Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The latest stoush: Paula Bennett (Cabinet Minister) vs Natasha Fuller (private citizen)

In summary,
1) The Training Incentive Allowance (TIA) is going to be scrapped for tertiary-level courses (16 Jun 2009),
2) Ms Fuller spoke out about how TIA would be useful for her situation (19 Jul 2009),
3) Hon. Bennett released details about the specific monetary assistance the state is supporting Ms Fuller (27 Jul 2009).

After step 3, Ms Fuller has been "villified" up and down the country for saying how the TIA could have been useful for her situation.

So far I can identify two issues going on in the contretemps.

The Privacy Act (1993).

The most outstanding of the issues is that the Cabinet Minister did not consult a privacy lawyer before deciding to release the details of a private citizen.

IANAL and so far I have only read this: "Privacy lawyer calls Bennett's actions unethical" (source: The lawyer is John Edwards [disclaimer: his website states "Quite a lot of my work is in the areas of information law, a niche which includes the Privacy Act...governing the collection, use and disclosure of official personal and confidential information."]

Others better than me has pointed out page 117 of the Cabinet Manual:
8.60 The disclosure of information about an individual by Ministers is governed by both the Official Information Act 1982 and the Privacy Act 1993.
(c) A release by a Minister of information about an individual, in the absence of a request for it, is governed by Principle 11 of the Privacy Act 1993. That principle allows only limited situations in which it would be appropriate to disclose personal information; for example:
- if the disclosure is directly related to the purposes for which the information was obtained;
- if disclosure is authorised by the individual concerned; or
- if disclosure is necessary to prevent a serious threat to public health or the life of another individual.

I'm comfortable with that. Not.

If the revelation of private information by the Powers That Be isn't shivery enough to activate the inklings of unintended consequences into your brain (like, dur, 'beneficiary bashing' up and down the country, aka the "absolutely horrific debate that has become very personalised and ugly" [Bennett]) (doh!), then how about the fact that the Prime Minister is "comfortable" with his Minister's actions.

Oh really? including the unintended consequences of beneficiary bashing, and the fact that people on the dole continue to be heuristically labelled "bludgers"? even in these recessionary times with more and more people going on the dole? (...provided they do not live with a domestic partner who is employed above the minimum wage...but that's another issue.) Isn't divisive politics just a way to gain power, instead of solving the problem?

The Prime Minister is comfortable with an unethical Minister...I believe I'm uncomfortable with that. I would have preferred an uncomfortable Prime Minister who gave his Minister a third chance. (Her first chance was, iirc, when she wrote letters in 2007 and 2008 in support of a gang member and didn't tell her Prime Minister until she had to in 2009.)

Comparative pay and entitlements: Member of Parliament vs Domestic Purposes Benefit.

Hon. Bennett revealed Ms Fuller receives $715 net a week to care for her family in Cambridge - three children aged 1, 9, 10 (two who have high medical needs) and herself.

Hon. Bennett has been reticent regarding her own salary and allowances (which, like the DPB, is also paid by the tax payers).

I tell ya, it wasn't all that easy to find the guidelines for the salary for Paula Bennett. I didn't know very much about her. But now I know she is a Cabinet Minister, and not a Minister outside Cabinet. And I know that the MPs pay and salary is labelled "MPs' pay and entitlements" or "MPs' salary and allowances" (for the next time I want to do an internet search of how much these public servants are paid).

The link to the MPs salary information is The current information is expired since 30 June 2009. The new one isn't up yet.

Using this outdated page 3 of the Parliamentary Salaries and Allwances Determination, I think this Cabinet Minister is categorised as a "member of the Executive Council who is a Minister of the Crown holding 1 or more portfolios, but who is not a member of Cabinet" = $243,700. Her expenses allowance could be $14,800.

I'm not at all sure how relevant all the data is to the discussion, but it is all available on the internet.

(yeah there is more than one issue. I wish I have enough nous to understand everything going on.)

[edited 30 Jul 2009]

Other links used to research this post
"The letter showed Mr Hesketh [Human Rights Commission's director of human rights proceedings] had criticised the minister's decision to release Ms Fuller's details. He said the leak was wrong and a breach of Ms Fuller's privacy."