Paula Bennett

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Paula Bennett
Paula Bennett in 2018.png
Bennett in 2018
18th Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
12 December 2016 26 October 2017
Prime Minister Bill English
Governor-General Patsy Reddy
Preceded by Bill English
Succeeded by Winston Peters
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
In office
26 October 2017 22 May 2020
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
Leader Bill English
Simon Bridges
Preceded by Kelvin Davis
Succeeded by Nikki Kaye
Deputy Leader of the National Party
In office
12 December 2016 22 May 2020
Leader Bill English
Simon Bridges
Preceded by Bill English
Succeeded by Nikki Kaye
18th Minister of State Services
In office
8 October 2014 26 October 2017
Prime Minister John Key
Bill English
Preceded by Jonathan Coleman
Succeeded by Chris Hipkins
14th Minister for Women
In office
20 December 2016 26 October 2017
Prime MinisterBill English
Preceded by Louise Upston
Succeeded by Julie Anne Genter
35th Minister of Tourism
In office
20 December 2016 26 October 2017
Prime MinisterBill English
Preceded by John Key
Succeeded by Kelvin Davis
38th Minister of Police
In office
20 December 2016 26 October 2017
Prime MinisterBill English
Preceded by Judith Collins
Succeeded by Stuart Nash
5th Minister for Climate Change Issues
In office
14 December 2015 26 October 2017
Prime Minister John Key
Bill English
Preceded by Tim Groser
Succeeded by James Shaw
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Upper Harbour
In office
21 September 2014   17 October 2020
Preceded byconstituency established
Succeeded by Vanushi Walters
Majority9,692
Personal details
Born (1969-04-09) 9 April 1969 (age 51)
Auckland, New Zealand [1]
NationalityNew Zealand
Political party National Party
Spouse(s)Alan Philps [2]
Children1
Alma mater Massey University (BA)
OccupationRecruitment consultant

Paula Lee Bennett (born 9 April 1969) is a New Zealand politician who served as the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand between December 2016 and October 2017. She served as the Deputy Leader of the National Party from 2016 to 2020 and as MP for Upper Harbour from 2014 to 2020.

Contents

Bennett previously represented the electorate of Waitakere, which was abolished prior to the 2014 general election. [3] [4] She held the Cabinet portfolios of State Services, Women, Tourism, Police, and Climate Change Issues in the fifth National Government until 2017. She retired from Parliament at the 2020 general election.

Early life and career

Bennett was born on 9 April 1969 in Auckland, New Zealand, the daughter of Bob Bennett and Lee Bennett. She has Tainui ancestry [5] through her half-Māori paternal grandmother, Ailsa Bennett. [6] Her father had a flooring business in Auckland, then in 1974 bought the village store at Kinloch, near Taupo. Bennett attended Taupo-nui-a-Tia College in Taupo. At 17 she gave birth to a daughter, Ana, and raised her alone while working in hospitality and tourism-industry jobs or, at times, receiving the Domestic Purposes Benefit. [1] [7] [8]

In 1992 Bennett moved to Auckland, [9] where she worked in a rest home, first as a kitchenhand and then as a nurse aide. She began studying social work at the Albany campus of Massey University in 1994. [7] She became the welfare officer of the Massey University at Albany Students' Association, then, in 1996, the president, which she said gave her a taste for politics. She discontinued the social work component of her course of study, leaving simply social policy, [7] and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts.

After graduating, Bennett worked as an electorate secretary for Murray McCully, National Party member of Parliament for East Coast Bays, until the 1999 general election. She then worked as a recruitment consultant for several years and assisted McCully in the 2002 general election campaign.

Political career

New Zealand Parliament
YearsTermElectorateListParty
2005 2008 48th List45 National
2008 2011 49th Waitakere 41 National
2011 2014 50th Waitakere14 National
2014 2017 51st Upper Harbour 9 National
2017 2020 52nd Upper Harbour2 National

Fifth Labour Government, 20052008

In the 2005 general election Bennett stood as the National Party candidate for the Waitakere seat, with a ranking of 45th on National's party list. She failed to win Waitakere, [10] but entered Parliament as a list MP. [11]

While in opposition (2005–2008), Bennett held three roles under National party leader Don Brash: Member of the Social Services Select Committee, Associate Spokesperson on Welfare, and Community and Voluntary Sector Liaison. When John Key became party leader in 2006, Bennett switched to membership of the Education and Science Select Committee and no longer held the Spokesperson and Liaison roles. [12] [8]

In the 2008 election, she unseated Waitakere MP Lynne Pillay, winning the seat with a majority of 632. [13] Bennett was appointed to several cabinet roles in the new National-led government.

