I am not a conspiracy theorist but……


Releasing the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report at 2pm Friday (3rd May) just before the weekend at a far-flung West Auckland venue miles from the train station was a masterstroke of political strategy.

The 209 page WEAG report itself is excellent and provides the blueprint for the needed changes to NZ’s outmoded and inadequate welfare state, but most people are none the wiser as to the report’s contents.  

Was this the intention?  Maybe it helps explains why the processes of the WEAG were anything but transparent. For 11 months no one breathed a whisper of what the WEAG was concocting.  All consultation was one way to the WEAG with no outsider trusted to respond to any of the development of ideas. In stark contrast with the Tax Working Group process, no background papers and no interim report were released. There were no public forums preceding the report, and no interviews were given.  

Thus none of the invited attendees at the launch in West Auckland had any prior clues as to what was in the 209 page report, nor were any journalists given a heads up.  While everyone was offered a copy on entry, no one could absorb the detail in a few minutes. There was a strict embargo until 2pm. That embargo and the lack of forewarning ensured there was no media coverage of any depth- for example, there was no double page spread in the Saturday NZ Herald or Sunday papers as would be fitting for such a major report.  

As the first main speaker at the launch, WEAG Chair, Professor Cindy Kiro outlined the report’s contents with passion and confidence. She spoke eloquently about the paradigm shift needed to dislodge the old utilitarian purposes and work-based principles from the Social Security Act to enshrine the principle of Whakamana Tāngata, meaning upholding the mana/dignity of every person accessing welfare services.

Because no one had been able to read the report, she carefully crafted her speech to give a high level overview. The $5 billion per annum price tag was not mentioned. There was a vague hint that the report had grappled with high effective marginal tax rates and these were hard to understand, but not a word about the major redistributive programme Working for Families and little explanation of the proposals for benefits. She highlighted the dominance of the accommodation supplement cost (MSD’s second-largest after NZS) but we were none the wiser as to what the WEAG thought of this.  

Nevertheless Cindy Kiro ‘s speech created good energy and excitement in the room.  This was a report to be reckoned with. No mincing of words. Urgency. The welfare state had failed miserably and needed immediate attention. The culture and philosophy had to change now. We waited expectantly to learn more.

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In the front of the audience were seated the 11 experts, all sacrificing a day of their lives, some had to fly up from Wellington, probably paid a daily meeting fee by WEAG. But what was the point? Not one of them was invited to speak.  None of their undoubted expertise was utilised to explain the detail of the report and the rationale for the suggested changes.

Instead, we got three long and repetitive political speeches.  Labour, the Greens and NZ First all wanted to ensure that we understood they were totally on the same page as each other. That they all absolutely agreed with the diagnosis of the WEAG report: that things had been utterly miserable for too long.  But, and there is a significant but, they all agreed nothing could take place immediately, apart from a few sops that were already in the budget. Instead as Minister Sepuloni carefully explained, because of interactions with everything else and with likely unintended consequences when policy is done quickly, there would need to be a 3-5year work plan with a ten year time horizon.

What do we make of all this?  Major expensive policies like the Winter Energy Payment  and first year tertiary free have been introduced without regard to interactions and unintended consequences. Yes, an increase in benefits might mean a shift away from hardship provision and accommodation supplement payments but that is no reason to delay, and such offsets would actually be a welcome consequence. We don’t need a 3-5 year plan, we need significantly more money right now to tackle the welfare blight.

The Minister’s pre-Budget announcements were breath-taking in their superficiality.  There were audible gasps of disbelief when she announced that the sanction applied to sole parents who do not name the father of their children would not come in until 2020.  Another lowlight was very minor changes to the abatement thresholds that are to be phased in over 4 years.

