Home > Social Issues, The Body Politic > Metiria Turei has started something

Metiria Turei has started something

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When Metiria Turei announced her resignation as co-leader of the Green Party, on the afternoon of 9 August, it could be said that the bullies had won.

The reactionary media pack – led chiefly by so-called “journalists” Patrick Gower, Mike Hosking, Duncan Garner, Tracy Watkins, and  John Armstrong – had joined the hunt. They scented blood. The prize?  Who would be first to announce her resignation. Watching and listening to Gower almost salivating as he put the verbal “ultra-violence” boot into Metiria was nauseating.

The political Right-Wing – led chiefly by ACT’s sole MP, David Seymour – not only clamoured for her resignation, but actively promoted rumour after rumour to undermine her reputation. Mischief-making falsities from the Right is done with malice and glee. Especially if the “fake dirt” can be thrown anonymously via social media.  Seymour’s role in this is even more jaw-droppingly hypocritical when one studies the lengthy list of former, disgraced ACT MPS – and there have been several, for such a minor party.

Various sundry vociferous critics from the “Moral Majority” – led chiefly by Joe and Jane Bloggs – pakeha, middle class; home-owning; privileged. They have never know hunger or having to choose between paying the rent or new shoes for the kids. For them, the mantra is “can’t afford to feed kids – don’t have them”.  (Which is code for “fuck off, we don’t want to see you poor people because it makes us feel guilty and we don’t like it. You’re in our Comfort Zone”.)

Fellow blogger, Martyn Bradbury described that relentless attack on Ms Turei thusly;

It is a grim reality of the double standards that are always used against the Left in politics. The truth is that this was a class attack by rich white male broadcasters who used their privilege to launch a character assassination against Metiria for daring to give beneficiaries hope that the way they are treated will be finally discussed.

And that is precisely the point. This was never about Metiria having to lie to Social Welfare when she was 23.

It certainly wasn’t about her so-called “electoral fraud”. Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders live overseas and are actively encouraged to vote in electorates they haven’t resided in for years. The Electoral Commission even encourages citizens to vote in electorates they are absent from;

Enrol and Vote from Overseas

Just because you are out of the country doesn’t mean you have to miss out on having your say in New Zealand’s elections.

[…]

Your electorate will be the one in which you last lived for a month or more. 

All quite legal.

But when a mischievous young person does pretty much the same thing as a prank, to support a joke political “party” – people lose their minds?!

Ms Turei was certainly not the first woman on the Left to be vilified. Before her, there was Sue Bradford. And before her, Fran Wilde. When Conservative New Zealand is threatened by women who “cross the line”, it reacts brutally.

Ms Turei not only “crossed the line”, she was an uppity brown woman who got lippy and insolent to The Established Order of  Things.  The Establishment slapped her down – hard.

As Stephanie Rodgers wrote for Radio NZ;

I will remember that for 30 years, no one really challenged the brutal reality of life for the poor in New Zealand. We lamented child poverty rates. We railed against increasingly draconian policies and re-brandings. But there was a gentlemen’s agreement that things weren’t that bad, the system did what it could, it was just so complicated, we can’t simply give people money, they’ve got rights but they have responsibilities too.

I will remember that as soon as someone – a Māori woman who survived poverty and didn’t forget where she came from – said ‘This is fundamentally wrong, and we must do better,’ she was finished.

The “weapon of choice” to take down this uppity woman was not Ms Turei’s political opponants in the National/ACT Party (though that stooge, Seymour, certainly did his masters’ bidding). That would be too obvious. New Zealanders with a vestigial sense of fair play would quickly recognise a political “hit job” carried out by the governing party. Especially with Paula Bennett apparently having a few of her own skeletons stashed away in her closet.

No, retribution would be exacted by New Zealand’s own “Media Elite” – prominent personalities from TV (Garner, Gower, and Hosking); print media (Tracy Watkin and John Armstrong), and the usual goon-brigade of semi-articulate radio “talkback” hosts.

Radio NZ was largely exempt from the media pack hunting down their quarry. Until 10 August,that is. On a programme called ‘Caucus‘, Guyon Espiner, Lisa Owen, and Tim Watkin discussed Metiria Turei’s lying to Social Welfare in her 20s.

Driving home this evening, I listened to the three of them discussing Metiria Turei’s lying to Social Welfare in the 1990s. I listened and listened, and became more incredulous and angry with each uttered word.

I switched off the car radio. Outside, the dismal grey sky occassionally sprayed sheets of rain over me as I and  thousands of other vehicles slowly moved along the  Motorway. “60K” the illuminated overhead signs demanded.

Sixty?

We should be so lucky! We did 30 or maybe  40 and were thankful for it.

Despite the gloomy grey sky, blanketed with bulging dark clouds, it was a damn sight more cheerful outside than in my  vehicle, having listened to three journalists who I usually hold in high regard. It was darker, gloomier, and worse inside than out.

