Fuller v Bennett

While both I and Green MPs have slammed Paula Bennett’s beneficiary bashing policies, I haven’t climbed into the information privacy dispute between Bennett and DPB beneficiary Natasha Fuller – until now!  But Bennett is now going too far.

Today it was revealed that the Privacy Commissioner had written to Bennett last week with a request “for compensation and an apology for breach of privacy”.

The way the Office of the Privacy Commissioner works is similar to the Human Rights Commission – the preferred way of dealing with disputes being through mediation, with litigation in the Human Rights Review Tribunal being the measure of last resort.

It is inconceivable that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner would have written to Bennett suggesting a settlement if they did not think Fuller had at least an arguable case – they would instead have told Fuller that she had no legal grounds to proceed and advised her to withdraw her complaint.  The level of the financial settlement proposed, $15,000, would also suggest that the Privacy Commissioner’s office considers Fuller has a reasonably strong case.

Bennett declined to entertain the idea of settling the complaint, ripping into Fuller big-time:

Ms Bennett yesterday attacked Ms Fuller’s integrity and accused her of being motivated by politics.

“Her integrity is obviously in question. She says one thing in one breath and then the next day seeks media attention, and then goes online and lies so it becomes very hard to believe anything she says.

Of course it is motivated by politics – the politics of both Bennett and Fuller.  But Bennett started it. She made a political decision to cut the Training Incentive Allowance.  As an affected beneficiary, Fuller made a political decision to challenge that publicly.  Bennett then made a political decision to release Fuller’s personal details, in an attempt to discredit her and discourage other beneficiaries from challenging Government policy.

The issue is whether a Minister of the Crown, motivated by politics, is justified in publicly releasing the personal details of a beneficiary, also motivated by politics.

And on Bennett’s other point of Fuller’s alleged change of position; in a mediated process  both parties’ positions are likely to change depending on the response they  receive from the other party.  That is what mediation and negotiation are all about.

So I suspect, given Bennett’s intransigence, the dispute will proceed on to the Human Rights Review Tribunal, where Bennett could very well be ordered to pay far more than the $15,000 in compensation suggested in the letter from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

I guess if that prevents an admission of wrongdoing by a senior Cabinet Minister before the next election, the Nats must think it is worth the risk.

Meanwhile, beneficiaries concerned about National’s welfare policies will remain fearful of speaking out, lest they be victimised by a bully Minister like Natasha Fuller has.

Update:  Top privacy lawyer John Edwards agrees with me:

“The Privacy Commissioner has conveyed the complainant’s suggestion for settling the matter. If there was no basis for the complaint, she wouldn’t do that. The fact that the commissioner is still involved suggests that the initial action probably was a breach of the Privacy Act.

“And in disclosing the correspondence, the minister has done it again. Releasing that material is arguably a fresh breach of privacy.

“Whether it is or not, it is an aggravating factor of the initial breach.”

23 thoughts on “Fuller v Bennett

  1. WHY?

    The way I understand this issue is that Paula Bennett has broken the law by breaching the Privacy Act.Is that correct?

    I didn’t realise that ministers had immunity from the law, besides if an opposition minister violated a persons private details I guess all hel! would break loose!!

    But all hel! isn’t breaking loose.

    WHY?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3 (+3)

  2. Paula Bennett must be in the running for ‘poorest showing as a Minister for Social Development’ after this fiasco – it’s particularly shoddy to respond to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner in this way.

    Her ‘must win at all costs’ attitude is showing up a strong streak of willfullness, and an inability to actually deal with the reality of the world we all have to live in – which in her case, includes the reality that sometimes, you just take the wrong tack on an issue, and if you keep defending that position, reality will come crashing down on you from on high.
    She has breached privacy using her priviledges as a Minister, and resources managed by her Ministry, and she can’t do that.

    The only way to deal with bullying behaviour like that is to point out that there is no legal ground to stand on, and then prosecute.

    If any ordinary staff member of MSD had gone to the media with information such as Bennett has disclosed, it would have led to serious reprimands, if not dismissal from employment, under public service rules. Bennett needs to learn that she is not some special case, but is subject to the same laws that the rest of the citizenry abide by.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 6 (+9)

  3. Michael Joseph Savage is a rockin’n rollin in his heaven.
    Meanwhile – Jon’s brother Don is drinking all the evidence
    No whine here eh?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2 (-1)

  4. Bullying tactics it just how many current Ministers operate. Anne Tolley replied to difficult questions in a Dunedin meeting regarding National Standards with the statement that she had listened to concerns and rejected them and that it was a minister’s prerogative to make the final decision (despite the fact she has no educational qualifications).

    Lester Flockton, one of New Zealand’s most respected educationalists has been openly presenting the many flaws, misrepresentations and dishonesties behind the Standards. Minister Tolley has publicly asked for Lester himself to stop spreading misinformation and he has written a letter asking for clarification about what he has stated that isn’t factual and hasn’t had a reply.

