COMMENT: By Paula Bennett, National MP

Mostly, I let things go.

The rubbish written about me, the sometimes cruel comments and cartoons - they come with the job and I'm not one to shy away from controversy so I generally take the bad with the good, suck it up and keep going.

No one likes a whinger and they like a politician trying to garner sympathy even less. But last week's opinion piece by Jay Kuten has motivated me to respond.


Firstly, I would like to correct some of his statements.

I had weight loss surgery for health reasons. I have arthritis and the best way to alleviate some of my constant pain was to reduce my weight.

I have constantly said I liked the way I looked before - and even adorned the cover of the odd magazine when I was heavier. This size isn't "better" in my opinion, it's just healthier and different.

My surgery cost less than half of the $50,000 that he quoted and the designer leopard dress on the front cover was a dress for under $100 from Zara.

I have never blamed my job or busy lifestyle for my weight gain, in fact the opposite, it's me that ate too much, too often, of the wrong food.

I loved my fat and still love fat people. Once I made the decision to have surgery, I wanted to be honest with people as I knew the change would be obvious and public.

I have never denied other women opportunities. I'm proud to be National's spokesperson for women.

I did more to help people on welfare than others had for decades. We spent more on employment and training assistance than any previous government had.


I loosened the rules around emergency assistance so it was easier for people to get help when they needed it and we saw tens of thousands go off welfare to lead better lives than one of dependency on the state.

It is appalling to see the number on the job seeker benefit increase by 11,000 people over the past 12 months. They should be in work, not on a benefit.

This is the old Unemployment Benefit (the dole), the criteria for being on it is that you are able to work but can't find a job, it's not for people who are caring for children or are sick or disabled.

There are other benefits for them.

Are there really 11,000 more people in the past 12 months unable to find work? Or has the Government loosened the rules?

This Government changed the rules, it doesn't sanction people who repeatedly don't turn up for appointments and interviews and has no expectation that those on the job seeker support can work and earn a living.

That, in my opinion, is cruel.

To determine that they don't need to be held account and work-ready is cruel.

As our new MP Agnes Loheni recently described in her maiden speech to Parliament: "The soft bigotry of low expectation that rips hope from our children, destroys faith in their ability to overcome life's obstacles, creates jealousy and envy in our kids is wrong."

I fiercely believe that the majority of those on welfare want something more. That, due to life's circumstances, they have found themselves needing state assistance. We should give them that assistance, but we should also support, persuade, train, encourage and have expectations.

We should believe in them and that there is a better life than one of dependency on others. I know that getting off welfare isn't easy. In fact, it can be terrifying and bloody hard.

But the rewards of independence are worth it, not just financially, but in so many other ways as well.

People often tell me they wouldn't do my job because of how mean people seem to be.

I always tell them to stop reading the rubbish of the few and look around them at the truth.

I am truly blessed because I see the best of New Zealanders.

Every day I meet people up and down this country from all walks of life who are courageous, brave and inspiring and I am grateful for my opportunities and that I was lucky enough to have been born in the most beautiful country in the world.

I'm proud we were the first country in the world to give women the vote and I hope that seeing opinion pieces like Jay Kuten's doesn't put off women from getting into politics.