and their families.

Metiria Turei: Why will the Minister not hold an amnesty for current beneficiaries when she cannot guarantee that every parent on a benefit has enough money to feed their kids and pay their power bills this winter without having to ask for extra assistance?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I think the member forgets that this Government was the first Government in over 40 years to raise the amount of money paid to beneficiaries—the first Government in 40 years. There is no doubt that it is difficult to manage on a benefit, but that is why the staff at Work and Income work so hard with families to help them into sustainable employment, because the best way out of poverty is to be self-reliant, to be independent, and to be able to be working in New Zealand supporting their own families.

Metiria Turei: How many beneficiaries are currently homeless?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I suggest the member puts that down in a written question.

Metiria Turei: Given the Minister does not know how many current beneficiaries are homeless, how can she agree with the use of financial sanctions to threaten the poorest people in New Zealand with worsened poverty?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Sanctions are only ever applied after several warnings, and are only applied when people do not comply with their obligations. Some of those obligations are very simple—turning up for an appointment. If there is a good reason, the sanction is not applied. It is very easy for people to re-comply, but there has to be some accountability when you are abusing spending taxpayers’ money.

Metiria Turei: Why does the Minister believe that it is OK for the Government to use poverty as a weapon against solo mums and their children, disabled people, and homeless people who have already lost everything?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I completely refute the assertions of that member.

Metiria Turei: How many people on a benefit have committed suicide in the last 5 years?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I do not believe that the MSD has ever collected those sorts of statistics.

Turei is on a roll. She also had this oped published: Children shouldn’t be punished for their parents’ choices

I also revealed that as a single mother and law student in the 1990s, I lied to Work and Income about how many flatmates I had.

Since then, I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of people who’ve revealed on social media, and who’ve told me in person, that my story was theirs too, or their mother’s, or someone else they know. It’s been unexpected, and very powerful.

Section 70A requires single parents to name the father of their child, or risk losing their benefit.

This particular sanction is currently being handed down to 14,000 single parents, almost all of whom are mums. They are having up to $28 per week per child taken off them. The victims of this punitive and nasty law are the more than 17,000 kids who are then being deprived of that money – money that could be spent on food, or school books, or for paying the power bill so they can keep the heater on in their bedroom this winter.

Why anyone believes that children should be punished for their parents’ choices is beyond me. And why is taking money from a mother and her kids the only option if the state wants to track down the father? The Government is essentially holding kids’ welfare to ransom.

I have no doubt that some women, mostly women, are put in very difficult situations. Cutting benefits for non-compliance is tough on some.

But a much higher benefit with a no questions, no responsibility approach is fraught with unintended and predictable consequences.

A comfortable house and a comfortable income for everyone is a great ideal, but if it results in too many people choosing not to work because there’s no need then our society could end up in a serious situation.

Turei’s confession risk, but will it be effective?

Yesterday Metiria Turei confessed that as a beneficiary she lied to WINZ about having flatmates to get more benefit – she says it was necessary to support her and her daughter as she studied law at university.

There has been a big and a very mixed reaction.

I think that it’s fairly well known that fibbing to WINZ isn’t uncommon, over flatmates or over whether you are living alone or with a partner.

I doubt that Turei is at much risk of being investigated and prosecuted for something from twenty years ago.

She will no doubt be supported on this by her supporters.

It’s much harder to judge whether she will increase votes for the Greens. She could and probably will both pick up and lose votes.

The media reaction so far has been largely sympathetic and therefore positive.

Isaac Davidson: Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei’s benefit fraud confession risky but effective

Turei’s personal story at least refocused attention onto what is an ambitious policy to address poverty in New Zealand. All benefits would be lifted by 20 per cent, beneficiaries would be able to earn more without being penalised, and the bottom tax rate would be cut.

So in the end, Greens spent their election-year conference talking not about Labour and NZ First, but about their core, defining issues – poverty and climate change. And that’s something that looked unlikely a few days ago.

Stacey Kirk: Metiria Turei makes a risky admission, politically and legally

She’s revealed that while she was a solo mother on the DPB, studying law and looking after a baby, she was also lying to her WINZ case worker about how many people she was flatting with, and so, what her accommodation costs actually were.

Turei says she has no idea how much she could be liable for, and whether or not the Ministry of Social Development could still launch an investigation, more than 20 years later.

Turei said she believes benefit dependency doesn’t exist, and very few set out to defraud the system – their circumstances, constructed by the state, give them little option.

