Turei flip-flops, says she will pay back money gained from benefit fraud

Green leader spins her side of the story in guest editorial for UK paper.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei says she will pay back money claimed under false pretences while a law student and solo mother.

Ms Turei earlier said she would pay back the money if asked to by Work and Income NZ (WINZ).

In a guest column for UK paper The Guardian she says she will pay it back regardless.

The Taxpayers’ Union has estimated the sum involved to be at least $57,000.

In her Guardian piece, Ms Turei does not mention the sum involved in her benefit fraud, the fact she subsequently landed a job as a commercial lawyer with top corporate law firm Simpson Grierson, or that her remuneration is $230,000 ($178,500 in base salary plus perks, expenses and super contributions from the taxpayer).

Ms Turei admitted the fraud last weekend as her party announced its new welfare policy.

Some saw it has a heroic admission that shone a light on the plight of beneficiaries, others as a publicity stunt or a preemptive ploy ahead of details of her situation appearing in the media.

Her Turei’s admission received near-universal condemnation from the right – and even received a serve, of sorts, from the left as Labour leader Andrew Little — desperately juggling his words — said he saw the Green co-leader’s move as “brave” but added he doesn’t encourage people to break the rules that many of his party’s supporters would want her to pay the money back.

In her Guardian column, Ms Turei makes no bones about her offending. She writes:

Over five years, I received a training incentive allowance (a benefit that has since been ditched by our current government), as well as a payment for single parents. I also had help from my family, and my daughter’s father’s family.

Despite all that support, which is much more than many people in similar circumstances have, I did not have enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table. And so, like many – but not all – people faced with that choice, I lied to survive.

I lived in a few flats over the years with a few different flatmates. I didn’t tell the government department in charge of my benefit about some of those flatmates. If I had, my benefit would have been reduced, and I would not have had enough money to get by.

She says she decided to tell her story last weekend after reading about a young woman who took her life after learning she would be prosecuted for benefit fraud.

Despite Ms Turei’s decision to pay the money back, WINZ could still prosecute. The agency has 12 months after learning of information to decide if it will take legal action. It has so far not said if it is investigating the Green co-leader.

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