Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Gerry Eckhoff: Greens Co-Leader

Casting stones at those who are deemed to have committed indiscretions, minor offenses or crimes in this imperfect world of ours is never a particularly smart move. However, scrutiny is part and parcel for those who seek high office such as a Cabinet Minister and must expect to have their actions - past and present, placed under the spotlight. It is also expected of those who exercise their personal judgment, to be entirely consistent whether they happen to be a judge, a French rugby referee or part of this thing we call “public opinion”.  

The admission of politician Metiria Turei, co-leader of the Greens to having committed benefit fraud 20 odd years ago, is a case in point. The discussion seems to have been carefully developed to excuse and justify Ms Turei’s decision. Ms Turei is seemingly now a victim of her own actions. 

Some commentary is saying that Ms Turei is worthy of praise for her decision to speak publicly about her so called “indiscretion” and admit supplying incorrect information to the relevant Government department. The argument is made that she had a baby to care for; besides its only Government money of which there is an endless supply, so does anyone really care about gaming the Government. Actually, yes. Many also understand the timing of her “political confession” a few weeks out from the general election.

Ms Turei apparently refused to name the father of her child when applying for a benefit 20 odd years ago which was allowable under the rules at that time. Her call; but by her refusal to name the biological father, she effectively named Joe Taxpayer as the surrogate father whose responsibility it now was to ensure the well-being of mother and child.  Ms Turei was studying for a law degree so must have believed she was entitled to further and sufficient financial support. Just why her own family or that of the child’s father’s family were not asked to front up with any cash short fall is not explained.  Nice work if you can get it and she did. Students of the law are lectured on many things including probity of the financial kind. Probity is also all about earning trust which is kind of important for a lawyer.  Perhaps Ms Turei skipped the section of the law on what constitutes fraudulent behaviour during her legal studies.

Now here’s the consistency bit,  as it is appropriate to make a few comparisons with Ms Turei’s actions. Former Act MP David Garrett apparently ‘stole’ the identity of a deceased child 20 odd years ago.  He said he did it simply to see how difficult it would be to obtain a (false) passport.   Garrett clearly did not think through the consequences of his action and the huge distress he undoubtedly caused the family of a long deceased child. Garrett later became a lawyer - like Ms Turei.  Mr Garrett was arrested on the charge of passport fraud in 2010 and was subsequently convicted and discharged. The judge described his actions as a foolish prank, however the law society suspended him from holding a lawyers practising certificate for 12 months. Mr Garrett resigned from Act and left Parliament a short time later. Clearly the consequences for Garrett were huge. Nobody ever sought to excuse his actions unlike Ms Turei’s party and supporters. 

So where do the Law Society’s responsibilities fall in this matter?  The Law Society was formed in part to regulate and monitor the actions of its members? One assumes that MPs with law degrees are not immune from their (law society) rules? Any failure of the law society to investigate fraudulent behaviour simply denigrates a profession that we the public need to have faith in. If the Law society chooses not to investigate Ms Turei’s actions, they may then choose to explain how a law maker (as all MPs are), can reasonably expect immunity from scrutiny or prosecution from laws that didn’t suit their particular circumstances at the time.

Now compare the above with a farmer who recently committed a breach of Regional Council rules by inadvertently allowing a spill of effluent into a water way. This citizen quickly informed the council of the undetected breach. The farmer was still prosecuted and fined a substantial sum - thanks to his honesty.  One major difference here of course is that the farmer immediately and freely admitted his guilt. He was not seeking publicity, nor was he a co-leader of a political party wanting to make a statement a few weeks out from an election. What is the lesson here I wonder?   

Ms Turei has placed before the political world a whole new paradigm that even out trumps “The Donald”. The Greens co-leader has perhaps unwittingly added into the defence of all miscreants, politicians and near do wells, her brilliant quote:  “Nobody should have to do it (lie) unless you feel it is necessary’’ -  TV 3 news.

If only Gilbert and Sullivan were still writing comic operas.

Gerry Eckhoff is a  a former MP  and Otago Regional Council councillor


Anonymous said...
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I doubt that even at the peak of their game Messrs Gilbert & Sullivan could have invented a character with the chutzpah of Metirial Girl Leanne Agnes Stanton Tureit I stole your money.

I'm prepared to bet that if she murdered her mother and father she'd beg for mercy because she was an orphan.

Brian said...
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Ms Turei’s political gamble is a failure, a gamble with the aim of exposing another so-called failure of the welfare system; a system designed originally to help those in need, NOT totally to support them. Her demand that the use of more public funds and the accompanying sympathy for a predicament that any individual may find themselves in! Really! Does this justify the extent of making a false claim that is criminally reprehensible?
However as Gary Eckhoff has indicated we must wait and see whether charges are laid not only by WINZ, but also if the Law Society itself is willing to abide by the dictum that all members of that society are treated equally.
The big question is whether the National and Labour together with the minor parties are willing to support a sanction that this criminal act should debar Ms Turei from Parliament? It is quite obvious that the Green Party will not demand her resignation under any circumstances.
It is a loaded question especially one that Parliament itself must answer despite the impending election; and any electoral repercussions from those imbued that “such a crime isn’t that bad in those circumstances”! It is very doubtful even in that era that the Welfare system would have denied Ms Turei further assistance in such an emergency.
The question then arises just what were the circumstances, and can they override the Law?
The ball is not only in the Parliamentary Court, but also with the Law Society and the Nation needs an answer from both before the election.
Re Gilbert & Sullivan... amended verse ex HMS Pinafore
When I was a lass I served a term
As solo Mum to a Winz’s firm.
I did my chores and swept the floor,
And altered my details to keep my score
I did it so carefully but now I regret, I’ll never be ruler of our Green Navee.
With sincere apologies to W.S. Gilbert, Sir Arthur Sullivan and D’Oyly Carte. Brian

Peter said...
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Gary and Brian both mention something that is vital if we are to succeed as a society in New Zealand.
The welfare state is not a right to a happy life. It was introduced by Nordmeyer, MacMillan and Davidson as a support. It is not supposed to be a way of life.
While there is so much I abhore about the US social system; I am very much in favor of their Social Security System. You only get out of it what you put in.
If you need more they have material benefits to assist with child poverty without funding smoking and drinking parents. A roof over your head is not the right to luxury living. If a motel is not good enough and doesn't allow male visitors - tough. The state is not required to offer that.
We are socialists; not communists.
Under the US Social Security system each individual has an account. If you elect to draw on that account for (example) unemployment, you do not have as much when you retire.
We perpetuate welfare dependency by allowing lifetime drawing from the government.
Why should anyone work when they all get the same golden handshake from the government?
Time to introduce responsibility. Ms Turei needs to show responsibility and repay (with interest) what she stole from the public purse. She used government money to thrive; not to survive.

ross pelham said...
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Why is there even a discussion about this ,Tureia should be charged and jailed or fined and be sacked as a MP ,this just make a mockery of fraudulent actions and tells all welfare recipients "go for it rip off your fellow kiwis"

Russell said...
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One of the ironies of this that I have not seen reported (may have missed it) is that if/when she repays the money it will be from the public purse...she should be a gone-burger.

Laurence said...
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Even worse, I think, is that she will not advise others not to do the same thing, but to make their own decision. For one who is an MP and a lawyer, this is not good enough.

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