Armstrong: Turei’s benefit fraud admission stinks

John Armstrong is scathing of Metiria Turei’s confession about benefit fraud, and also how she has handled it.

1 News: The timing of Metiria Turei’s benefit fraud admission stinks – as does her handling of it

Those standing alongside the Greens’ co-leader might like to ponder another possible motive for her coming clean about her past — one which has little to do with the debate surrounding benefit policy and social deprivation.

Turei has made little secret of her ambition to be in charge of the Social Development portfolio in a Labour-Greens coalition government.

Were she to become Social Development minister following September’s election and had she not disclosed her misleading of Work and Income, the Social Development ministry’s operational arm, the prime minister (whoever that might yet turn out to be) would have no choice but to sack her were those indiscretions to have become public.

Her honesty would be refreshing were the timing not just a few weeks out from an election. That stinks – as does the manner in which she has handled the matter.

It is difficult to reach a fair conclusion when it comes to casting moral judgment on her behaviour.

Harsh, but Armstrong has a point.

Even now it would be difficult for Turei to take on the Social Development portfolio if there is a possible investigation of her outstanding.

If she became minister would she condemn anyone else doing what she did, or would she signal that it is ok if the benefit recipient felt they needed it?

Turei has volunteered little information.

She has said she and her child lived in five different flats with various people while she completed her law degree. In three of those flats, she had extra flatmates who paid rent. She did not inform Work and Income for fear of her benefit being cut.

Her obvious reluctance to provide more detail is nothing short of a disgrace. It is also very telling.

In the absence of more detail — most crucially how much money she received to which she was not entitled — it is incumbent on her as an MP to put things right — at least as much as can be done so.

She should have fessed up a lot earlier, apologised and paid back her best estimate of how much she owed to Work and Income.

There was probably never going to be a good time to sort it all out but Turei’s timing now does raise a number of questions.

To be fair to her, what she did during her time on the domestic purposes benefit cannot be undone. Moreover, everyone has done things they later regret.

There is sympathy for her past plight and respect for her efforts in pulling herself out of it. That is why other MPs from other parties have been very careful not to be seen to be knocking her.

The absence of outcry from political quarters, however, assists her case that she was the victim of a harsh welfare regime.

Blaming the system for her cheating of the system enables her to absolve herself of all responsibility for her misleading the system.

It allows her to play the martyr. But she is doing so in a manner which cuts right across another responsibility — that as an MP she set the best example possible.

Saying that she will only pay the money back if Work and Income demands it hardly fulfils that obligation.

She has ignored the politics of gesture. That can reap big dividends. In refusing to make the right gesture, she has foregone an opportunity to redeem herself.

That shows extremely poor political judgement on her part. But it gets worse.

She endeavoured to turn her breach of the law into a launching pad for her party’s welfare policy. That is audacious. It is also the height of arrogance. It is also to enter very dangerous territory. It implies you are above the law. It says it is okay to break the law in order to try and change it.

It is hard to imagine how someone with Turei’s political experience could be employing an election strategy as flawed as the one she is running.

It is becoming even harder to understand why her colleagues are still giving her such free rein to keep doing so.

They aren’t into the old school politics that Armstrong worked with.

Again, this is harsh from Armstrong, but it doesn’t seem unfair to me.

Social trial successes despite Herald emphasis on failure

The headline of a Herald article on social trials (by Nicholas Jones) screams failure, but the cup is only 1/3 empty. There has been 11 successful trials and only 5 failures.

5 ‘social sector trials’ to be abandoned

Five experimental “social sector trials” won’t be continued after poor results.

At the sites, funding for youth services run by Police and the ministries of education, health, justice and social development was handed over to local communities.

But there was over twice as many successes as failures:

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley announced today that 11 out of 16 trials had produced good results and would now be transitioned to new “community-led models”.

“The trials brought together decision-makers at a local level, such as mayors, stakeholders and agency representatives to collaborate on how social services were funded and delivered. They were most successful where there was good co-ordination from those involved.”

Back to the problems:

But trials in five sites will be ended at June 30 – in Whakatane, Rotorua, Waikato, South Taranaki, and Wairarapa.

Those trials have been running since July 2013, but results meant continued funding could not be justified.

The Ministry of Social Development said, broadly, the problems with the scrapped trials were that in some areas other programmes were already operating that resulted in “crowding”, and when trials covered large geographic areas they had “been difficult to embed”.

It’s disappointing to see most emphasis in this article put on the smaller number of failures.