The Greens co-leader’s story is one of determination and hard work, however. It would be a mean-spirited person who accused her of intentionally setting out to rip off taxpayers.

I think this is quite a contentious and complex issue. It is very tricky territory effectively approving of what she did as not ripping off the taxpayer.

As far as the party is concerned, this speaks to their core base. Where the Greens have tried for years to downplay their most left of leanings, play up their economic credentials, some core Greenies may have been getting concerned at just what the modern Green caucus was prepared to give up to get into Government.

The danger, however, will be whether this does work to scare some Labour voters – cautious of an alliance that could alienate most of middle New Zealand.

In Turei’s startling admission and vow, to significantly bolster the role of the welfare state, she’s counting on New Zealanders to not only voice concern over inequality, but to collectively do something about it that may go against the nature of their very core.

She’s effectively drawing an ideological line in the sand and asking New Zealanders: “Which side are you on?”

I don’t think it’s that simple. It’s very tricky suggesting that if you are hard up then breaking the law is justified.

Is burglary justified for poor people? A key difference is that one is just defrauding ‘the state’, while the other adversely impacts on individual people.

Dunedin City fraud

Otago Daily Times have combined information from a police investigation file released yesterday under an Official Information Act request and Deloitte’s full report (of their investigation) that was leaked to ODT last month.

Two escape Citifleet prosecution

A police report suggests Brent Bachop’s death and a right to silence may have helped two others escape prosecution following the Dunedin City Council’s $1.5 million Citifleet fraud.

The police investigation was launched last year after Deloitte found Mr Bachop, the former Citifleet team leader, to be at the centre of the decade-long fraud.

He was found to have sold 152 council vehicles, while pocketing proceeds, and police concluded in June there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone else in relation to the fraud.

But the police investigation file, released yesterday following an Official Information Act request, questions the actions of two other parties – a Dunedin car dealer and an unnamed woman – who were not charged.

There was evidence both parties had ”potential culpability”, one for receiving stolen goods and the other for conversion of a council vehicle.

However, the death of Mr Bachop – who was not named directly in the police report – and the right to silence meant both had a defence that could not be overcome, it said.

That conclusion came despite the actions of one of the parties – a salesman at an unnamed Dunedin car dealership – being considered ”highly suspicious”, the police report said.

The ODT goes on to explain the reasoning by the Police for not prosecuting, and they name the woman and the car dealership. They didn’t name the salesman himself but I’ve seen his identity revealed online previously.

While these two individuals have escaped prosecution the burden of their exposure as highly suspect will live with them.

And Dunedin City Council has a severely stained reputation on this as well. One hundred and fifty two cars not being accounted for over ten years shows extremely lax asset management. Several senior staff have resigned since this was publicised.

Stuff also reports: Police raised possibility of others involved in Dunedin City Council Citifleet fraud.

The police investigation followed a Deloitte’s report which suggested six potential areas of criminal activities: 152 missing vehicles, credit card/fuel card spending, purchase of a motorbike, council vehicle conversion and cashing cheques for refilling parking machines.

The subsequent police investigation was to determine if anyone other than Bachop was involved in fraudulent activity, and if anyone had culpability as to the offending, or as a receiver.

Police spoke to all but three of the people who bought one of the 152 vehicles. Those three people could not be traced.

“Almost without exception the purchasers of the vehicles stated that they believed (Bachop) was entitled to sell the vehicles and had no reason to believe that he was not forwarding their money onto council,” the report noted.

So it remains unknown whether any of the car purchasers had any inkling they were getting bargains at the expense of ratepayers or not.

And the ‘negligence’ of the Council is pointed out.

The report also concluded that the council’s finance department was “negligent” in the way they maintained the fixed asset register.

“There is no evidence that anyone deliberately turned a blind eye to the errors on the register, nor is there any evidence that anyone in the finance department would have any motivation to complicit in (name withheld) offending.”

Negligence is a mild description for a finance department that did not detect that an average of fifteen significant assets per year for ten years were disappearing from their books.

And this may not be all. The Council decided to not investigate further back than ten years due to difficulties in checking through records. What records? It’s basic stuff accounting for assets.

Brent Bachop took over management of Dunedin City’s vehicle fleet from someone who was referred to as ‘Arthur Daly’.

The known level of fraud and the lack of confidence that it was the only fraud is a very bad look for Dunedin.

We can only hope that the Council now has rock solid accounting and accountability.

