Paula, Peter and Peter: a perplexing predicament

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.

34 Comments Posted

  1. More on this from Gordon Campbell:

    Since the saga began with some research I did into Saunders, Bennett should be advised that her appointee has now responded. He is not amused. On his website, Saunders has tried to once again explain why he still thinks – just as he did in the 1994 book review that I cited – that there is a link between low intelligence, the working class, and being a welfare recipient. This time, he tries to explain why, in his view, many jobseekers on the dole are so stupid that it is a waste of time, money and energy for the state to try and retrain them.

    I’ll try and present as much of his argument as I can in his own words:

    “People in higher occupational classes are brighter than people in lower class positions….Employers try to fill jobs with the most able candidates….[Therefore, since] people are to a large extent recruited to occupations on the basis of their ability, then people of higher ability will tend to be found in the higher skilled and better-paid positions in society. Evidence from IQ testing confirms this: in America, accountants and lawyers have average IQ scores of 128, compared with 122 for teachers, 109 for electricians, 96 for truck drivers and 91 for miners and farmhands.”

    Having displayed this touching faith in the accuracy and cultural neutrality of IQ testing, Saunders ploughs on. Over the course of the last three decades, he points out, low skilled jobs have been shed in many developed countries. “What are governments to do about this?” he asks. “The problem is that one-sixth of the population has an IQ under 85… Pushing them through government training courses makes politicians feel good, but it is not going to turn them into skilled IT workers. Somehow, we have to find new, useful, but less challenging tasks for them to do.”

    Having dismissed the value of retraining programmes for welfare beneficiaries on welfare, Saunders then proceeds to criticize measures to improve the equality of opportunity to tertiary education. Again, this is a wasted effort, in his view. To repeat: these are the sort of views that Paula Bennett wants her expert panel on welfare reform to heed. We should be very worried.

  2. ***When asked about Peter Saunders’ statement that there is a link between “low average intelligence and low class position.***

    Actually, there is a massive amount of research showing that psychometric testing is pretty reliable across cultures and predictive of a number of outcomes. Harvard Professor, Steven Pinker wrote last year in the New York Times (‘My Genome, My Self’ 11 Jan 2009):

    “To study something scientifically, you first have to measure it, and psychologists have developed tests for many mental traits. And contrary to popular opinion, the tests work pretty well: they give a similar measurement of a person every time they are administered, and they statistically predict life outcomes like school and job performance, psychiatric diagnoses and marital stability. Tests for intelligence might ask people to recite a string of digits backward, define a word like “predicament,” identify what an egg and a seed have in common or assemble four triangles into a square. Personality tests ask people to agree or disagree with statements like “Often I cross the street in order not to meet someone I know,” “I often was in trouble in school,” “Before I do something I try to consider how my friends will react to it” and “People say insulting and vulgar things about me.” People’s answers to a large set of these questions tend to vary in five major ways: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness (as opposed to antagonism) and neuroticism. The scores can then be compared with those of relatives who vary in relatedness and family backgrounds.

    The most prominent finding of behavioral genetics has been summarized by the psychologist Eric Turkheimer: “The nature-nurture debate is over. . . . All human behavioral traits are heritable.” By this he meant that a substantial fraction of the variation among individuals within a culture can be linked to variation in their genes. Whether you measure intelligence or personality, religiosity or political orientation, television watching or cigarette smoking, the outcome is the same. Identical twins (who share all their genes) are more similar than fraternal twins (who share half their genes that vary among people). Biological siblings (who share half those genes too) are more similar than adopted siblings (who share no more genes than do strangers). And identical twins separated at birth and raised in different adoptive homes (who share their genes but not their environments) are uncannily similar.”

  3. ….which reminds me….which is the best behaved Party in the house?(It’s not even close).
    Those Brave and Noble Greens again!

  4. Well, first, Bennett may have tried to laugh it off, but the amount of coverage it’s had shows that clearly didn’t work. Second, it was a follow up to Catherine’s question from a week earlier, where Bennett misled the House by referring to a book by the more progressive Peter to defend the extreme statements made by the Peter she actually has appointed to the welfare working group. The make up of this group is very troubling, hence Catherine’s original questions, and there’s every good reason to follow up when it’s been discovered the Minister either didn’t know what she was talking about or lied.

  5. Your description is as laboured as MP Delahuntys question in the house. It was so long winded, it got laughed off. She had to be rescued by Mallard arguing it was a real question. Concentrate on core issues and stop trying to play the silly one upmanship game that so demeans parliament.


    Well according to Gobsmacked there is now a Peter Saunders 3 !!!!!
    It’s just as well it wasn’t Henry the VIII, or would she have a Willy or a Sam???

  7. welcome to the state of Irony… now extended.. from community issues to political people..

  8. and she went to the US to study their ‘Welfare Systems’.
    It was only a short trip cos they don’t got any (that’s a worry Paula!).

  9. @greenfly 2:07 PM
    Well, Paula did say last weekend that she is “a girl prone to excesses”.

    Just how many Peters can she have?

  10. Farrar attempts to whip up some anti-Green froth on fartblog and gets a serve.

    adrianb (10) Says:
    May 6th, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    “No, Mr Farrar, you’re simply a hypocrite. You’re either in favour of mining in areas of high conservation value or not; if you are, at least have the balls to say so. Your weasel-worded spin here is ridiculous. It’s the most contemptible of political habits, but I’m afraid you’re too practiced in poli-speak to even notice.”

    Adrianb – nice call.

    Meanwhile, on a bitter and twisted planet all of his own, Big Bro chews on his own lips.

    [frog: Watch the thread jacking, fly, there’s plenty of mining posts around for this.]

