What has surprised me most about the Ashburton WINZ shootings

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The terrible deaths at a WINZ office in Ashburton took us all by surprise. Staunch poverty campaigner Sue Bradford commented before the deaths were known and was attacked by waves of twitterarti who knew best. Sue apologised but her wider message that the draconian welfare policies of this Government have pushed many to the edge while ill timed, seem very legitimate.

What has surprised me most about the WINZ shootings is the number of people who have privately expressed to me that but for the grace of God, they could have been Russell John Tully. The anger and frustration this Government’s policies have forced upon the most vulnerable members of our community never justifies actions as extreme and violent as those we have witnessed this week, but the spate of copy cat threats to other WINZ offices isn’t an accident, it highlights how wide spread the desperation of desperate people really is.

Unfortunately for the most vulnerable,  I think WINZ Staff have a difficult time being compassionate to the never ending river of need and suffering washing through their offices. It can not be easy being on that coalface. Any progressive Government coming in should consider state funding welfare advocacy groups like the AAAP to help beneficiaries navigate the purposely complex procedures and red tape used to drive desperate people into hopelessness.

Applying for a benefit requires 73 pages. A mortgage takes about 8 pages. There’s a very nasty and calculated reason for that.

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When we consider the way Bennet has treated with contempt the privacy of beneficiary Natasha Fuller, has attacked the courage of Sarah Wilson and pushed wheelchair bound Sam Kuha to attack a WINZ office with a hammer, I can’t shrug off pointing the blame where it needs to be pointed. 

There will never be a justification for what happened in Ashburton. But there are reasons this happen. If the lesson extrapolated by this needless murder and violence is to make life even more difficult for beneficiaries,  we have learned nothing.

My respects and deepest condolences to the families and whanau who have been so traumatised and hurt by this weeks awful tragedy. My best wishes also to every vulnerable person attempting to access these services at their most frightened and angry. Let’s hope September 20th replaces the current regime within welfare that is generating such brutal friction.

35 COMMENTS

  1. An Internal Housing Department report before the hand over the allocation and administration of Housing NZ properties to WINZ predicted that this would occur.

    The report highlighted a number of safety concerns for staff, especially the open layout format of WINZ offices which firstly made it difficult for clients to express themselves and their needs in privacy and concerns for the staff.

    Housing NZ isolate clients to allow them to plead their cases without being observed by other clients and used dedicated interview rooms separate from the main offices. This has been successfully safe format for Housing NZ for years

    It expressed concerns about the putative policy practices of WINZ procedures and highlighted that “Housing” could be a very emotive issue with client and when combined with the reliance on WINZ for income as well it could be explosive when a client is not getting along well with their case manager

    The tough love approach taken by many WINZ staff is not compatible with Housing NZ experiences and procedures . It requires a completely different mindset. The most important being match making client with other compatible tenants as neighbours.

    Having your landlord being also your only source of income is not the way that normal people function.

    I’ll go so far as to say that WINZ and Housing NZ should have remained separate departments. I would say that Paula Bennett’s nanny state control over Housing NZ clients is not workable and will cause more violence in the future.

    It is only a matter of Months since the hand over of Properties and already we have had an incident where the decisions of the WINZ staff have resulted Death(s)

    Break them back up and take them back to the way it was.

    • Such a valid comment! Winz and HNZ should so be separate, there are completely different criteria to be considered it seems wrong and unfair that Winz staff are put in this position really.

  2. Nice piece Martyn – and I’m sure we all feel the same for the families of those two ladies.

    It was those ladies I was thinking of when Paula Bennett stunned me totally when she said on the news that “no-one could possibly have thought that something like this could happen” (paraphrase). What utter BS!!!

    She knows the numbers better than anyone – over 700 “incidents” at WINZ offices over the last ten years – 65 of those involving verbal or physical violence. Surely these offices have been a ticking time-bomb just getting worse in the last few years of NACT rule. It was always a matter of time. They have known for years and silently acknowledged the problem by hiring security guards for every WINZ office in the country.