Totally missing was any acknowledgement of the vital changes proposed by WEAG to Working for Families that would see the removal of the discrimination CPAG fought since 1996, including 10 long bitter years on the courts. That is buried in the report so well that no one yet seems to understand the significance. Was this because Labour didn’t want to own their mistakes of the past?  At the heart of the WEAG’s claim that welfare state is ‘no longer fit for purpose’ is the inaction on benefits by both main parties, the discrimination in Working for Families that Labour exacerbated, Labour’s own pernicious 2007 rewrite of the purposes and principles of the Social Security Act and long-time failures of both Labour and National to change the toxic culture at WINZ.  

Friday’s launch was a waste of most people’s time but worse, it was a lost opportunity to signal that the government is willing to acknowledge  its own culpability and to embrace a profound reframing of the philosophical underpinnings of the welfare state.




  1. For those taking a deeper interest approach to the Welfare Expert Advisory Group’s report and recommendations, a comparison with what the Nats’ commissioned group (when in government) presented in 2011, is perhaps also a worthy exercise.

    Compare this report out now with the one the National Government had commissioned and released in 2011:

    The old one from 2011 (Remember Bennett, Rebstock et al):

    It makes for some interesting reading.

    The Nats seemed more determined to implement their harsh line report and recommendations, Labour now in government with NZ First are dragging their feet on the new report they commissioned.

    It does indeed seem very suspicious and strange that the report was released on a Friday, and that MSM only reported it after presenting many other ‘news’.

    The powers that be want to keep the poor and sick and disabled in the beggar role, so to control any spending and services they get, all to keep the budget ‘within limits’, and so to not increase taxes for the middle and upper class income earners.

    • Yes indeed Marc. The 2011 has 242 references to ‘paid work’. That says it all

  2. And was it not a strange ‘coincidence’ that on that same day the re-entry of the Pike River Mine had been planned to commence. That has now been postponed, but Jacinda Ardern and others made their journey there, and still attended a meeting with victims’ relatives, which the media reported on, getting more attention than the welfare report.

    You could not do a better job at diverting attention away from the release of the WEAG report.

    Also came out the wedding plan that our PM and her hubby made, quite conveniently.

  3. Well Y’know the morons are in charge when insiders desire to live by the laws of 100 years ago. What a pile of massive stinky pile of hubris. I just have to recal Ruth Richardson and Jenny Shipley proclaiming the virtues of tightening the belt while at the same time cutting benefits so that one day economic prosperity may trickle down on the deserved. Well 20 years later we had our chance to spread the prosperity and it turns out to be another notch ratcheted up on the belt.

    For 20 years the dynastic families of New Zealand, The Fullton’s, the Hearts and Chandliers and so on have been able to double there wealth over that time while the bottom half of the population are held back at the start time. Even if the rules of the game is played as fair as fair could be the is absolutely no way to close that 20 year gap in inequality. In short the dynastic wealth are just going to have to humble themselves and prepare for their we lath to be raided.

  4. “Releasing the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report at 2pm Friday (3rd May) just before the weekend at a far-flung West Auckland venue miles from the train station was a masterstroke of political strategy.”

    Add to that Jacinda’s strategically timed engagement announcement.

    • It’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s standard political practice if you want to bury something to release it on Friday afternoon.

      The engagement announcement I’m less sure about – mostly because it points to a level of cynicism I’m just not willing to admit is present in Jacinda Adern. Which is to say I’d rather be in denial about it 🙂

      • Some would say it points to a level of cynicism similarly displayed by Jacinda – dumping introducing a comprehensive CGT under her watch.

      • “Releasing the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report at 2pm Friday (3rd May) just before the weekend”

        Maybe the msm should lay on extra staff and present a special evening political roundup to assess and review late policy releases

        Cover Fridays and it may put an end to this sort of machinations

    • Thanks Marc, that’s an excellent interview and you’re right, it speaks volumes that a hard nosed- businessman can use terms like ‘dehumanising’ in relation to our social welfare system.

  5. Anyone releasing a document advising Government to spend money for public services is about to be told by some treasury adviser that ‘now is not the time to spend on public services’.