    Many Principals have indicated, from their own knowledge and backed by Lester’s research, that they won’t implement the standards because they are professionally unsound and potentially damaging to children. Those principals are now being subjected to bullying tactics through “random audits” where it is suggested that their continued employment may be at risk. The schools concerned have excellent ERO reports and few “failing” children.

    It doesn’t matter if you are a responsible and succussful citizen of this country if you dare question a Minister or government policy you will be dealt to!

    Beneficiary and teacher bashing are enthusiastically supported by this Government.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3 (+7)

  5. Kiwi = Bully
    Time to change the cd sprout – we need QUALITY in Parliament
    Hope you Greens shake out some more profound characters
    There’s an Election coming
    I’m betting on a Labour/Green/Maori Coalition
    and wouldn’t it be a breath of fresh air?
    The great nation should forgive Helen for hanging on two years too long.
    But we gotta get rid of the robber-vandals toot sweet eh?
    eh?
    A Minister can hide under Parliamentary Privelidge inside the House Drak.
    But infringe a Private Citizens Rights?
    Well, that is, imo, the whole debate that matters in nz today.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3 (+1)

  6. The political issue behind the Minister’s breaching privacy is in “childcare cost”.

    The government was reducing the TIA and if that influenced people to stop study, or not go into tertiary study, then it also saved the government money on childcare. This as the government was also moving some women on the DPB (those with older children in school) onto work testing. The total result of which is to have more unskilled workers competing for jobs while the government brought in easier hire and fire rules.

    Of course the idea of counting childcare costs as part of someones income (so people thought the two women on the DPB were on too high an income and should not get the TIA) is akin to counting the cost of subsidised childcare/pre school education for working women as part of their income (note they are now also effectively reducing the after-tax income of parents with children in pre-school education). It was simply a device to suggest an unaffordability to DPB cost which somehow the TIA abolition would deal with – less women on the DPB in study and thus less needing childcare help. Thus more childcare places for women in work (at no cost to government).

    Just like all those people now unable to get tertiary study places, women on the DPB are simply to lose any educational investment as the government goes for a less well-educated workforce as a cost-saving to afford higher after tax incomes for those who have already realised a successful career.

    The Minister represents the example of someone who makes it off welfare, or a state house, to show that the system they serve is a meritocracy and they are better than those they close the door on – this is why tall poppies get cut down, they have it coming.

    The Minister simply it is her job to lead a government strategy to subordinate those on welfare – it’s merely part of taming the public service, diminishing it with cut-backs and a wage freeze. Similarly reducing the number of people able to access teritary education – it’s bringing the authority of the corporate to the control of costs/people -people are being seen as costs to minimised. And crushing resistance is seen as part of the cost-cutting exercise. It reminds me of the SOE strategy of contracting out its jobs – so former employees had to bid down their own wages to keep their old jobs. It’s about forcing people into complaint survival mode, while a greater share of the national pie is shared out to those backing the government programme.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2 (+4)

  7. While I support the concept of mediation processes such as those run by the Privacy Commissioner, Health and Disability Commissioner, and Human Right Commission to resolve disputes without litigation, in some circumstances they are a waste of time.

    If Bennett’s initital response was, as she says (that she had done nothing wrong, won’t apologise, won’t pay any compensation, and nothing is going to convince her to change her position), then surely there is a case if the Privacy Commissioner considers the complaint is well founded, to escalate it immediately to the Human Rights Review Tribunal for adjudication.

    In this instance it is now over 10 months since the information was disclosed, and no progress has been made through the mediation process. Bennett seems to have been using the Privacy Commissioner’s processes to deliberately drag the matter out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2 (+5)

  8. and the H&D Commission has about three years worth of backlog….should really have doubled their Budget…that’s the quality of mistake we’re making these days.
    I see MJSavage is alive and well and passing comment like a free man!
    ‘On yer Mickey!
    Took an Aussie to straighten out the Books eh?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 (0)

  9. I think the public have a right to know how much what this woman was actually receiving. The “crime” was that the figure was shown to be very generous and more than many people who go through the daily grind bring home.
    This post demonstrates why people should be a little shy of your mind the gap campaign (ie lack of balance).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 7 (-3)

  10. Do the public have the right to know how much tax you or I pay, jh? Would you be upset if Peter Dunne publicly released your tax records without your consent? I certainly would if he released mine.

    As someone familiar with the benefit system, I know that a lot of the assistance (ie disability allowance, and accommodation supplement, and [from memory]childcare subsidy) that Natasha Fuller was revealed as receiving by Paula Bennett would also be received by a single parent on a low or even middle income.

    In that context, what Fuller was receiving doesn’t look generous at all, as it is less than anyone in similar circumstances but in employment would be getting in the hand – even if on the minimum wage.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3 (+5)

  11. Bomber Bradbury has a theory that this explains the bizarre appointment of arch-bigot and former National Party MP to the Human Rights Review Tribunal. He’s been put there to try to get Bennett off when the complaint goes to adjudication.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3 (+1)

  12. “Do the public have the right to know how much tax you or I pay, jh?”
    .
    If I was complaining then I think it would be fair if Peter Dunne set the record straight.
    .
    “As someone familiar with the benefit system, I know that a lot of the assistance (ie disability allowance, and accommodation supplement, and [from memory]childcare subsidy) that Natasha Fuller was revealed as receiving by Paula Bennett would also be received by a single parent on a low or even middle income.”
    .
    Except that Natasha Fuller sits on her bum for what she gets.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 5 (-2)

  13. BENNETT CROSSED THE LINE!!!!

    When Bennett published Fullers financial details to the public; was that legal?

