It took a bombshell to get the Greens back talking about what they care about - ending poverty and saving the planet.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei's admission that she once committed benefit fraud and lied to authorities about it successfully pushed Greens' recent problems into the background and created an opening for the party to sell its radical welfare proposals.

The party's AGM followed an awful week in which likely coalition partner Labour fell in the polls and squabbles with NZ First undermined possible coalition options.

That was forgotten when Turei sensationally revealed she committed benefit fraud as a solo mum 24 years ago. Turei's admission comes with political risks, given the vitriol aimed at cheating beneficiaries in this country. As she said, she is "one of those women ... you hear people complain about on talkback radio".

There is also the legal risk. Police could feel obliged to investigate, which would create a significant distraction during the election campaign.


There was no immediate appetite among political parties for Turei to face consequences for her illegal activity. The Green Party audience, though near-silent during her confession, was sympathetic to the story. No political leader from other parties was baying for a WINZ prosecution afterward.

Turei's personal story at least refocused attention onto what is an ambitious policy to address poverty in New Zealand. All benefits would be lifted by 20 per cent, beneficiaries would be able to earn more without being penalised, and the bottom tax rate would be cut.

The policy goes further than simple changes to entitlements, instead attempting to reverse what the Greens see as a culture shift towards punitive treatment of families which traps them in poverty rather than incentivising them. Aside from stopping benefits for people in jail, practically all and every penalty for beneficiaries will be abolished under the Greens.

Many of the ideas may not survive in any left-wing Government, but a clear message has been sent.

So in the end, Greens spent their election-year conference talking not about Labour and NZ First, but about their core, defining issues - poverty and climate change. And that's something that looked unlikely a few days ago.