    So much for the “Year of delivery” promised us.

    Clearly this Government are being operated by the treasury.

  6. Susan, an excellent summation that has me in tears.

    I have huge respect for your organisation, and I can well understand how you must be feeling right now.

    I’m not generally given to optimism, being of cynical disposition, but I am so very, very disappointed that we have, yet again, another pack of sociopathic bastards occupying the government benches.

    Coalition of Kindness my arse.


    • Thanks Rosemary. I would like to be more optimistic but I find myself wearily cynical too. Yet they may still surprise.

  7. “…there would need to be a 3-5 year work plan with a ten year time horizon.”

    This is bog standard Labour code for “we’re never going to fix the welfare mess and we know we’ve been saying this for the last 30 years but we don’t care because we know most New Zealanders don’t care – just look at commenters on The Standard – if they don’t give a fuck then we’ve got nothing to worry about. Heck, when in opposition we can even vote with the nats for more nasty war-on-the-poor legislation and there’s hardly a peep out of any of them.” Nearly 30 years of this bullshit from Labour and they expect us to trust them. The trouble is that too many on the left are quite happy to tell the poor to get out and find a job you lazy bastards. When you’re that far behind the eight-ball it’s no wonder why re-establishing a caring and compassionate society seems such an impossible task.

  8. While we may concern ourselves with new Welfare securities and the abolition of the barbaric way with which at-risk fellow AO/NZ’ers are treated by a cadre of narcissistic and sociopathic power freaks in suits and/or frocks we must equally closely ponder this report on RNZ.
    westpac profit at $555 million over six month period and are particularly enthusiastic about ‘supporting’ the rural sector.
    FUCK! And I repeat ; FUCK westpac. And not in that good way.
    A foreign owned bank makes $555 million dollar PROFIT from us while we must walk past the wretched homeless and those working-poor living in their cars.
    FUCK! westpac!
    We want to see a new AO/NZ and the way to achieve that is to drive the foreign banksters into the sea and then we should go and find those who sold us out to them.

    “General conditions have remained favourable on the farm with milk prices increasing and meat prices stabilising at comparatively high levels.”

    Do any of you have any idea how the above statement inflames my primal instincts?

    “We continue to support growth in the agriculture sector, with lending rising by 6 percent year-on-year and deposits increasing by 10 percent over the same period,” said Mr McLean.”
    Mr McLean? You and me? We’d get along swimmingly around the barbi. We could invite jonky and supply a sack of pony tails and I’ll bring my cricket bat and you bring your little balls.


    • …’ Mr McLean? You and me? We’d get along swimmingly around the barbi. We could invite jonky and supply a sack of pony tails and I’ll bring my cricket bat and you bring your little balls ‘…


      More gems from TDB’s master of imagery, COUNTRYBOY.

      Keep sticking it to em, mate.

  9. We can whinge and whine about this governments lack of real transformational change. But when it comes down to it, that’s all it is whining. Labour and the Greens know that we will still vote for them, as we have no other viable alternatives, that’s the real issue, they only have to be seen as kinda doing something. To effect real change and move away from this brutal neoliberal regime we have been forced to suffer, parties in this government need to feel that they could lose support by not delivering change, at the moment, that is not the case. All they need to do is ensure they dont lose votes from the typically more conservative “middle NZ”. Dont expect the year of delivery to deliver real change, it won’t.

  10. I remember when Richard Prebble, I think it was, said that he was using the admittedly flawed and lengthy Report of the Royal Commission on Social Policy (1988) for a doorstop. (https://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/journals-and-magazines/social-policy-journal/spj37/37-still-kicking-the-royal-commission-on-social-policy-20-years-on.html.) However I think things are a bit more serious now, and people will be mistaken if they think they can use the WEAG report for a doorstop for the next 30 years.

