Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On Paula Bennett’s decidedly strange welfare panel

April 20th, 2010

Last week when Social Development Minister Paula Bennett named the working group on welfare reform, she also cited in a footnote two experts that the panel could draw on for support – Professor Bob Gregory, an economics professor at Australian National University in Canberra, and Peter Saunders a former Director at the Centre for Independent Studies think tank in Sydney, and now relocated to Britain.

Saunders, if I can put this succinctly, is a nut job. He writes fiction as well as right wing opinion pieces for the press in Australia and Britain, even though it can be hard to tell the difference. Lets start with the opinion columns. In 1994, in his review of Charles Murray’s notorious book The Bell Curve on the alleged links between race and intelligence, Saunders concluded that social class, not race, was the real determinant of IQ :

Britain looks surprisingly like a society divided into classes on the basis of talent.[!] The pattern of social mobility is broadly consistent with what should happen in a perfectly open society with recruitment based solely on intelligence. The second conclusion is that we do not need to do IQ tests to find evidence supporting the link between social class and intelligence. The close approximation between what would happen under open competition and what does happen in Britain indicates that ability probably does coincide to a large extent with class positions. This lends strong support to Mr Murray’s claim of a link between low average intelligence and low class position.

The working class, in other words, are innately more stupid. No wonder more of them end up on welfare. Especially the sole parents. In this Sydney Morning Herald article published last year, Saunders gave passing mention to changes in sexual morality and family norms, before quickly moving on to finger the real culprit for the rise in solo parenting : the welfare system itself.

By making sole parenthood more financially viable, [former Australian Prime Minister Gough] Whitlam inevitably also made it more socially acceptable, even attractive, as a lifestyle choice. Today, single parenthood has become “normal”, and a key reason for this is that the welfare state supports, enables and endorses it. In this, as in other areas of welfare, when government pays money to people in need, it inevitably increases the number of needy people. This is the central paradox of the modern welfare state, and it helps to explain why the numbers have risen so dramatically.

I’ll spare you the nostalgic praise for Margaret Thatcher, for whom a smitten Mr Saunders continues to hold a serious torch. For an even better sense of this expert that Paula Bennett is urging her working group to consult, we should turn to a novel called The Versailles Memorandum, that Saunders published late last year. To put it kindly, the book is a mélange of right wing paranoia, and Islamophobia. It describes itself this way in its publishing blurb :

The year is 2046. Across the United States of Europe, millions live under Sharia law in Special Islamic Zones. Four European cities have been contaminated by radioactivity from dirty bombs. In the Middle East, Israel has been incinerated by nuclear war. In the East London Special Islamic Zone, Aisha Sharizi is on the run from the religious police after having an affair with a kuffar boy. In Sydney, the body of a former cabinet minister is fished out of the harbour…” etc etc

According to an admiring reviewer on, the book is “as important as Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in its warning of the fate that awaits us if we do not act to fight the tide of liberal-left thinking…” The hero of Saunders’ novel – an ageing history academic called Harold, has seen his marriage go west simply because of his sterling devotion to the details of his work :

Leslie, my ex-wife used to say this is why my career has never progressed…She ended up taking the kids to live with the Professor of Popular Culture, a fearsomely successful woman. Her ability to sniff out gender stereotypes in popular drama won her several rapid promotions, as well as a regular Monday morning slot on BBC Radio Fourteen,”

Women ! Not that Harold, working away on his obscure documents is entirely unobservant of the world around him :

A tall man in his late 20s approached me with a gleaming smile. His hair was greased back flat over his head, as seems to be the style nowadays and his face was tanned, suggesting a recent holiday in the sun.

He wore a black, open-necked shirt under a tightly fitting faded brown needle cord jacket that seemed several sizes too small for him. I tentatively offered my hand and he grasped it in a strong and confident manner. The sleeves of his jacket seemed several centimetres too short for arm, and the seams stretched taut as he flexed his muscles. You don’t get biceps like that dusting documents.

Indeed you don’t. And you don’t gigs like the one with Paula Bennett’s working group by being soft on welfare. The welfare review panel, as has been widely noted, also includes Catherine Isaac (Judd) the former Act Party president. What also seems extraordinary is that some members of the working group – eg Adrian Roberts and Enid Ratahi Pryor – are also current contractors with Social Welfare. As such, they are involved in business relationships with the same state welfare system whose rules they are being asked to evaluate, with a view to change. How can they help to devise solutions to welfare dependency without being seen to be generating more business for their own enterprises? Answer: they can’t.

