For mum and dad: Metiria Turei set to unveil welfare policy '15 years in the making'

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei remembers growing up poor and it is set to shape a major new policy she's set to announce.
CAMERON BURNELL/STUFF

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei remembers growing up poor and it is set to shape a major new policy she's set to announce.

Metiria Turei's dad spent the last days of his life living in the back of his van.

That was his life before he died of a stroke aged 48 – just six months older than Green Party co-leader is now. 

She says he was never shown respect by the state. Set to announce a major Green Party welfare policy on Sunday, Turei said it had been a lifetime in the making. 

That life began in Palmerston North.

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"Dad was a labourer, he left school at 15. He went to Hato Paora but spent a lot of time working on the farm there, rather than studying.

"My Mum was living independent at 14 as well." Turei said. 

"We were broke, so my parents had periods where they were living in a car, where they were living in caravans, where they were living in people's houses. So we spent a lot of time kind of moving around a bit too – both for work and housing."

But there was optimism, and Turei and her sister very quickly learned their family was a magnet for when times got tough. 

"But it was the 70s and people at that point, and particularly young Maori, were wanting to get involved in the modern New Zealand that was emerging."

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She said for many young Maori it was difficult because there was still some overt racism.

"My parents for example, couldn't get houses unless mum went and talked to the landlord and they never saw Dad.

"And they did get kicked out of one house because dad opened the door to the landlord accidentally.

"They were kind of trying to live this modern life, that was supposed to be kind of equitable and new but still had a lot of racism thrown at them, Turei said. 

Then the 80's arrived, more specifically the "Rogernomic" reforms introduced by former Labour Prime Minister David Lange and Finance Minister Roger Douglas in 1984.

Turei said labouring jobs became scarce for her parents, so travel was required to pursue work.

"He found it very difficult to find, and he spent quite a lot of time unemployed on PEP schemes."

The Project Employment Programme (PEP) - a type of "work for the dole scheme" with extra pay - saw a number of unemployed given work carrying out public service projects. Anything from building public infrastructure like carparks and playgrounds, to research at some universities. 

For Turei's dad, it was just like working a proper job.

"So they were unemployed and we were poor, but they still felt like they had this constructive useful thing to do and were treated with some respect because it was managed like an ordinary work gang that you might find at the Ministry of Works."

Government "experiments" like those of the 80s and early 90s, and the current Government's investment approach were "ruining people's lives". 

The experiences of Turei's family pushed her into politics and Sunday's policy announcement is promised to be "bold" and perhaps even controversial. 

"It will be families focused, and it will be about treating people with dignity," Turei said. 

Punishing people "for being poor" was something she said still happened today, and would be in her sights.

Benefit sanctions imposed on beneficiaries who failed to meet work obligations was one area the Greens could target. 

Those were introduced by the Government under former Social Development Minister Paula Bennett, in a major body of reform in 2012. 

Some form of universal child payment could also form part of the Green policy. 

Turei said the experience of her father, and others like him, had shown that generally treating the unemployed like it was their fault they were there, only further kept people down. 

"From anybody involved in the state that was involved in his life - he was treated like a criminal, like he didn't matter.

Turei's policy has been 15 years in the making, and will be the set piece at the party's two-day conference.

On Saturday, Shaw announced a policy to establish a $1 billion Green Infrastructure Fund, to finance a Green economy and invest in projects that will help toward the goal of making New Zealand Carbon neutral by 2050. 

Turei said her own policy, will set some clear stakes in the ground, while laying out a timeline for further reform down the track. 

"It seems to me, totally irresponsible to not do what we can to make people's lives better."

 - Sunday Star Times

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