    If it wasn’t that puts the National party in a very vulnerable position that should be dealt with by the Prime Minister.

    It wasn’t very long ago when Helen Clark had sacked Taito Philip Fields for taking bribes from Thai workers for getting their residencey paperwork ‘validated’. Do you all remember That?

    Who sacked Taito Philip? Helen Clark and rightly so, because he was a liability to Labour Government of the day.

    Do we see such clean up jobs from this crowd?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2 (-1)

  14. BENNETT CROSSED THE LINE!!!!
    =====
    the one that says: We mustn’t let the public know the facts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2 (0)

  15. What ever happened to helping the blind, lepers, widows etc? Now we have to help career baby factories who have discovered a way to effortlessly ensure the continuation of their genes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3 (-2)

  16. jh

    Some facts, the benefit is less than the minimum wage, child tax credits are higher for those in jobs, those on benefits (when studying) and those in work get childcare subsidy and accommodation supplement.

    There is no way that anyone on a benefit gets more than someone in work in a similar situation.

    The figures released to the media about the 2 women on the DPB, included as income amounts they never received – such as childcare subsidy that is paid to the childcare provider (which is not counted as income by the IRD when received by working women – who are also eligible).

    When challenged by these facts – you simply say well she was just sitting on her bum – again totally untrue, she qualified for the childcare subsidy because she was in study – the issue was about losing the TIA (those on the DPB don’t have much ability to work part-time to save money to cover costs as other students do, because they have children).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4 (-1)

  17. “Bennett revealed that Natasha Fuller was receiving $715 a week and Jennifer Johnston $554 a week.”

    “jh

    Some facts, the benefit is less than the minimum wage, child tax credits are higher for those in jobs, those on benefits (when studying) and those in work get childcare subsidy and accommodation supplement.

    There is no way that anyone on a benefit gets more than someone in work in a similar situation. ”
    ……
    that isn’t to say that (childcare subsidies aside) a worker on a low wage may be taking home more that a solo mother.

    .
    “The figures released to the media about the 2 women on the DPB, included as income amounts they never received – such as childcare subsidy that is paid to the childcare provider (which is not counted as income by the IRD when received by working women – who are also eligible). ”
    .
    If someone pays my grocery bills for me I never receive it either, but I still get to consume the groceries.
    .
    “(those on the DPB don’t have much ability to work part-time to save money to cover costs as other students do, because they have children)”
    ===
    this is where the main source of disagreement is: while there will be many genuine cases (such as my friends daughter whose sun in law was murdered and his daughter went on dpb while she studied) there will also be various shades of response to the support being available. You just have to check out the comments from people supporting the dpb and you get the impression that it is considered virtuous by many to have a child on the dpb. There is also the ease at which (say) a farther or boyfriend can move in as the flatemate. The Greens downplay any freeloader problem as insignificant. Elsewhere in Greenworld people are discussing the tertiary economy collapsing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3 (0)

  18. The point about Ms Bennetts political agenda regarding the first news of the proposed cuts to social services in the first 3 months after the election.The level of rumour was factual in the actions of the Ministry to complete any applications for the TIA in the offices in NZ and deliberately slowed down any help that they could give to new applications or complete any in progress up to the actual govt announce ment that the cuts were in effect.This shows the scare that Bennett must have got for her implemeting policy in house before it was officially inacted by the govt-that her personal integrity must have been very vunerable to the point the PM had to rescure her.Hence her actions since.Also this type action is typical of this govt

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0 (+1)

  19. The two women who have had there privacy breached were receiving their full and correct entitlement as far as I know with the amount determined by their individual circumstances which is why they received different amounts. If Ms Bennet has concerns about this she can do what Jenny did and cut benefits – and she never disclosed the entitlements of beneficiaries opposing her law changes.
    And as for having tax details made public, I doubt if Peter Dunne would disclose any tax-payers details if the tax-payer concerned was debating a policy/law change, as opposed to their individual assessment under the law as it stood.
    As it happens the women would not have been affected by the changes to TIA because it was “grand-parented” for those in their situation, that is those currently enrolled. They spoke out about how the chnages would impact on others in the same situation in the future – that is reducing the ability to be educated at the teritary level.
    By breaching privacy Ms Bennett has created an environment whereby any beneficiary criticising government policy now fears having their personal details made public rather than having the merits of the decision debated. Extending this to other policy areas we are on a slippery slope that is not democratic.
    TIA is a policy tool designed to improve the earning ability of DPB and IB recipients once able to re-enter the work-force…. something I though Jon K wanted. But then again politicanc can be slective with the truth.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1 (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>