    I cannot fathom the thinking on Planet Bennett. Progressives tend to live in a fact based world. Time to get these idiots out.

    • I would rather want to see Paula Bennett in court, next to the shooter, as she is the one that pushed her staff at WINZ to deny so many their former rights and entitlements.

      Talking about having done all, and given Tully all his entitlements, that is absurd, as the man rather chose to live in a tent, than accept the probably insufficient housing and “support” he was offered.

      Shame on Paula Bennett, she must be held accountable, same as this whole government.

      • Paula Bennett is a joke. She has managed to always point the blame on someone else and has gotten away with a lot with just a slap on the wrist. Not many articles mention why he did it and how desperate people are to have to be at winz in the first place. Winz staff are put in harms way by govt policies and not having a good enough risk management plan. In saying that lets be honest, some winz case managers are also very rude and come across condescending. That doesn’t excuse what happened, it’s just a fact.

  3. +100 Great Post ….people who at their most vulnerable in society need the most care

    …the guy who did the shooting was ill (with arthritis and a skin condition by all accounts, which sounded like psoriatic arthritis …remember Denis Potter and ‘The’Singing Detective’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Potter)

    …and living homeless in a tent in freezing conditions…in the South Island this is bone chilling and hypothermia is a real risk:

    Hypothermia

    As your body temperature drops, signs and symptoms of moderate to severe hypothermia include:
    Shivering, although as hypothermia worsens, shivering stops.
    Clumsiness or lack of coordination.
    Slurred speech or mumbling.
    Confusion and poor decision-making, such as trying to remove warm clothes.
    Drowsiness or very low energy.

  4. “The terrible deaths at a WINZ office in Ashburton took us all by surprise.”

    Not if you’re one of these people, Martyn..

    “What has surprised me most about the WINZ shootings is the number of people who have privately expressed to me that but for the grace of God, they could have been Russell John Tully.”

    Nothing about this surprised me.

  5. Truth written with extraordinary craftmanship Martyn Bradbury. I 100% agree with every sentiment. Would that poisonous pens like Cameron Slater would write with such understanding and humanity. I guess whats inside always outs in the end. As for this subject – my heart goes out to the hurt, those that have just lost good friends and dear family in this senseless killing and those driven to despair by an oft times confusing and senseless system. Killing is never an answer to anything ever, but like you I hope this tragedy rings in a different era if nothing else good can come from it …. that come September 20th we see a change in legislation in our welfare system that will encourage compassion and alleviate despair.

  6. What surprises me most is that a single man in his 40’s who has ‘worked in the mines in Australia’ would qualify for state housing.

    • How about a single middle aged man with no assets who has a degenerative disease, possibly terminal, sufficiently bad enough to make him eligible for a medical benefit?

      • You would think so Weka. But obviously No!
        He was of no fixed abode – you must have a residential address and proof of your residential address – like a phone or power bill!

        WINZ don’t do rules for homeless people, just for the nicely tucked up in their homes people.

        And FYI, all you have to do to be “trespassed” from a WINZ office is speak up, or perhaps reach over the reception counter to pick up a pen to sign the form instead of going back into the queue, or use a swear word – loud or quiet it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t take much for the old lady security guard to come over and start making a mountain out of a molehill.

        Witnessed this myself.

        Opinion and belief.

    • @Kateraina:

      I cannot believe you find that strange.

      Don’t you find it even stranger that there was one desperate and sick homeless man in town, and one empty state house that had been empty for over a month?

      It’s very cold outside in a tent on a riverbank in winter?

      Opinion.

  7. Martyn, take a look at my Facebook feed to see the vile attacks I received from Nat hacks after stating that this IS a political problem, and that govt.’s of all hues from the last few decades bear some responsibility for setting the environment for this to happen. The vile hate-speech that followed on both my posts and (Waikato Associate Professor) Jens Muellers page regarding me was abhorrent. It shows the absolute refusal to address the issue at hand by the Right, and ugly, nasty, violent streak that lurks within them.