Fifth National Government, 20082017

Bennett as Deputy Prime Minister, with Prime Minister Bill English, 2016 Bill English and Paula Bennett.jpg
Bennett as Deputy Prime Minister, with Prime Minister Bill English, 2016

As a member of the Fifth National Government, Bennett was best known for leading social welfare reforms as Minister of Social Development and Employment (2008–2011) and Minister of Social Development (2011–14). During that time she was also Minister of Youth Affairs (2008–2013), Minister for Disability Issues (2008–2009), and Associate Minister of Housing (2013–14). [12]

Bennett faced criticism in enacting welfare reform during her first and second terms in government, especially around her previous use of government support programs. Scrutiny came from both members of parliament and from people on government incomes. In particular, the Training Incentive Allowance (TIA) was abolished under her leadership, after she had received this allowance herself as a student, [14] and the requirement for single parents in receipt of the domestic purposes benefit was changed, with beneficiaries having to look for part-time work when their child turned six instead of eighteen. [15] Bennett had her first child at 17 and was at times on a domestic purposes benefit. In response to criticisms, Bennett said that times were different 25 years later, and that beneficiaries get more (in 2012) than they did when she was in similar need. [16]

In the 2011 election, Bennett again stood for the Waitakere seat, and secured an election night majority of 349 votes. [17] After the routine counting of special votes 10 days later, the result had swung towards Labour candidate Carmel Sepuloni. Bennett was subsequently declared the winner after a judicial recount. [18] Carmel Sepuloni was not placed high enough on Labour's list to remain an MP and was ousted from Parliament as a result of her loss. [19]

The 2013–14 electoral boundary review saw Bennett's Waitakere electorate abolished in favour of two new electorates in western Auckland, Kelston and Upper Harbour. At the 2014 election, Bennett stood for the Upper Harbour seat and won with a majority of 9,692 votes. [20]

After the 2014 election, Bennett became Minister of State Services (2014–2017), Minister of Social Housing (2014–2016), Associate Minister of Finance (2014–2016) and Minister of Local Government (2014–2016). She was Associate Minister of Tourism from 2014 to 12 December 2016, Acting Minister between 12 and 20 December 2016, then Minister of Tourism. She was the Minister for Climate Change Issues from 2015. On 20 December 2016 she also became Minister for Women, and Minister of Police. [21] [12]

Bennett became Deputy Leader of the National Party and was sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister on 12 December 2016. She also held the State Services, Women, Tourism, Police and Climate Change Issues Cabinet portfolios during the third term of the Fifth National Government. [21]

During the 2017 election, Bennett contested the Upper Harbour seat and was re-elected with a majority of 9,556 votes. [22]

Sixth Labour Government, 2017present

Following the formation of a Labour-led coalition government in October 2017, Bennett remained Deputy Leader of the National Party. She also became the party's Spokesperson for the "social investment and social services", "tertiary education, skills, and employment", and the women portfolios. [23] After a cabinet reshuffle in January 2019, Bennett was appointed by Bridges as National's Spokesperson for "drug reform." Bennett has argued that the government's drug reform policy needs to consider health, education, and justice. [24] [25]

In mid-August 2019, it was announced that Bennett will be vacating her Upper Harbour seat in 2020 and move to the party list. She was also named as National's 2020 election campaign manager. [26] [27]

Since 25 March 2020, Bennett has been a member of the Epidemic Response Committee, a select committee that considers the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. [28]

Following a Newshub-Reid research poll released on 18 May 2020 which returned a low approval rating for the National Party and its leader Simon Bridges, Bennett as deputy leader was challenged by Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye. Bridges' leadership of National was contested by Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller. [29] A leadership vote was held during an emergency National Party caucus on 22 May, in which Bridges and Bennett were defeated by Muller and Kaye, who assumed the positions of leader and deputy leaders of the party. [8] [30]

Bennett was subsequently ranked at 13 in Muller's Shadow Cabinet, and on 29 June she announced that she would retire from politics at the general election in September. [31] On 2 July, Bennett's former Women and Drug Reform portfolios were assumed by Nikki Kaye and Amy Adams respectively. [32] [33]

Post-political career

On 19 October 2020, after the general election, Bennett will join Bayleys Real Estate as Director - Strategic Advisory. [34] The role will focus on the commercial sector of New Zealand real estate.

Controversies

Release of private information about beneficiaries

As Social Development Minister, Bennett had been criticised by opponents for a "hardline" approach to benefit policies. When Bennett revealed that solo mothers could take home more than $1000 per week in government support, two women, Natasha Fuller and Jennifer Johnston, came forward to reveal parts of their own benefit allowances, and criticised the Government's policy of abolishing the Training Initiative Allowance (TIA). [35] In response, Bennett released full details of the two women's benefits. [36]

When challenged by opposition parties and the media on this revelation of private details, Bennett said she believed she had "implied consent" for the release of the information based on the women releasing their own details. [14] [37] The Green Party labeled the act as "beneficiary bashing", while Labour's social welfare spokesperson Annette King likened it to Robert Muldoon's government, when anyone speaking out against government policy "was hit over the head with a political sledge hammer." [38] Labour MP Charles Chauvel said he would lay a complaint on behalf of the women, [39] and Fuller said she would proceed with a complaint. [35]