  11. I think labour who i voted for have to tread carefully cause their NZ First coalition partner are not very user friendly when it comes to beneficiaries. And so this will always make it difficult to not only pass laws but to implement any more radical changes we may need. The benefit system works i know cause i got my degree thanks to the TIA. And so did pull the benefit who then got rid of it.

    • When it comes to the benefit system Labour’s been all talk and no trousers for nearly 30 years – from when they did a u-turn on reinstating the 1991 benefit cuts. They don’t need NZF to be hateful towards beneficiaries. They supported National’s anti-beneficiary legislation when in opposition, too. Labour is anti-beneficiary all by itself.

      • Helen Clarke/Roger Douglas and the Neo Liberals only ever paid lip service to the workers and the under priviledged sectors of NZ Society ?

        • Douglas didn’t pay lip service to workers – he showed straight out disdain. Clark paid lip service to workers but continued to treat beneficiaries in the same way as Shipley / Richardson and the nats did before her.

  12. In fact I wold go further and say that if the Govt thinks a do-minimum response is good politics they could be mistaken, as they could face a situation that has stuffed up Labour’s election chance both here and in the UK, and possibly in Australia on several past occasions, namely some sort of insurrectionary development in the months leading up to the next election, which would favour a white / law and order backlash in the short run. Check out the NZ elections of 1949 (Carpenters’ Strike, among other things, as documented in Chris Trotter’s No Left Turn) and 1969 (Seamen’s Union demonstration), and also the UK election of 1979 (Winter of Discontent), not to mention the 1981 Springbok Tour in NZ once more, for instance. In fact on those precedents I’d be frankly amazed if something like this did not now eventuate and doom Labour to a one term govt and Greens out the MMP back door too of course.

  13. It’s time to face the fact this government is dishonest. It does not stand for better equality or even for workers, let alone the most vulnerable on benefits.
    They signed the TPPA, essentially said they wouldn’t.
    They ruled out Capital Gains Tax for jacindas tenure.
    Their housing policy is a government subsidy to developers and rich kids.
    Their idea of looking after the citizenry is to curb peoples civil liberties for their own good. Increased police powers, gun confiscation, hate speech laws incoming.
    Turning their back on promised welfare reform.

    This government are worse than National/ACT in that they are dishonest about what they even stand for which is free trade, neoliberalism and debunked trickle down economics.
    If we are offered a choice next election of soulless liars professing to be of the left but dishing up more if the same but with increasing state control, I’m voting for my civil liberties.

    • This. As I mentioned above, they’re are not interested in pandering to the voters like us here, whom they know will vote for them. They are only interested in making subtle change that will be accepted by middle NZ. This isn’t about transformation, it’s about keeping that juicy ministers pay check. People on the left need to wake up and wise up.

    • nobody is worse than the national act combo why because it was under them when a car became a home and 2 thousand state houses were sold why would you do this when we don’t have enough houses and then to make matter worse let in close to a million people so they could push down our already low wages. They got 9 yrs to prove themselves and now we have them acting like they care pull the other one they do care about money not people.

      • NACT don’t care about the poor, don’t get me wrong. But very obviously neither do this lot.
        Difference is the “kindness” “nuclear free moment” coalition saving us from ourselves by choosing to keep the poor in cars, the rich rich and the tax free capital gains nicely squared away for the propertied class.
        Oh and saving the environment by signing away Canterbury water bottling to the Chinese essentially for free. At least NACT weren’t all preachy whiney about the environment.
        Do you see the difference? Same results but this current mob will curb your civil liberties while they subsidize the rich because they are woke and they know what is good for you.

  14. nobody is worse than the national act combo why because it was under them when a car became a home and 2 thousand state houses were sold why would you do this when we don’t have enough houses and then to make matter worse let in close to a million people so they could push down our already low wages. They got 9 yrs to prove themselves and now we have them acting like they care pull the other one they do care about money not people.