  8. The shooting is appalling but also appalling was Paula Bennet’s performance. Her first reaction was to avoid any responsibility for the situation by stating that WINZ staff had tried to help Tulley but that he had refused that help.

    She offered no concrete details to the story so for all we know this guy (who was living in a car until he sold it because he needed the cash) was told to go on a budgeting course or something stupid like that.

    The fact that someone in his state of health didn’t have anywhere to live (in Ashburton for Pete’s sake!) is an sign that the WINZ and Housing NZ weren’t doing their job properly. Responsibility for this can only rest with the government.

    And yes, I wasn’t surprised this happened, WINZ is now a place of systematic cruelty. Even the staff that have untold depths of genuine compassion can’t do anything for people because decision making power has been taken away from them and all they can do now is follow the rules. The only reason they stay in their jobs is that they know all to well what it’s like to be on the other side of their desk and will do anything to avoid it.

    • Yes, there were times I had to deal with WINZ, and the “help” they so often talk about is more like endless pressure to “f*** off”, and not bother them, as you cost them money.

      The “help” Bennett talks about is threatening people with endless sanctions and benefit cuts, should they not deliver and do as they are told. It is more like pressuring and intimidating people, to tow the line, to get out and look for jobs, that often do not even exist, at least not the ones any person could decently live off.

      The “help” to sick is to tell them they are not really sick, they are not believed, hence they must be “malingerers” and “work shy”, tactics the Nazis used in their early years in government, to put people into concentration camps. WINZ have certain preferred “hatchet doctors” they use, to declare people “fit” to do whatever work, even if it is nonsense, and they now even use outsourced service providers to take this further, just as they used ATOS in the UK.

      We have not gone that far as fascists had, of course, but as the Nats love to follow what the Conservatives do in the UK, prepare for the next onslaught on beneficiaries, to deny them more, and force them to go and look for jobs, even if they are sick, injured or disabled. They are already doing this to sole parents, as they get harassed so much, get threatened with sanctions, to get out and do whatever work, even if it is just 15 to 20 hours a week and does not pay the bills.

      The biggest problem is, most in NZ society are not quite aware of what goes on, as the middle class is mostly employed and somehow surviving, and coping, they do all to avoid ending up at WINZ. Only some see what really goes on, when they may lose their jobs and income, and then comes the great “realisation”, “oh, I never knew it was that bad”.

      But Key and Bennett ride the wave of redneckedness and intolerance, and get away with all the hideous welfare measures they implement. It is so easy to be a “bene basher”, and society seems to need or want scape goats, they are the easy target.

      Only those who ever faced the tight and tough regime of WINZ will comprehend what may drive some people to threats and violence. It is not a good look for NZ society, what goes on. Instead of reflecting, examining and perhaps rethinking approaches, they call for Mr Strong Arm, security and police force. It makes you wonder, how far away are we from fascist like conditions here?

  9. It will be important to stifle false threats to these offices, as the few people the do help, need them desperately.

  10. They will just up the securuty, and indeed this is already being looked into.

    So there will be more bullies (the security guards), overseeing the bully state that exists within the WINZ offices.

    A sensible WINZ would change their policy of deny, deny, deny immediately, and show more (or at least some) care.

    You’d think they would want to stop this happening again. Not by brute force! But with love in their policies.
    And not to just prevent it from happening to the WINZ case managers, but to prevent this sorry homeless existence being suffered by the man who shot their staff.

    I noticed Paula Benefit wiping a tear from just her left eye. This is one of the signs of the corporate psychopath! Ask any psychiatrist.

    Opinion.

  11. Paula Bennett’s surprise was totally manufactured. Perhaps her machinations will also be revealed if a bit of sunlight is poured on this matter.
    Codolences to the families, no one deserves this.