  11. No patsy Nat question in Parliament today to give Bennett the opportunity to gloat about the drop in unemployment. Must be running scared that it will be turned around on her with more supplementaries about Saunders and Saunders.

  12. Hmmm… Merv, such memories!

    Lest we forget school children saluting the flag, daily, as suggested by Merv. Closely followed by an epidemic of chainsawing school flag polls in the dead of night!

    Those were the days!


  13. It’s all a big misunderstanding.

    Paula Bennett actually meant to appoint Peter Saunders, from the original line-up of Dexy’s Midnight Runners. He featured on “Searching for the Young Soul Rebels”. This was one of the sounds of my youth, and still ranks as one of the greatest albums ever, so there. Paula has taste!

    She may have been inspired to appoint Peter Saunders after listening to Gerry Brownlee talk about mining Schedule Four. Here’s (part of) the Dexy’s song that Saunders co-wrote, “Thankfully Not Living In Yorkshire, It Doesn’t Apply”:

    I’ve never seen it but I still believe it
    I’d like to dig it out or maybe wrench it out
    There’s no touching
    But there’s not much involved in casting doubt
    Too hard to think about
    I’d relate my thoughts to you
    But I’m not so stupid to put my faith in you
    I’ll just keep searching

    I’ve walked around, seen the town and the crowds
    I’ve walked about, worked it out, pissed about, tried to shout,
    No one’s listening

  14. Just saw this in the comments thread at The Standard and thought it worth stealing:

    Lazy Susan
    6 May 2010 at 8:41 am

    Which is the real Paula?

    Paula 1
    – the struggling solo mum who worked hard to become a member of Cabinet. She feels honoured and humbled to hold this position and is able to empathise with people who struggle. She is delighted that she can use her position to really help better the lot of the less fortunate members of society and make New Zealand a decent and responsible society.

    Paula 2
    – the struggling solo mum who worked hard to become a member of Cabinet. Sitting at the Cabinet table, she feels entitled and priviliged and looks down her nose at the rabble of a society that surrounds her. Now she can really punish those losers who simply just aren’t smart enough to do what she’s done.

  15. Kevin-Merv did leave a legacy, many school flag poles owe their existance to him. However his statement that there will be no sex education while he was Minister has thankfully remained in the past.

    I had thought that such simplistic thinking from education ministers (or welfare ministers) would remain a historical occurance, but I was wrong…

  16. Today was probably the funniest question time I’ve ever seen. Not that there have been many… 😀

  17. @Toad Thanks for the memories! Merv Wellington – I well remember being at a national Executive meeting for the NZ University Students Association when the news came through that Muldoon had appointed him the new Minister of Education. This was quite a surprise, as none of us were aware of the existence of an MP by this name. Subsequent research revealed that besides his maiden speech, his sole contribution to parliamentary life thus far had been a question asking the Minister of Agriculture to confirm that wool production had increased satisfactorily.

    He didn’t go on to surprise.

  18. watch the replay of question-time tonight at 10…

    see mapp he does battle with the english language…

    ..’language’ was not the winner on the day..


  19. and roger douglas…

    ..he did one of his hilarious ‘turns’ today..

    ..asking bennett why she was pandering to lefties..(or some-gem like that..)

    ..everyone laughed..including him..

    ..he was asked if he’d like to ask a real re-word it..

    ..that seemed past he passed.. aide rushed out..tucked the blanket around him..

    ..and gave him a cup of (not-too-hot) cocoa..

    ..he settled back..for the rest of the session..

    ..obviously tired by/from his exertions..


  20. Very good post, Frog.

    I don’t know anything about Parliament’s Standing Orders (and I suspect Bennett will be AWOL tomorrow anyway) but a few simple questions spring to mind:

    “Did the Minister intend to appoint the author of ‘Welfare to Work in Practice’?”

    Or even:

    “Has the Minister read ‘Welfare to Work in Practice’?”

    It’s not just about scoring cheap points. The public need to know who’s setting the welfare agenda. It doesn’t seem to be the Minister, who is clearly out of her depth.

  21. “Bennett must be rivaling Tolley and Brownlee for the thickest Minister ever award.”

    Alamein Kopu ?

  22. Paula got the “right man” for sure. The far right racist one. But she still hasn’t explained why she cited in Parliament last week the respected academic Peter Saunders’ work as that of the wingnut of the same name she appointed to the Welfare Working Group:

    Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has been forced to explain a confusing situation involving two men with the same name and similar academic backgrounds — but only one of whom is a Welfare Working Group appointee.

    Professor Peter Saunders was appointed last month by Ms Bennett to help examine long term welfare dependence and identify causes and solutions.

    Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty said in Parliament last week he was known to have some extreme views, including one linking low average intelligence with low class.

    Ms Bennett responded by saying she didn’t agree with everything Prof Saunders said. She said he had something to offer the group and suggested fellow MPs read his book, Welfare to Work in Practice.

    Ms Delahunty pointed out in Parliament today that book was in fact written by another Professor Peter Saunders — from the University of New South Wales.

    “The differences are great between Peter Saunders of the University of New South Wales and the Peter Saunders who describes himself as a freelance consultant and independent author,” Ms Delahunty said.

    “One wants to reduce poverty and inequality, the other wants to increase poverty and inequality. I am not sure which one (Ms Bennett) thinks she appointed as an adviser to the Welfare Working Group but I am guessing it is the freelance Peter Saunders,”

    Ms Bennett released a statement to clear up confusion, saying “I can assure you, we got the right man”.

    She said both professors studied in England, both were based in Sydney at the same time and both had continued to lecture on social policy and welfare and had written books on the topic.

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

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