Metiria Turei's only child believes she would have gone hungry had the future Green Party co-leader not misled WINZ over her benefit status.

Piupiu Turei, 24, has spoken of her mother's decision to go public about what she had to do to make ends meet as a solo-mother, student and beneficiary.

A week ago the Green Party co-leader divulged during an announcement on the party's plans to reform the welfare system how she lied to Work and Income New Zealand.

Turei shared how, as a solo mum on a benefit, flatmates helped pay rent - a fact she did not divulge to WINZ. It allowed the future politician to gain extra financial assistance.

Advertisement
Piupiu Turei, 9 middle, with grandmother Ann Hartley and mother Metiria Turei in 2002. Photo: NZH Archive
Piupiu Turei, 9 middle, with grandmother Ann Hartley and mother Metiria Turei in 2002. Photo: NZH Archive

In an exclusive interview, Piupiu told the Herald on Sunday her mother was only doing what she had to - for both of them.

"I think I would've been hungry. It definitely would have been much harder for us - more hoops for mum to jump through and less time for her to focus on study and caring for me."

The artist, who lives in the Netherlands with her Dutch partner, recalled how happy her mother was upon graduating from Auckland University in 1999.

"I didn't really know what 'going to law school' meant, but I knew she had worked so hard and was getting a certificate for all her work."

She said growing up her mother always seemed so resilient.

"No matter what, she was going to look after us, and if it was hard, it was okay because we would get through it together.

"She taught me how to survive, love and thrive no matter what situation you're in."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei and her daughter Piupiu out for the night at Havana Bar in Te Aro, Wellington. 12 July 2014. Photo: NZH/Mark Mitchell
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei and her daughter Piupiu out for the night at Havana Bar in Te Aro, Wellington. 12 July 2014. Photo: NZH/Mark Mitchell

Piupiu was warned of a "big announcement" ahead of last Sunday, however, she said being Turei's fifth election campaign she understood the process.

Advertisement

But the 24-year-old said some of the reactions had been tough to stomach.

"It's hard to read some of the comments, some reference violence and that is understandably upsetting."

She told those condemning her mother it was okay to disagree - but she urged them to be constructive in their criticism.

Piupiu, who left New Zealand last November, said she was proud of how brave her mum had been.

"I'm proud of her for being real with the New Zealand public."

Piupiu said her mother's story was "powerful" and helped others speak out.

"I feel so much love for people who are sharing their stories. It takes a lot of courage and it's important we talk about these issues."

Metiria Turei and her daughter Piupiu at Piha in a Green Party election ad from 2014. Photo: Supplied by the Green Party
Metiria Turei and her daughter Piupiu at Piha in a Green Party election ad from 2014. Photo: Supplied by the Green Party

It's stories like these that initially spurred Turei to confess to benefit fraud at the party conference seven days ago.

But before she confessed the Green Party co-leader consulted her two closest political advisors and her family.

Her advisors backed her completely. Her family were worried but supportive.

Turei told the Herald on Sunday all were aware confessing to fraud was a risk; they expected the public backlash, knew an investigation was likely - but she did it anyway.

The trigger to her confession was a story about a woman, falsely accused of fraud who then died of suspected suicide in 2011.

"What drives a woman to such despair? This is not a story that should ever have existed," Turei said.

"We have never been able to force the country into a serious conversation about how harmful the welfare system can be and I thought well maybe I can force that conversation."

Turei wrote her story down and sent it to her advisors with these words: "I don't know if it's right ... I'm confessing."

All agreed it was a story that needed to be told and after letting the idea "sink in" for a few days and discussing it with her family Turei's mind was made.

Green Party MP and co-leader Metiria Turei. Photo: NZH/Dean Purcell
Green Party MP and co-leader Metiria Turei. Photo: NZH/Dean Purcell

Turei expected an investigation and "rightly so", but was not sure how much money she was liable for repayment.

She told the Herald on Sunday she was on the benefit between 1993 and 1998 and in three of the five places she had flatmates WINZ was not aware of.

"It would have been between $20 to $50 [extra] a week depending on the accommodation support that I was entitled to."

Whatever the price she was prepared to pay if it meant exposing the hardship of beneficiaries.

She remembered all too well the feeling of "shame" that came with needing help.

"It was that [feeling] that drove me to law school, to finish as quick as I could and made me not fail a single paper.

"I wanted off it as fast I could. I hated being so vulnerable and I have never been since."

Turei said a welfare system that drove people into "constant worry, constant stress" must be overhauled.

"...I hated being so vulnerable..."

"We can fix it, just by making sure people have got an income they can live on. It's not too much to ask that people can have enough to live on."

She admitted the negativity in the past week since her confession had been "distressing" at times.

"You go from being a person who has a job, to a benefit fraudster, you are defined by the worst story about you and not by the best."

Nevertheless even with the torrent of "vitriol" thrown her way Turei had no regrets. She has also received a huge show of support.

"The attacks that I am getting and that abusive language that often comes with that - beneficiaries get that all the time."