    I hope this will be the last WINZ tragedy, but living as a beneficiary, I do know the anger that is out there at the unjust treatment so many are now enduring.
    The man was homeless, ill, etc. and they couldn’t find him anywhere, or give him any assistance? Just look at Help for the Homeless, there are more and more every year. Begging on the streets, food banks, etc. Where the hell does it end?

  12. WINZ in New Zealand are following the same path the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) follow in the UK, and it is all about making life for beneficiaries unbearable, as they simply want to push everybody who is just marginally able to perform some kind of work or hypothetical work related activity into jobs that even the fit and healthy struggle to get.

    Now WINZ are also in charge of deciding who gets support with state housing, and bizarrely and ironically the shooter in Ashburton felt forced to rather live in a tent, than in some “accommodation” some WINZ officer may have deemed “suitable” (possibly in a boarding house or motor camp).

    WINZ and especially their Minister and a government have a lot to answer, it is Bennett, English and Key who should also be charged with “intimidation” of beneficiaries, and with using unreasonable, inhumane policies and force to make life of so many the living hell.

    A mate of mine, same as others, have tried to raise awareness and point to serious issues that now many sick, injured and disabled on benefits increasingly face:

    http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/15188-medical-and-work-capability-assessments-based-on-the-bps-model-aimed-at-disentiteling-affected-from-welfare-benefits-and-acc-compo/

    http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/15463-designated-doctors-%e2%80%93-used-by-work-and-income-some-also-used-by-acc/

    http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/16092-work-ability-assessments-done-for-work-and-income-%E2%80%93-partly-following-acc%E2%80%99s-approach-a-revealing-fact-study/

    There is this UK based “expert” that also has heaps to answer to, and sadly the medical profession is also being indoctrinated by his “findings” to push a hard approach to sick and disabled:

    http://www.racp.org.nz/page/afoem-health-benefits-of-work
    http://www.racp.org.nz/page/racp-faculties/australasian-faculty-of-occupational-and-environmental-medicine/realising-the-health-benefits-of-work/may-2010-video-presentation-professor-sir-mansel-aylward/

    Read this and similar stuff found on that man and his ideas and connections:
    http://disability-studies.leeds.ac.uk/files/library/THE-HIDDEN-AGENDA-a-research-summary-March-2013.pdf

    I fear there will sadly be more horrible incidents, as all we hear is the government and WINZ, MSD and the Minister considering more security, but are not looking at their own mistakes. More cooperation with Police is the story, while now many others alert WINZ staff with their anger.

    And this is a must watch documentary from the BBC on You Tube, showing how far the newest “reforms” there are now pushing people, in some ways almost resembling something like “ethnic cleansing”:

    “Don’t cap my benefits!”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMXgdq5Fs9A

  13. ACC and Insurance comapnies and WINZ all founded to help people, all dragged into the mire of saving money by working on a policy of evasion of responsibility for deserving cases.

  14. I hardly slept the night after this tragedy. I was thinking about all the stress and anxiety that the B.S., lies and threats, from WINZ have caused me over the last 4.5 years since I also returned to NZ as an ‘invalid’. Yesterday I talked to my branch manager, the M.S.D. receptionist, the call center guy and Nikki Kayes assistant. They were all very understanding and seem to be taking my ‘complaints’ more seriously than previous times.
    My expectations were very wrong for the first few years dealing with them, I actually thought ‘case managers’ were social workers. First time, I asked them for a GP to see and requested a ‘needs/ work capability test’. I thought they’d have a printer available to print out my C.V. I’d never heard of a ‘work broker’. Since getting the internet I’ve learn’t a lot and I do appreciate that in the last year they’ve made seated computers available in the waiting area.
    I expressed to my good friend, a few years ago, that I was very suprised that no one has ‘gone postal’ at Winz. I apologized to the people yesterday for not expressing my complaints more forcefully over the years and promised to complain more. I’m not good at writing, my face has gone very numb and my body is aching having sat typing this for the last hour or so.
    BTW, if you’re a middle aged invalid, real estate agents react much better when you tell them you’re a student.

