Metiria Turei: If MSD investigates, 'of course I'll pay the money back'
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei has indicated she would be willing to pay back the extra taxpayer funding she gained through lying about her living situation while collecting the Domestic Purposes Benefit.
Turei made a risky admission at the party's annual conference, while launching a major policy to dismantle the Government's welfare reforms, dramatically hike the benefit and remove nearly all sanctions and obligations to collect it.
Speaking to RNZ's Morning Report, Turei said it was her responsibility as an MP to be honest.
"If Winz does an investigation, of course I will pay the money back. And I expect that I will hear from them in time.
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"But I'm in a position where I can do that. What's happening now, is beneficiaries who are in the same position I was, are being investigated but these people are still on poverty incomes."
As the leader of a political party, Turei was on a base salary $175,398 plus gained an additional $1395 for every member of the 14-strong party - although that was likely split in half with co-leader James Shaw.
It's understood the Ministry of Social Development would have 12 months from Turei's admission to decide whether it wanted to investigate.
In launching the party's welfare policy, Turei used her own circumstances to build the case that the state "punishing people for being poor", was only keeping them down for longer.
Under the policy, there would be almost no obligation for beneficiaries to prove they were looking for work, not taking drugs, and showing up for appointments and courses.
Core benefits would also see a 20 per cent increase, and tax changes would lower the bottom tax rate to 9 per cent while all those earning more than $150,000 would pay 40 per cent tax.
The Greens would also change the Working for Families "in-work tax credit" to a Children's Payment that goes to all families who currently qualified for it. The current qualification thresholds would not be changed.
The poorest families could receive up to $72 a week extra as a result, on top of changes to tax thresholds and the minimum wage.
Turei's admission has been met with backlash and praise from political quarters.
Finance Minister and National Party campaign manager Steven Joyce said the policy was a "big backwards step".
"Particularly with the removal of obligations. The work that we've done over the last few years has reduced the numbers of people on a benefit and put more people into work.
"We're down to levels of the 80s and 90s, in terms of people who are dependent on a benefit. And that hasn't all been about the obligations, it's been about the economy as well, but the obligations are an important part of that."
Her admission of lying to keep hold of more of the benefit was "disappointing".
"And a lot of people will be disappointed by that. People that are working pay their taxes, but also people that are receiving a benefit.
"We don't always agree with the rules that operate, but most people operate within those rules and those that do will be disappointed to see she's not doing that," Joyce said.
Former Social Development Minister Paula Bennett introduced the welfare reforms of 2012. Her story as a former beneficiary who lifted herself out of her situation is also widely known.
"As with the vast majority of people on benefits I never deliberately lied to Work and Income.
"I understand the difficulty some people encounter when they have a change of circumstances, that's why I always encouraged Work and Income to be compassionate when people may have worked an extra hour or two, or had a change of living situation."
Labour leader Andrew Little has expressed sympathy for Turei. Saying while he did not condone lying to collect more money, it was "brave" for her to confess.
"No one ever got wealthy on a benefit."