There can even be positives in the failures.

It’s good to see that the Ministry is prepared to try different things, then to continue with those that are successful and learn from and scrap the ones that haven’t been successful.

Major changes for CYF

Today Social Development Minister Ann Tolley announced major changes to the way Child, You and Family will care for vulnerable children.


It’s a year since I announced that there would be a complete overhaul of Child, Youth and Family, led by an independent expert panel chaired by Dame Paula Rebstock. Since that time the panel has delivered a compelling case for change in its interim report, while just before Christmas it delivered its final business case, which included 81 recommendations.

Today I want to talk you through the Government’s response to that final report, and the major changes that will take place over the next few years in care and protection, as we take radical steps to provide a system that works for the long-term needs of children, and that supports staff and caregivers.

There is no doubt that we need wholesale change.

In its first six months the panel took an in-depth look at the current system and the long-term outcomes for vulnerable young people.

A study found that by the age of 21, for children with a care placement who were born in the 12 months to June 1991:

  • Almost 90 per cent are on a benefit
  • Around 25 per cent are on a benefit with a child
  • Almost 80 per cent do not have NCEA Level 2
  • More than 30 per cent have a Youth Justice referral by age 18
  • Almost 20 per cent have had a custodial sentence
  • Almost 40 per cent have had a community sentence

The panel concluded that the agency is not effective in intervening early to provide the support that these children and young people deserve, and that demand for CYF services has increased as a result of children re-entering the system on multiple occasions.  64 per cent of the 61,000 children notified to CYF in 2014 had a previous notification.

The average age of children placed with family is 7 to 8 years old and they have already had an average of 7 to 8 care placements by this stage.

We already knew from a previous workload review that around fifty per cent of staff time is spent on administration.

On top of this the panel found that:

  • less than 25 per cent of CYF staff work directly with children in need of care and protection, and
  • Less than 1 per cent of staff have a dedicated professional support role, such as psychologists and therapists.

Quite simply the current system is not delivering effectively for vulnerable children and young people. It is not allowing our social workers to do their job, which should be spending most of their time supporting vulnerable children and families.

So that’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news. We are going to do something about it.

Transformational change is going to take place.

She goes on to detail the changes that are being suggested.

NewsHub summarises: Five things you need to know about the overhaul:

  • The new system will focus on five core services – prevention, intensive intervention, care support services, transition support and a youth justice service aimed at preventing offending and reoffending
  • Legislation will go through Parliament this year to raise the age of state care to a person’s 18th birthday, with transition support considered to the age of 25. Cabinet will also look at raising the youth justice age to include 17-year-olds.
  • The new model will mean CYF staff can directly purchase vital services like health, education, trauma and counselling, instead of having to negotiate with providers
  • Reducing over representation of Maori children is a high priority. This will mean building strategic partnerships with iwi groups
  • The new model, instead of being scattered across multiple agencies, will mean one agency responsible for the long term care of vulnerable children. It will be in place by March 2017

A good analysis from Stacey Kirk:Q+A: What does the CYF overhaul mean for vulnerable Kiwi children?

Last year’s: Interim Report of the Expert Panel: Modernising Child Youth and Family (PDF)

Final Report of the Expert Panel on Modernising Child Youth and Family

The Government has announced major state care reforms and a complete overhaul of Child, Youth and Family to improve the long-term life outcomes for New Zealand’s most vulnerable population. The Minister for Social Development, Hon Anne Tolley, says that the whole system needs to be transformed if we are to give vulnerable children and young people the protection and life opportunities they deserve.

“After making a very clear case for change in its Interim Report, the Expert Panel advising me on the radical overhaul of Child Youth and Family has delivered a final report with a bold set of recommendations for a new child-centred system which the Government is taking action on,” says the Minister.

The package of reforms, which is expected to take up to five years to be fully implemented, will include:

  • A new child-centred operating model with a greater focus on harm and trauma prevention and early intervention. It will provide a single point of accountability for the long-term wellbeing of vulnerable children, with the voice of the child represented in planning and strategy.
  • A social investment approach using actuarial valuations and evidence of what works will identify the best way of targeting early interventions, to ensure that vulnerable children receive the care and support they need, when they need it.
  • Direct purchasing of vital services such as health, education and counselling support to allow funding to follow the child, so that young people can gain immediate access to assistance.
  • A stronger focus on reducing the over-representation of Maori young people in the system. Currently, 60 per cent of children in care are Maori. Strategic partnerships will be developed with iwi groups and NGOs.
  • Legislation this year raising the age of state care to a young person’s 18th birthday, with transition support being considered up to the age of 25. Cabinet has also agreed to investigate raising the youth justice age to 17.
  • Legislation establishing an independent youth advocacy service to ensure that the voices of children and young people are heard in the design of systems and services.