For the record, Roberts is the founder and managing director of In-Work New Zealand. In the information sheet released by Bennett, Roberts is described as “a provider of employment services for people on benefit who have a repeated history of unemployment… specializing in getting solo parents into employment.”

In a 2006 article tracing the birth and evolution of his firm, Roberts explained the challenge in generating business from his managing of the welfare to work transitions:

Roberts says the business has been self-funding from the outset and turnover is now [in 2006] in excess of $3 million. However, he’s quick to point out that government contracts don’t offer money for jam. In-Work is among the three largest privately owned businesses operating in the sector, Roberts says, but competition is tough — from both other businesses as well as community organisations. And, ironically, as the economy has steamed ahead and unemployment levels dropped, In-Work has had to diversify into non-government work. Drawing on its extensive networks, it has started recruiting unskilled and semi-skilled workers for private-sector companies, offering its ongoing support as a point of difference in the competitive recruitment market.But the company’s future growth, says Roberts, lies in exporting. In-Work is tendering for a multimillion dollar contract with UK government agency Jobcentre Plus, and is also looking to the US and Canada.

So he’s been locked in competition for the work, has suffered when economic prosperity cut into welfare numbers, and has been keen to expand his welfare-to-work business internationally. Yep, that sounds like just the person to provide a dispassionate analysis of the rules for getting people from welfare and into employment. It would be easier to accept Roberts’ presence on the panel – as someone with expertise and a clear personal stake in the outcomes – if there were balancing voices (and equally valuable expertise) from the likes of Susan St John or Sue Bradford. There is no such balance.

Enid Ratahi Pryor, to take another example, has been engaged in Whakatane with Te Tohu o Te Ora O Ngati Awa (ie, Ngati Awa Health and Social Services. Te Tohu is a contracted provider in a pilot for the Whanau Ora welfare delivery scheme. As the NZ Herald wrote last November:

Te Tohu is one of two agencies piloting a new “high trust” contract merging seven of its eight Social Development Ministry contracts into one – a kind of halfway step towards what may eventually be a single “Whanau Ora” contract spanning health and education as well. But asked how Whanau Ora will affect the agency, general manager Enid Ratahi Pryor says: “We are already doing it.”

So Ratahi Pryor is already a key player in the Whanau Ora transition. Again, she has no distance from the situation she has been asked to evaluate and has an obvious stake in promoting an existing line on the welfare to work process. Another working group panel member, Sharon Wilson-Davis, has for the last 13 years been CEO of Te Tamaki ki Raro Trust.a long time social services contractor. Earlier this year, the Audit Office declined to investigate a claim by five Manakau City councillors that Tamaki ki Raro Trust had been awarded a $170,000 contract when it had actually been the losing bidder in the public competitive tendering process.

Five councillors had called for an urgent inquiry into the majority vote to override a competitive tender won by Challenge Trust and award it instead to losing bidder Tamaki ki Raro Trust.

Dissenting councillors Sylvia Taylor, who chairs the tenders panel, panel member Jami-Lee Ross, Daniel Newman, Bob Wichman and Michael Williams complained the about-turn “molested the integrity” of a competitive public tender process…But the auditor-general’s office has declined to investigate, saying the council made a decision it had the authority to make and which wasn’t “inconsistent with the council’s stated processes”.

Leaving aside the signs of ideological bias in the panel’s support personnel, the commercial contracts that some of the working group have with the system they have been asked to evaluate would appear to fatally compromise the process. The academics who have agreed to join the panel should be seriously re-considering their involvement.


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    1. 22 Responses to “On Paula Bennett’s decidedly strange welfare panel”

    2. By NZ majority on Apr 20, 2010 | Reply

      So its a claim to not be able to see or even identify real problems (like job creation)?Is ita declaration of the NZ’s govt priority -now to prey on the unprotected, unrepresented and the weak citizens of NZ?

      Most poor teenage single mothers with children are completely unaware of their rights and even if they were they cannot access them.

      This growing movement is away from democratic functions and coupled with a neo liberal think tank without the ability to problem solve .

      This new “working group” could have just as easily been called “justification for terminating the govt core social responsibilities”.

    3. By Sean on Apr 20, 2010 | Reply

      Good God, Saunders is utterly inappropriate. I wish I could claim to be surprised.

      Why are you the only person to spot this Gordon? Why hasn’t this been brought up by the print media?