  15. Right on KEEPCALMCARRYON ,

    A massive uturn on the TPPA.
    No levy on overseas water bottling exports .
    A total whimpout on Capital gains tax
    Unaffordable ” affordable houses ” and now

    Pointless tinkering with with Welfare when it needs a polemical overhall to deal with inequality , cronic underemployment and the long term fractionalisation / eradication of jobs by automation .Its pathetic but not unexpected .

    The inoffensive nothingness of Labour I believe is strategically designed to keep middle NZ happy and vote Labour in for a second term .No boats are being rocked to get soft National and swing voters to stay with Jacinda.

    If Labour under Saint Jacindas leadership can stay high enough in the polls then they may get reelected with the Greens without the need for NZ First .Only at this point may they be able to invoke a more radical policy program.

    In the meantime Beneficaries must suffer for another year . Three years of Labour waffle .

    The min wage , the living wage and superannuation have all increased at the rate of inflation or better but benefits have been left well behind.

    The amount a beneficary can earn above the basic benefit per week has not been adjusted in 20 years.

    Its currently $60 net after tax and then they give another 15% away in GST. Adjusted for 3% inflation over 20 yrs this should be now around $150 per week for the semi/under/employed worker to save from part time /temp/casual/contract work .

    A basic benefit of around $200-$300 per week gives an annual income of around $15,000 . Allowing semi-employed people to keep more of their earnings from$ 80 to $150 a week would lift the total income to around $23,000 per year , which is still hardly excessive.But would give some measure of modest savings and personal dignity and the ability to deal with financial crisis such as a broken washing machine, dental visit or basic car repair without having to go into greater debt .

    The reality is these people are not” job seekers ” they already have jobs , but they are intermittent , casual ,part- time and unreliable and do not pay enough to cover the weekly basics .These people are not employed or unemployed , they are the semi employed and the underemployed and they should form an entirely new statistcal group with new policy directives.

    This group should be administered through IRD not WINZ to remove the stigma , as they are not “dole Bludgers ” ” they are people who want work , like social company and a decent life but struggle continuously to get enough work or regular hours of work .

    The expectation is that these people will eventually get full time work , but this 1960 model of work /social security is fundamentally flawed and completely out of date .Many people , especially those over 50 may never again get a full time job again and continue to mount debt which they can never repay .

    If they a little keep extra money , its” benefit fraud ” , if they declare the extra income, its taken off them and they are locked a systematic poverty trap of living on $260 a week indefinitely .Extra work does not equate to extra money.

    Its totally soul destroying to watch people , particularly older people with excellent previous job histories suffer month after month as their sense of self worth and confidence erodes, where a productive life has become a mere existence .

    The current system increases personal debt, crushes self esteem and increases substance abuse as people struggle to cope in a system which has not adjusted abatement rates for over 2 decades .

    Its unfair , its wrong , and if there are any select committee hearings on benefit reform legislation it is our democratic duty to get angry , get together and help change the outcomes for our most vulnerable .

    I am really pissed off Labour .

    • “The reality is these people are not” job seekers ” they already have jobs , but they are intermittent , casual ,part- time and unreliable and do not pay enough to cover the weekly basics .These people are not employed or unemployed , they are the semi employed and the underemployed and they should form an entirely new statistical group with new policy directives.”

      Spot on, Black Lemming. Especially when this is a rapidly growing group of workers. The system has to change to accommodate them.

      I managed a business where folk were paid commission only. People could ‘earn’ $2.00 hourly, or less. I think they were disbelieved by some WINZ personnel.

      I took it to the ERA, and addressed a Select Committee about it. Lianne Dalzeil and Peter Brown listened.

      Fortunately I knew someone in the WINZ Dept who knew the realities from me, and that these exploited persons were earning the pathetic amounts which they reported.But that was only one person – albeit a feisty union delegate.