Bennett apologised to Johnston personally for the public reaction to the figures, but not for releasing the women's details, and after talking to Johnston said she would investigate the idea raised by Johnston for a larger loan for solo parents to cover study costs. Johnston also apologised to Bennett, telling the media "I was pretty angry yesterday. I don't bear her any ill will." Johnston also said that the privacy breach was of little concern, suggesting that it was not hard to find out what sort of benefits a woman in her position would be eligible for. Fuller rejected the offer to talk with Bennett. [40] [41]

The Privacy Commissioner investigated Bennett's actions after receiving a complaint from Fuller, and later referred the matter to the Director of Human Rights Proceedings for the Human Rights Commission. [42] In August 2012, the director announced the resolution of the complaint, saying, "On the basis of the Minister’s letter to me, I have agreed to close my file. The matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties." [43]

When TV3 News reported in April 2010 that Bennett had paid Fuller to settle the privacy dispute, both parties rejected this claim. [44] Later, after the Human Rights Commission's resolution in 2012, answering an OIA request, Bennett gave the same response, stating "I made no private settlement with Ms Fuller as I do not accept that I breached her privacy." [45]

Christine Rankin appointment

In May 2009, Bennett appointed the controversial Christine Rankin as Families Commissioner; her term ended in 2013. [46]

Job numbers claims

In November 2012, a week after unemployment was reported at 7.3 percent – a 13-year high – Bennett read out job listings in Parliament, claiming there were "300 jobs" available at retailer The Warehouse, if anyone wanted them, as well as 40 jobs at retailer Bunnings. The Warehouse refuted this claim, saying it only had 30 jobs available, and Bunnings only had three advertised. [47]

Gun control

In October 2017, prior to the Christchurch mosque shootings, Bennett rejected 12 of 20 recommendations from a select committee inquiry into the illegal possession of firearms. [48] This decision was criticised at the time by New Zealand's Police Association president Chris Cahill who lamented to news website Stuff that "the opportunity was missed and you know what it's going to take to bring it on the table again, and unfortunately that's a tragedy." [49]

Personal life

Bennett married Alan Philps in 2012. [50] Philps keeps a low public profile and was mentioned by Bennett in October 2016. [51] [8] Philps did not appear in photographs from Bennett's swearing-in ceremony at Government House, Wellington, on 12 December 2016, but her daughter, granddaughter and stepdaughter did. [50] [52] After her announced retirement at the New Zealand 2020 general election, Bennett says she plans to venture into the business world. [53]

In late 2017 Bennett announced she had undergone gastric bypass surgery for weight loss. In November 2018 she stated she had lost 50 kilograms (110 lb) over the previous year. [54] [8]

Public image

For several years Bennett appeared on TV One's Breakfast with friend and Labour MP Darren Hughes. [55] [56]

In January 2009, Bennett broke up a fight between 30 teenagers at her local shopping mall in Henderson before police arrived, earning praise as a "tough lady." She also arranged community networking to address the underlying issues. [57]

In March 2010, Bennett accepted an Eisenhower Fellowship. The prestigious six week fellowship in the United States was awarded to only 20 women around the world who were identified as outstanding leaders. [58]

In November 2020 she was named one of the best dressed women on David Hartnell MNZM's Best Dressed List. [59]

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References

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New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Lynne Pillay
Member of Parliament for Waitakere
2008–2014
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Upper Harbour
2014–2020
Succeeded by
Vanushi Walters
Party political offices
Preceded by
Bill English
Deputy Leader of the National Party
2016–2020
Succeeded by
Nikki Kaye
Political offices
Preceded by
Ruth Dyson
Minister for Disability Issues
2008–2009
Succeeded by
Tariana Turia
Minister of Social Development and Employment
2008–2014
Succeeded by
Anne Tolley
Preceded by
Nanaia Mahuta
Minister for Youth Affairs
2008–2013
Succeeded by
Nikki Kaye
Preceded by
Chris Tremain
Minister of Local Government
2014–2016
Succeeded by
Anne Tolley
Preceded by
Jonathan Coleman
Minister of State Services
2014–2017
Succeeded by
Chris Hipkins
Preceded by
Tim Groser
Minister for Climate Change Issues
2015–2017
Succeeded by
James Shaw
Preceded by
Bill English
Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
2016–2017
Succeeded by
Winston Peters
Preceded by
Louise Upston
Minister for Women
2016–2017
Succeeded by
Julie Anne Genter
Preceded by
John Key
Minister of Tourism
2016–2017
Succeeded by
Kelvin Davis
Preceded by
Judith Collins
Minister of Police
2016–2017
Succeeded by
Stuart Nash
Preceded by
Kelvin Davis
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
2017–2020
Succeeded by
Nikki Kaye