For the first time ever, I had willfully switched off a Radio NZ political programme. Listening to three, privileged, well-paid, middle-class, pakeha professionals pontificating on the sins of a 23 year old young maori woman two decades ago was more than I could stomach.  Louder than ever, Herman Melville’s now-oft repeated quote bounced around inside my head;

“Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.”

Maybe I’m wrong and I don’t know the full extent of the lives of Guyon Espiner, Lisa Owen, and Tim Watkin – but that’s the point. We don’t know their lives.

The Inquisitors who have hounded and interrogated Ms Turei have done so with utter impunity as to how they lived their lives in their teens and twenties. Perhaps they lived their lives faultlessly.

Because – and here’s the point – the journalists and media personalities are not investigating anything Ms Turei did in her adult years, especially as a Member of Parliament.  They are scrutinising her past life.

It was a time when every single one of us cocks-up one way or another. (I certainly did. I haven’t worn my halo since puberty.)

Case in point; all three likened her transgression to lie to Social Welfare with Bill English’s rorting of the Ministerial Accomodation allowance in 2009;

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Note how then Dear Leader, John “Pull the Other One (pony tail)” Key phrased English’s deliberately rorting the system as an unfortunate distraction“.

At least Ms Turei never called her lying to Social Welfare as an unfortunate distraction“. Can you imagine the reaction of the Establishment Media?!?! They would have burned her alive at a stake on the Parliamentary forecourts.

But the point here is that Bill English was 48 when he rorted the Ministerial accomodation allowance.

Metiria Turei was 23.

Please Guyon Espiner, Lisa Owen, and Tim Watkin – tell us how they are remotely similar? If you can explain this to us, the Unwashed Masses, perhaps we can begin to glimpse your reasoning to hound this woman till she finally cracks and resigns.

Because I really, really, really want to understand.

The next complaint they had was the messy nature of Metiria Turei’s “back story”. Lisa Owen referred to “missing bits of her story” and “gaps” in her life.

Well, that’s a surprise, isn’t it?

That young people have messy lives that are often not tidy; not neatly packaged for future scrutiny; and often much of what we’ve done as young adults totally eludes our memories.

My own life has been “colourful” to put it mildly. Much of it I can recall. Much of it, I’ve forgotten or the details are hazy. If anyone asked me what I was doing when I was 23, I might offer basic facts – but certainly not details.

Most normal, rational, fair-minded people would find it  utterly unreasonable to expect the often chaotic lives of young people – especially those at the bottom of the socio-economic heap – to be recalled two decades later. Especially by an unrelenting media pack demanding minute details.

John Key’s “poor memory” was a standing joke in this country. The most famous example when he couldn’t recall the last time he had txt-messaged a far-right blogger. It had been only 24 hours previously. But he said he “forgot”;

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Screw that. We know he was a lying, manipulative con-man. But he got away with it because he ticked all the right boxes;

  • Establishment
  • Wealthy
  • Powerful
  • White
  • Male

On top of which, he was further rewarded with a knighthood. (I didn’t know liars were knighted.)

By contrast, Ms Turei was anything but but any of the above.

As  State House Tenant Advocate, Vanessa Kururangi, blogged recently;

If you’re brown, don’t dream of conquering mountains.
If you’re a woman, don’t you start having an opinion.
If you’re intelligent, play that shit down.
If you have stretch marks, you don’t stand a chance.
If you have aroha, don’t share it with others.
If you extend your arms, it had better not be for a handout.
If you have a voice, keep it zipped.
If you have a skeleton, best you bury the whole house, not just the closet.
Also, learn to lie.

“Learn to lie”. That last one is a lesson all our politicians have had beaten into their skulls by events  over the last two weeks. Lie like John Key when he “forgets” stuff. Tell the truth – and prepare to be excoriated.

None of which stopped Espiner, Owen, and Watkin from holding her to a higher standard than Key. None of them paused to think; “Hang on, are we really expecting too much from a young woman in her early 20s who lived like most young people who have no perception of long-term consequences?

They’ll deny it was a witch-hunt, of course. All of them will; Tracy Watkins, John Armstrong, Mike “I Love John” Hosking, Duncan Garner, and Patrick “I’m Holding The Line” Gower, as well as Espiner, Owen, and Watkin, and a few others who I cannot be bothered to list.  Otherwise known as the “Media Elite”.

But of course it was.

Meanwhile, stories of poverty continue in our daily media. There is much hand-wringing, soul-searching, and those same  Media Elite wanting answers to questions.

Metiria Turei may not have had the answers. But she knew the welfare system is broken and keeps people mired deeper in poverty, creating new cycles of despair, lack of hope, violence, hunger, disease…

Metiria Turei may not have revealed every intimate secret she had at the time. Why should she? Does poverty really mean having to give away your privacy so that privileged folk in the Middle Class can pass moral judgement on whether you are worthy of charity. That’s really going ‘Victorian’ on poor peoples’ asses.

