Minor parties perform risky feats in two-ring circus video

PETER MEECHAM/STUFF

The Greens co-leader has admitted that she lied to WINZ about her living arrangements 20 years ago so that her benefits would not be cut.

OPINION: Roll on up, roll on up, to the greatest show in town. 

"Watch, as we lay it all on the line and admit to benefit fraud - it's time to tell the real story of beneficiaries being unfairly punished by the state", say the Greens. 

"So what? My family was born in a tent," says NZ First leader Winston Peters (really).

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters won't allow the Greens to steal all the headlines - reaching for the ...
PHIL WALTER/GETTY IMAGES

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters won't allow the Greens to steal all the headlines - reaching for the tried-and-true talkback policy of abolishing the Maori seats.

"But while you're under my big-top; one law for all - let's talk about getting rid of the Maori electorate seats." 

READ MORE:
Benefit raise, tax cuts for poorest and hikes for wealthy in new Greens policy 
Stacey Kirk: Metiria Turei makes a risky admission, politically and legally 
Metiria Turei: If MSD investigates, 'of course I'll pay the money back' 
Winston Peters delivers bottom-line binding referendum on abolishing Maori seats 

That's right, the election circus is coming to town and although the main event is still a few weeks away, the past weekend has proven an electrifying curtain raiser. 

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei has laid it all on the line - opening herself up to investigation and criticism in ...
PHIL WALTER/GETTY IMAGES

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei has laid it all on the line - opening herself up to investigation and criticism in the name of her party's welfare policy.

These two have been jostling for a while now, haven't they? Yes, and there will be more to come as they both fight for leverage, should the results fall that they end up negotiating to be part of the same Government.  

They are polling neck-and-neck, but Peters believes NZ First can come out on top - it's a dangerous place to be, against Peters when he has momentum, (as National were reminded at the 2014 Northland by-election). 

Peters has even (mischievously) floated the unlikely scenario Labour could dip to 22 per cent, meaning leader and list MP Andrew Little might not make it back into Parliament.

Peter Meecham/Stuff.co.nz

Winston Peters wants the nation to decide whether or not to abolish Maori seats - and if New Zealand has too many MPs overall.

Both the Green Party and NZ First held their election-year annual conferences in Auckland and both made bold plays to grab the headlines. 

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Really? What did they say? Green's co-leader Metiria Turei unveiled a major party policy to dramatically raise benefits and remove nearly all obligations and sanctions associated with receiving them. 

She also made a controversial admission that during her time receiving the Domestic Purposes Benefit in the early 90s, while studying law and looking after her baby, she lied to WINZ about her accommodation costs. 

Turei says it's her responsibility to be honest about her situation - that it's impossible to get ahead under the current regime, which "punishes people for being poor". 

But there are critics who say she should be paying the money back, and it's certainly a bold move that could backfire politically. 

How did Peters follow that? Well not to be outdone, Peters used his platform to rehash old - yet reliably controversial - policy to hold referenda on abolishing the Maori electorate seats, and reducing the number of MPs. 

His statements are less shocking - he's made them before. But that won't lessen their appeal to a core section of his voters. 

Yes, but what about Turei's comments? Well they carry some significant risk.

Legally, obviously, Turei could be liable for investigation by the Ministry of Social Development. In the event of that, Turei has said she would pay the money back. 

In fact, a ministry spokesperson said they "will not and cannot comment on individual cases, what we can say is, that when we are told that someone has taken advantage of the support available, we will look into it, through our normal processes". 

Politically however, the consequences could prove higher. She will likely gain sympathy from some quarters, for doing what she could to support her child and get ahead. 

It may even pull some Labour votes their way from the far left of the party - those struggling to see much of a difference to National.

However, Turei's admission coupled with a very left-wing welfare policy may prove detrimental to the whole.

This is what many Labour commentators, members and MPs, were worried about risking by being so closely tied to Greens. Some may now worry that they're seen as being tight with the party on the side of benefit fraudsters and scarper elsewhere.

This column is from Stuff's weekly politics email newsletter - Politically Correct. Sign up here to get the who, what, why of NZ politics in your inbox each Monday night. 

 - Stuff

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