Hunger striker Kuha has my respect: Bennett

By Peter de Graaf


Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says she left a meeting with hunger striker Sam Kuha with respect for the man and his passion for the problem of child poverty.

Mr Kuha says he was listened to and had achieved at least some of the objectives he set when he stopped eating in protest at being refused a food grant in September.

The pair met for 45 minutes at the offices of Ngapuhi Iwi Social Services in Kaikohe yesterday morning, with Mr Kuha's advocate Arthur Harawira and Ms Bennett's press secretary Luke Goldsmith.

Mr Kuha, 59, lifted his 30-day hunger strike on October 12 after Ms Bennett agreed to meet him face-to-face. The invalid beneficiary, who lost a leg and the use of one arm when he was run over 20 years ago, started his protest when he was refused an emergency food grant because of what he called Work and Income's pointless budgeting policy. Later, he broadened his protest to the issue of child poverty.

Ms Bennett said the meeting was cordial and struck a lot of common ground, on Mr Kuha's situation and Northland's child-poverty problem.

What they differed on was the solutions.

"I left with a respect for him and his passion for those kids," she said.

Mr Kuha said Ms Bennett was open, forthright and listened to him. Regarding his being refused a food grant, she told him policies were not always carried out on the ground as written.

Mr Kuha said that had now been fixed and as a result fewer people would go hungry because of improperly interpreted rules.

Ms Bennett acknowledged times were hard for many Northlanders but told him she could not keep handing out money. Instead she had to try to fix the causes, in particular some young parents' poor parenting skills. The benefit was her "big stick" to persuade them to do the right thing by their children.

Mr Kuha said he could not end child poverty, but he had cast a spotlight on it - and, through changes to food grant rules, he had at least stopped some going hungry temporarily.

After the meeting, Ms Bennett presented her white paper on vulnerable children at Te Runanga-a-iwi o Ngapuhi's headquarters in Kaikohe, outlining her ideas for ending violence against children.

The plan was the result of her sometimes fiery green-paper consultation tour this year. She said that process had started in Kaitaia, so it made sense to bring the results to Northland first, to see if people felt she had got it right.

Ms Bennett also met the new Vulnerable Children's Team in Whangarei, which aims to help arrest the region's shocking child-abuse rate.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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