Maybe it would be fairer if, when a Media Elite asks a poor person who they’ve been fucking recently, that Media Elite can swap his or her details at the same time?

Like this;

Patrick Gower: “So tell us, Wretched Poor Person, who’ve you been having sex with while on the DPB?”

Solo Mum: “I’ve had sex three times, Mr Gower, Sir, with the same person.”

Patrick Gower: “Away with you, Woman of Loose Morals!” [Turns to TV camera] “In the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to say I had sex with my partner, Mary the Merino, but no suck luck. It’s just me and my right hand, folks. Now back to the studio.”

Too much information, right?

But that’s how much the media demands to scrutinise the lives of the poor – especially those on welfare. As if receiving a state benefit demands surrendering privacy.

In case certain individuals from the Media Elite believe I’m being crude and unfair – damn straight I am. The last two weeks have shown me what the new standards are. I’m quite capable of playing by those rules.

On the day that Ms Turei announced her resignation I was thoroughly ashamed to be a New Zealander.  I saw the nasty, vindictive, petty-minded elements of our society. And the Media Elite played along; encouraging it; enabling it.

A day later, as I talked to grass-roots Green Party supporters, and read the comments of other people on social media, I began to hear the voices of the better nature of New Zealanders.

And you know what, my “friends” in the Media Elite? You can’t do a damn thing about it. As “Bill” from The Standard wrote;

Something’s happening right under our noses in New Zealand and a fair few people are missing it. When Metiria Turei highlighted the fact that New Zealand’s Social Security system is deployed as a weapon against poor people, 30 years worth of pent up frustration and/or remembered experiences from innumerable people suddenly found an outlet.

Metiria Turei has started something. You can’t stop it.

You can’t stop us all.

 

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Postscript – Minister for Sheer Hypocrisy Speaks Out

Former welfare beneficiary and now Deputy PM, Paula “Good Time Party Girl” Bennett recently admonished Metiria Turei, lecturing her on the Protestant work ethic;

“ I was often on benefit, I had jobs and I was always trying to get off when I was on, because I wanted to work and didn’t want to be on a benefit.”

Which seems in stark contrast to an earlier remark that Bennett made to NZ Herald journalist, Amelia Romanos, in February 2012;

“ Then I pretty much fell apart because I was exhausted. I went back on the DPB.”

So, Bennett wasn’t “always trying to get off when I was on, because I wanted to work and didn’t want to be on a benefit“. Sometimes she got a bit tired.

What was that you were saying to Ms Turei, Minister Bennett?

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References

Radio NZ:  ‘Outside opponents want to see us fail’ – Metiria Turei

Electoral Commission: Enrol and Vote from Overseas

Radio NZ: How Metiria Turei saved the Labour Party (audio)(alt.link)

Radio NZ:  I will remember Metiria Turei differently

Fairfax media:   Bill English buckles over housing allowance

Mediaworks/Newshub:  John Key ‘genuinely couldn’t recall’ text messages

Radio NZ:  Deputy PM on Turei’s benefit dishonesty

NZ Herald: Bennett rejects ‘hypocrite’ claims

Additional

The Spinoff:  The sins of Metiria, Bill and John – sense-checking the fact checkers

Other Bloggers

Gordon Campbell on the Turei finale

Bill:  Corbyn-esque NZ

Chris Trotter:  Avenge Metiria!

Vanessa Kururangi: “A Guide To Politics – Rules on How to Survive”

Curwen Rolinson:  Jacinda Effect > Metiria Affect – Why The Greens’ Polls Are Down

Previous related blogposts

Time to speak up for Metiria Turei!

Time to speak up for Metiria Turei! (Part Rua)

The most grievous betrayal of all – two so-called “Green” MPs who should know better

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 12 August 2017.

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  1. 17 August 2017 at 8:20 pm

    Well said Frank.a witch hunt.

    • 19 August 2017 at 10:15 pm

      Indeed, Gitsbeat. But history has a way of ultimately validating those who stood up for the dispossessed. I think Rosa Parks showed us that women of rare courage have a way of being remembered as heroic figures…

      • 19 August 2017 at 11:59 pm

        Yes.paula Bennett has many skeletons in her closet. Unfortunately by the time history catches up with the truth.the damage is done. I be
        live the money spent detecting benefit fraud compared to the amount spent detecting tax fraud is very disproportionate compared to the amounts involved.

        • 26 August 2017 at 6:30 pm

          Indeed, Gitsbeat. I suspect many of the tax defrauders are from “Middle New Zealand”. I know of one tradesperson in the Hutt Valley who banks, records, and pays tax on all transactions made by cheque or Eftpos. But anything cash is never recorded; no tax paid; and goes straight into his pocket. He has never (to my knowledge) banked a single cash transaction.

          Meanwhile, many of those same “upstanding members of society” will happily pillory Ms Turei.

          Hypocrisy in its most rotten state.

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