    4. By Sean on Apr 20, 2010 | Reply

      And I have to ask – Does Harold end up having an affair with the muscular tall man in the tight clothes?

    5. By Paul Laa Baanet on Apr 20, 2010 | Reply

      No Sean it ends up that Harold only likes sheeple.
      And just like this “Working” Group Harold keeps his deviance under wraps so he can sneak up and grab the sheeple with his firm biceps and drench ‘insurance spunk’ down their innocent unsuspecting throats.

    6. By Lesley on Apr 20, 2010 | Reply

      There are two Peter Saunders. I saw them both presenting at the same conference about ten years – consequently the last time welfare beneficaries were in the firing line of national ministers of the crown. One presented a well argued paper based on empirical research; the other simply raved – a startling nonsensical performance made even more compelling by the spectacle of what appeared to be a foaming mouth! One Peter Saunders was a well respected Sydney policy academic; the other working for a so-called ´think tank’….

    7. By Stuart Munro on Apr 20, 2010 | Reply

      The problem with National- as exemplified by Bennett, is that notwithstanding Labour’s uselessness, many gnats are simply unfit to govern. Bennett is a prime example, she should be not entrusted with a trivial administrative function, much less an area of significant social policy.

      Out with the bimbo – she’s starting to make Christine Rankin look like a better option. Or Sarah Palin.

    8. By dave brown on Apr 21, 2010 | Reply

      This is a less competent attempt to attack welfare dependency than that of the last years of the Shipley government. The ideological bluntness today reflects the National Govenment’s large majority and flagrant abuse of power in pushing the new right agenda.
      “Beyond Dependency or Beyond Capitalism”

    9. By Unruh Lembert on Apr 21, 2010 | Reply

      I’m unfortunately on a job seeker’s allowance. winz is getting more difficult to deal with. always a substandard group of subintelligent bureaucrats, now they seem to have been given more leeway to abuse people. It’s a disgusting experience to deal with these abusers, and there is no recourse as abusers Paula and John are the primary movers.

    10. By Client on Apr 21, 2010 | Reply

      And I can confirm your statement regarding A.Roberts. His company likes to clip the ticket of those poor brown people that can’t help themselves. Shoe-horn them into dead-end jobs knowing that they’ll be back on his books again after he’s clipped MSD’s ticket! Three million bucks a year plus!! No investment in his staff, terrible managers that like to intimidate & abuse staff whenever they’ve had a serve from the “captain”. Probably with words like ” I’ve got a holiday in europe to pay for”. Just the kin of guy you want as an advisor on a welfare team! Yeah right!!

    11. By WellyView on Apr 21, 2010 | Reply

      We are starting to see a consistent pattern with this Govt and its one of appointing vested interests onto boards, getting them to do reviews and generally letting the foxes into the hen house.

      We’ve see it with the money big boy Brownlee is giving the mining companies to drill holes and ‘evaluate’ the minerals in our national parks and conservation land.

      We’ve seen it with all the ex-national mp’s being appointed to every board and review panel going, Wyatt Creech being one such example
      It’s jobs for the boys and girls who say the right things and the end result is a whole lot of resources and money going to a small group of the ‘right people’.

      Actually it brings to mind a phrase about ‘this being the most corrupt government we’ve ever had’ .

      Can anyone remember who leveled that rather inflammatory accusation at the last Govt ?.
      Because this present lot seem to have ramped up the abuse of power and on most counts seem worse.

    12. By Drum on Apr 21, 2010 | Reply

      We are being buried in ex ministers and associated career bludgers just, and here’s the irony, like some of people they are about to preside over. Reform by this minister is to do what she is told and put on a circus while at it. I just feel a little sick because we have to pay for it.. and going on the above, we have to listen to a bunch of self serving individuals. How many times has this sector been under the grill? and what for? to change the letter head? Welfare policy at it’s best, sideways.. no paradigm shift is forecast, because it just does not pay, from the top down to the bottom.. we need robust, bold and independent dialogue if this review is to have any meaning.

    13. By five minutes to midnight on Apr 21, 2010 | Reply

      Do you really think the timing for welfare reform is right in a recession? Outsourcing jobs and raising the costs of education( brain draining)is this also the thing that will help our economy now or in the future?

      Our social policies cannot keep being drafted by unskilled fiction writers and nutters for private profits.

      NZ cannot keep using a business model to socially engineer.

      You want bold…Universal Basic Income.