      A direct link with the IRD or administration by the IRD could halt the time-wasting and stressful WINZ system, where one week a worker may earn enough to not need a WINZ top-up, and have their benefit totally cut off, and then next week they earn zilch. Good case mangers coped ok with this, but the calibre of case managers fluctuates, and some of it may happen automatically via computer programs – that’s what I was told.

      WINZ should be able to cope with income fluctuations, but many WINZ employees are ex-beneficiaries, and suspicious of their clients, probably because they themselves had not been upfront. One told me she herself could never had managed without undeclared family and other help. Like Metiria Turei.

      Govt policy may not only rely on illicit support, but also encourage it.

      This is not only bad, but the stresses of trying to manage and live with unpredictable income levels can be totally overwhelming.

      • Yes the gig workers in the gig economy are completely ignored and its impossible to get extra help when a week or season is bad without having to jump through criminal hoops and a Kafkaesque Inquisition that no doubt puts many people in need who possibly could get assistance off even trying. The process is too humiliating on top of – no doubt – other humiliations being broke causes. That’s why, I wonder, moving away from accommodation and winter would be a good thing?

    • The unions have a big part to play in fixing this because the unions have traditionally helped to maintain the divide between the employed and unemployed, which is a typical Labour party distinction. Some unions don’t, but most do and often are sucked in to the ‘go get a job you lazy beneficiary scum’ idea. Until the concept of ‘workers’ is understood more broadly our underclass will continue to blossom. Unions have a big role in this but whether they have the balls to step up is probably a different question.

  16. The situation is beyond extremely dire for those experiencing the brutality of these careless placeholder-leaders.

    People on the front lines are living in a perpetual state of emergency without respite. Behind every suicide is incalculable tragedy.

    Thank you Susan for your efforts.

  17. Watched Carmel Sepuloni on ‘The Nation’ and Q+A’ and was apalled at her insistence that everything would be ok and beneficiaries had to wait for a few years for “phase 2”, whatever the fuck that is

    The woman should be a National minister

  18. “The most transparent government ever” – still bullshit
    Shortly after being elected, Labour promised to be “the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had”. I’ve commented repeatedly on how Labour is failing to meet that promise in its behaviour over parliamentary written questions. And sadly, despite the Speaker repeatedly calling them out on it, their bullshit continues:
    I have received a letter from the Hon Michael Woodhouse raising with me the responses to written questions he has received from the Minister of Health. I note the Minister and his office have been under considerable pressure as a result of having up to 1,500 questions lodged on a single day… However, Dr Clark’s response to some of the questions is not acceptable.

    The replies refer the member to another reply, and that reply refers him on to another reply. In one instance, the member would have had to make his way through 22 separate replies which do not answer the question before finally reaching the answer. That approach falls far short of the standard of accountability required to the House of Ministers.

    The matter was compounded by the answer that was ultimately provided, which stated that the matter was an operational one and that the member could use the Official Information Act 1982 to request the information sought. There is no convention that Ministers are not answerable for operational matters in the agencies falling within their portfolio areas…

    So why did the Minister get 1,500 questions in a single day? From the look of it, because he made work for himself. Ministers have sought to avoid accountability by demanding increasing specificity in questions, meaning that a request for operation numbers over a specific period by type and DHB – basic accountability information – had to be chopped up by each of those categories. Meaning dozens of questions per DHB, for each of the 20 DHBs (I haven’t dug further to see if it had to be chopped up by time as well). And from the Speaker’s ruling, in the end the Minister provided bulk information anyway. Which invites the question of why they didn’t do it in the first place, and the conclusion that he has no-one to blame but himself.

    The Speaker has been good about calling Ministers out over their bullshit games, but it clearly isn’t working. Its time that Ministers who undermine our democracy by refusing accountability to parliament are dragged before the Privileges Committee and punished for their contempt. The Committee can impose fines of up to $1,000. Applying that per question they fail to answer properly ought to provide an incentive for better Ministerial behaviour
    No right turn 8/5/2019

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