Paula, Peter and Peter: a perplexing predicament

by frog

Today in the House, Catherine Delahunty posed a perplexing problem to Paula Bennett. Which Peter was she talking about?

Last week, Catherine hit Paula up about the Welfare Working Group and the obvious bias of the people she had appointed. When asked about Peter Saunders’ statement that there is a link between “low average intelligence and low class position”, Ms Bennett replied,

“I say that Peter Saunders is one of many advisers. He has something to offer the group as far as international knowledge is concerned. Members can read his book, Welfare to Work in Practice, which he wrote in Australia. I do not agree with everything he said; I do not agree with everything that a number of the advisers to the group said. But we are open to listening to those views from the Welfare Working Group.”

My emphasis added.

Now the reason why Paula does not agree with everything in Welfare to Work in Practice is probably because the Peter Saunders who wrote it is not the same Peter Saunders she appointed to advise the Welfare Working Group.

There are indeed two Peter Saunders who are working in the same general area.

When not hatin’ on poor people, the one Paula appointed — we’ll call him P1 — has had time to pop out a few books and articles. Here is a small bibliography:

Australia’s Welfare Habit: And how to kick it
• Unequal But Fair? A Study of Class Barriers in Britain
• Supping with the devil: government contracts and the non-profit sector
• A whiff of compassion? The attack on mutual obligation
• Why capitalism is good for the soul
• Six arguments in favour of self-funding

And my favourite,

Help and hassle: Do people on welfare really want to work?

Somewhere in the construction of P1’s website he got confused and classified the bulk of his work under the non-fiction category. It is quite obvious the policies he promotes are just as fictional as his novel, The Versailles Memorandum; which one reviewer has said “is as important as Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged”.

You interpret that however you want. But read this column by Gordon Campbell from Scoop about just how scary this guy is. He works for the Centre for Independent Studies!

P2 — the one who actually wrote Welfare to Work in Practice — is by far, a more credible source. He is currently a professor at the University of New South Wales. He is actually interested in poverty and inequality and policies to limit the growth of both social problems.

Now you might think: “two guys, the same name, and working on similar things – I can see how Paula got confused”. But this is not a new problem. The Sydney Morning Herald covered the two Peters in 2002 (Hat tip to Alastair Jamieson).

They summed it up quite nicely on October 25 2002,

“Same name, similar titles, but diametrically opposed views.”

One can imagine that some unfortunate researcher in the National Party research unit is getting their bottom raked over some pretty hot coals right now. If only they had clicked this link.

It should also be noted there is a Peter Saunders who does something for Grey Power in Kapiti… I wonder if Paula will be getting advice from him.

The Minister fobbed Catherine’s question off in the House, but has just put out a statement saying, yes they got the right Peter. However, she carefully avoids saying which Peter is the “right man”.

I don’t know if this is a good thing. To be quite honest I would rather they had appointed P2 rather than P1.

And Bennett’s statement still does not address the fact that she was — knowingly or unknowingly — passing off sane and respected research as the product of a biased ex-academic who now works for a conservative think tank and writes vaguely racist fiction in his spare time.

Bennett does leave us with a glimmer of hope that she knows she was mistaken. This is probably as close as we’ll get as an admission she got it wrong:

“This clearly creates potential for mistaken identity,” says Ms Bennett.

frog says