    14. By Keith Henderson on Apr 22, 2010 | Reply

      “social class, not race, was the real determinant of IQ”
      “we do not need to do IQ tests to find evidence supporting the link between social class and intelligence.”
      So in Aotearoa, where there is a strong correlation between race and social class, Saunders is bound to conclude that race is the determinant of IQ. If he is not a racist, he is too ignorant of social realities in Aotearoa to be advising our government. Either way it is a disgrace that he is appointed to do so. Why are the Maori Party acquiescing to such crap? They shouls be demanding Appaller Bennet’s resignation.

    15. By Lazy Susan on Apr 22, 2010 | Reply

      Great piece Gordon. Now anyone who has on their CV “a former Director of the Centre for Independent Studies” should be treated with a great deal of suspicion.

      The proliferation so called “think tanks” with innocuous sounding names is the scourge of modern politics. They are no more than well funded lobby groups pushing a usually unpalatable agenda. All forms of media buy into this and roll out so called “experts” from these groups without any mention of who funds them. It’s the modern extension of the funding of University “research” departments by organisations with a barrow to push.

    16. By Jum on Apr 22, 2010 | Reply

      These advisers are all signed off by John Key.

      He is not Mr Nice, middle of the road. His heart is in Hide.

      Lazy Susan – good comment. There is, however, little comment anywhere dragging these shadow groups and their extreme rightwing goals into the light of day by any media. What can we do about that. Not everyone reads Gordon’s blog.
      Sorry Gordon.

    17. By Drum on Apr 22, 2010 | Reply

      @five minutes to midnight
      Reform now, reform later or reform at all was not what I was driving at. If it has to be done once again, then get it right and that starts with the review panel. I’m all for better delivery systems but this panel are a bunch of political self serving animals and true reform seems to be the last thing on their minds.

    18. By five minutes to midnight on Apr 23, 2010 | Reply

      Drum we agree on the incompetence factor of the panel but not on the “If it has to be done again” .
      I just don’t think we agree on one thing and that is what the real intentions of the new ‘working group’ are.
      You believe them and I think its a distraction comprised of further vilification – economic stunt #304 ‘scapegoating beneficiaries’ (you can’t feel sorry for people living in poverty if you can blame them for govt economic plan) simultaneously increase energy costs, raise interest rates,cut core services, outsource jobs and raising GST etc .
      They need A grade nutters on this one.
      Socializing welfare onto a smaller base while creating the moist slimy conditions needed for market penetration by unemployment insurance .

    19. By drum on Apr 24, 2010 | Reply

      five minutes to midnight.. until this review is released I am not for or against anything this reform panel comes up with. I have nothing to base any criticism on. I ‘believe’ in an independent panel and process that’s what I am interested in, as per the article. All other government policies you listed or alluded too are not my concern in this instance.
      ‘You believe them and I think its a distraction comprised of further vilification’ I don’t have to believe, I observe and I see the same policy releases you do.. interpretation of those policies is a different matter.

    20. By five minutes to midnight on Apr 24, 2010 | Reply

      Yes Drum our interpretation of this Welfare ‘reform’ is different.
      I am glad you (and Bennett) believe in the panel which I observed lacks “independence & robustness’ .
      You can’t get anything from a lemon but lemon juice no matter how hard you squeeze it.

      Our economic system is interdependent –
      and that’s why the other policies were mentioned under comments regarding the “welfare reforms” nutter panel.

    21. By peterlepaysan on Apr 24, 2010 | Reply

      Well the nats always said they would not do anything in their first term to upset the natives.

      They are certainly setting up the scene for mayhem post 2011.

      Richardson, Shipley, Boag, Brash et al must be wetting themselves with giggling in anticipation with what is to come in the following seven years.

    22. By Howard Bloom on Apr 25, 2010 | Reply

      I don’t care to waste my anger on past overpaid pubic serpents that thought being a public servant is all about self interest and profiteering.

      Bennett lacks a systemic approach to welfare reform outcomes, goals and priorities.
      Unless her stated priority is one of delivering vague unmeasurable outcomes linked with cuts of service delivery and more fragmentation and not on PUBLIC service delivery.
      Its management without diagnostic controls.

    23. By zeb on Apr 27, 2010 | Reply

      @ Paul Laa Baanet
      HaaaHaaaha roflmao + every other p!ssing myself laughing acronym that has ever existed or will exist

      You sir are the love child of Oscar Wyle and Mark Twain
      Kudos. Kudos. Kudos

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