  15. I liked what David Cunliffe said last night about the 2 paths that are being offered at this election. He is correct, that is exactly what we have.

    There is FJK’s path – and in this case it is the reaction to employ more security guards to solve the problem at WINZ.

    And, there is the Labour and Greens path – and in this case it is to not let people get into the state of this homeless man in the first place, and to fix the WINZ policies that are enabling this to happen.

    I much prefer the Lefts attitude.

    Opinion.

  16. when they say that so many have been moved into work someone should check into those stats because they are correct about moving people of the benefit, what they have failed to say is that these people have had their benefits cancelled, not because they have got jobs, but failed Paula Bennett s new rules. I truly believe that is what happened to this poor man.

  17. […] My point is that Ashburton didn’t just happen. The rage so many who are vulnerable that is now being felt through a wave of threats reveals a world that the mainstream media never focus on. An underclass of unpeople who face WINZ staff who are there to say no. That doesn’t in anyway shape or form justify the violence and threats and shootings, but it he… […]

  18. Thank you very astute Martyn Bradbury. 20 years ago I was in a very similar situation working in a government office. The perpertrator was convicted and jailed only to be released and commit a murder a few years later.
    Now a single mother treading the WINZ path and with the insight of having been behind the desk. There are many inconsistancies among both policy and practice. Divides and token collaboration with other interacting organisations. While most all my own interactions were met with support and care the few that were not left me bewildered frustrated and upset. Exhausting all avenues of help I am often told go to your MP. For the most part I am extremely grateful for the support given but it is without a long rocky road of red tape, repeated problems and distress. I have often wondered why there is no advocacy group for WINZ clients like the many there are for ACC and state funded well that could be very interesting.

  19. And there I was thinking that all details relating to Tully and the shootings would be sub judice… Nope, Pullya Benefit was out there blabbing to all and sundry for the photo ops… Sickening.
    The law does not apply to any members of this Government, does it ?

  20. These threats are not new. Winz workers have been getting threatened for quite some time now. It’s just taken this tragedy to bring it to the forefront. It’s the reason the guards are there. Govt doesn’t just go hiring guards all over the country if they don’t believe their staff aren’t at risk!!

    Angry clients should be turning their frustration to the Govt. i.e. Paula Bennett and John Key. The ones controlling these policies behind closed doors

    Winz workers are just like everyone else. Get a sh%t wage and work for their families

  21. Lets be honest and stop the PC. “When a person loses everything they lose it!” -Gerald Celente.

    I have heard the only time Jesus lost it was when he threw the bankers out of the temple. Socialist reform has led to people becoming reliant on the government, but reality is all countries have people that need assistance. What do we do then, step over them and pretend they don’t exist?

    The Government have pressured businesses resulting in off-shoring to that bottomless pit China. Bottom line is all Govts have been useless in creating jobs resulting in no uplifting economy for people to feel a sense of self-pride and achievement. I hear the eugenics plan is to make all people reliant on the government so that one day they can pull-it and people will die in the streets.

    And soon we may all be homeless via the banks. New law passed last year by Bill English, you are all now officially an UNSECURED CREDITOR to the bank. If you don’t have the deed to your home then you don’t own it. Digital means nothing. You are all an unsecured creditor and this means at any time you can lose …everything….so don’t feel smug and safe in your centrally heated homes at night pretending to feel ‘feigned’ shock at Tullys actions, that you wont end up like Tully and take desperate measures and lose it. Huh, it is guaranteed to happen.

  22. I dropped off some paperwork at the Newtown WINZ office the other day. They had one security guard outside the front door (who was checking ID before letting anyone in; because violent people don’t have ID?), a 2nd security guard inside the door, and a 3rd security guard by the counter.

    If they have several security guards at each office, now, at least they’re creating a few jobs :/

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