Intensive targeted support for caregivers, including some increased financial assistance and better access to support services. For the first time, National Care Standards will be introduced so that there is a clear expectation for the standard and quality of care in placement homes.

The system will focus on five core services – prevention, intensive intervention, care support services, transition support and a youth justice service aimed at preventing reoffending. Delivery of these services will require a suitably trained workforce, with a requirement for a greater range of specialist skills, to better prevent harm and trauma.

The Report notes that CYF staff, agencies and the Government can’t do this in isolation. Communities need to be engaged and play their part. Work is already underway on attracting and retaining a wider pool of quality caregivers, who will receive increased support to take on such an important role.

‘You don’t beat babies’

Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley on the basics of child abuse:

“You can pass all the laws you want, but everyone knows, you don’t beat babies.”

“Families need to take responsibility..neighbours – pick up the telephone…the police can’t be in every household.”

Source – @PaulHenryShow

There’s three important messages here (not that they should need emphasising):

  • ‘You don’t beat babies’
  • ‘You don’t beat babies’
  • ‘You don’t beat babies’

Audio of the interview with Anne Tolley: What can be done about New Zealand’s horrific child abuse figures?

Silence on the Sepuloni case

Last week (25 February) it was announced that charges had been laid against the mother Labour’ spokesperson for social development Carmel Sepuloni. Carmel was stood down from the role.

The Labour Party has stood down its social development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni – following charges of benefit fraud being laid against her mother.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little said the charges against her mother meant Ms Sepuloni had a conflict of interest in the social development portfolio.

Mr Little said she would remain Junior Whip and remain at number seven on his front bench.

Ms Sepuloni had assured him she did not know her mother was facing charges until today, he said.

Yesterday the court case was reported, which included guilty please from Sepuloni (senior) and her partner.

Mother of Labour MP Carmel Sepuloni admits $100K benefit fraud

The mother of Labour MP Carmel Sepuloni and her partner have admitted 23 benefit fraud charges totalling nearly $100,000.

Beverley Anne Sepuloni and partner Michael Charles Rangi entered guilty pleas to the charges, committed over more than a decade until last year, when they appeared before Judge Allan Roberts in the New Plymouth District Court today.

The charges arose from neither defendant informing government agencies that they commenced a relationship in October, 2003.

The court heard that Rangi was on the dole and also getting an accommodation supplement, while Sepuloni was on a sickness benefit and getting an income-related rental rate for her Housing NZ house.

Sepuloni faced 19 charges of defrauding the State for a total of $33,856 and Rangi four charges totalling $62,351.

Carmel Sepuloni will remain stood down from the social development role until after sentencing but is expected to be reappointed.

When last week’s news broke there was a post at The Standard – Carmel stood down for possible conflict of interest.

The prompt action of Andrew Little in standing Carmel down was mentioned, and I agree that that was a refreshingly good look.

However many comments were trying to blame Paula Bennett for making the charges public – but they would obviously have come out at last week’s and this week’s court appearances anyway. Sepuloni is not a common name.


Pete got the wrong end of the stick. Obviously the thought was that perhaps Paula Bennett had been advised of an upcoming prosecution, and seeing a fairly unusual name made further enquiries. If that is the case (and it may of course not be), I hope the reporter does let Carmel know where the information came from . . .


I think it’s also possible that Bennett ordered some digging on the Sepuloni name, and went after the mother.

They went to the extent of talking of using OIA’s to try and find blame. lprent:

Of more interest, as pointed out above, will be when the political arm of the National party became aware of it from the WINZ staff, and who they told. After all we have the horrible Paula Bennett and her attitudes to spreading private information from WINZ to reporters as an example.

OIA time…

There were many comments on themes of National and Bennett being to blame for something.

And there were also assumptions of innocence. Murray Rawshark:

Standing down is the right thing to do in these circumstances, even though her mum is most likely innocent. Many cases of so-called benefit fraud arise because WINZ are so useless and incompetent.

But yesterday since the guilty verdicts were announced what has been talked about on this at The Standard?

Nothing. Nada. Funkstille. Silence.