Semi-support of Brent Bachop #2

While Dunedin City Council seems to want to bury and forget the Cityfleecing saga laying all the blame of Brent Bachop there are wider questions being asked at What if? Dunedin…

In response to the previous post – Semi-support of Brent Bachop #1 – ‘Phil’ comments:

Steve, I think that we all appreciate your comments on the boards.

My own impressions of Brent are similar to yours and others in many ways. Face to face, a nice guy. Not the sharpest knife out there, but he did appear to be trying to do the best for his department during my professional dealings with him. It is that side which makes the other side all the more difficult.

Most of us agree that Brent found himself in the middle of a pre-existing situation.

The Deloitte report says that they have been given information that DCC vehicles were sold to the public prior to Bachop taking over as team Leader of Citifleet.

In September the ODT reported Citifleet case goes further:

The Dunedin City Council’s alleged Citifleet fraud may go ”considerably further back” than first thought, and more cars – and more missing money – are likely to be involved, it has been confirmed.

The revelation came from council chief executive Dr Sue Bidrose and Mayor Dave Cull, who both told the Otago Daily Times the alleged fraud appeared to pre-date former Citifleet team leader Brent Bachop’s time in charge.

Mr Bachop took over Citifleet from former manager Bob Heath in 2003.

Dr Bidrose said the investigation could only easily examine computerised financial records dating as far back as 2003, as earlier paper records were more difficult – and costly – to trawl through.

However, evidence had emerged suggesting the alleged fraud pre-dated 2003, and had been going on ”for a long time”, she said.

”Everything would suggest to me it’s been going on since before 2003, which is when our financial systems enabled us to start looking at it.

”People have worked hard, or somebody’s worked hard, to cover it up,” she said.

Asked how far back it might go, she said: ”I don’t know, but people are reporting odd behaviour prior to 2003. We simply can’t quantify that.’

Mr Cull said he also understood the alleged fraud may have ”originated considerably further back than 2003”.

Mr Cull said he did not want to speculate on whether Mr Heath had also been involved in anything untoward, saying ”I wasn’t here then”.

However, others spoken to by the ODT have described the former Citifleet manager as the ”Arthur Daley of the city council”.

It was one of his enduring nicknames during his time at the council, and referenced the shady character from the long-running British television show Minder.

So there seems to have been a considerable “pre-existing situation” that a number of people were aware of.

What did the Council do about it? They appointed Heath’s apprentice to take over management of the fleet (and the fleecing).

Back to Phil:

I think that everyone also accepts that it would have been almost impossible for Brent to carry out what he did, for the length of time that he did, without some additional internal knowledge or support. By the same token, we would have to accept that his predecessor would also have required internal support.

So it is going to be impossible to know at what point Brent first became aware of the situation. What his rationale was in making his final decision, I guess we will never know. Maybe it was for selfish reasons, maybe it was so that it would be easier to explain away in years to come. No one will ever know for sure.

That no one with the motor trade industry even suspected that something may be wrong with the sale and purchase of DCC fleet vehicles borders on professional negligence, in my opinion.

Concerns have been expressed in the motor trade industry for years. The Council refused to listen.

While the company owners may not have been aware, those who signed off on the purchases had been working for enough years to know what felt right and what felt wrong. One can only hope that the corrective processes being carried out with the DCC are also being carried out by the dealerships involved as the public has to right to have confidence when dealing with both public and private professionals.

That’s why some dealers are demanding the culprits are named – see ODT Identify car yards – dealers.

I do maintain that those who sought out Brent within the DCC for purchase of a fleet vehicle, for the most part, genuinely thought they were getting a good deal from DCC. That’s why they went there in the first place.

There were many such deals available exclusively to DCC. Paint was cheap from a particular supplier, as were (I believed noted by the ODT) tyres. Ethically completely wrong, but legally it was all there in the employee handbook at the time.

In the time since this has come to light, there have been a number of people who have chosen to hide behind the legality curtain and have chosen to completely ignore the personal integrity issue of ethics.

As with the other discounts, we all knew that we were being offered something that wasn’t being offered to the public in general.

That is especially important when considering an item originally purchased with public funds. Disappointing, but now most people know who they are. I agree entirely that the case against those who made payments direct to Brent Bachop (and those people are both internal and external) is much simpler. A reasonable person would have questioned.

A lot of reasonable people deserve a number of questions answered, and about a lot more than Brent Bachop’s culpability.