The next round of political opinion poll results could be fascinating. Will they register any impact at all from Metiria Turei's infamous benefit fraud confession? Will the Greens be rewarded or punished? How will other parties be affected? Below are some of the possible ramifications from the ongoing controversy.
1: The Greens could surge in popularity
The Greens have probably never had so much media attention or ignited so much polarised debate. And although plenty of this reaction is negative, voters looking for a more anti-establishment or rebellious politician may look to Turei who has now strongly positioned herself as a battler for those at the bottom of the heap. So if there's any mood in New Zealand for leftwing radicalism, as we've seen in some other countries recently, the Greens could be the recipients of those votes.
This is what Tracy Watkins argues in her weekend column, Mad, bad or bold? Metiria Turei's big gamble. She says Turei's confession will be seen by some as "sticking it to the establishment", and that's why "on the political Left there is near euphoria" in response.
Here's Watkins' main point: "The Greens are desperate for a circuit breaker and a way to tap into the zeitgeist of the US and British elections. They've entered every election with high hopes of mobilising the youth vote. But they have never spoken to them in the way of Sanders, or Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. They tried to reach out to them by ditching the so-called radicalism of the Sue Bradford years - but the new-look Greens, with their glossy magazine covers, glamorous new candidates, and fiscal responsibility rules, have jarred with the base. The so-called youth quake in Britain, chasing Corbyn's lurch to the left, is a signpost to the promised land."
Some argue Turei's admission and accompanying welfare policy may hold the key to politicising and mobilising the poor to vote. Chris Trotter says: "the Right is terrified - yes, terrified - that Metiria's admission that she was willing to lie to keep food on her little family's table might persuade a dangerously large number of those low-income families that at least some Green MPs know what their own children are going through. And that the prospect of MSD's hated 'sanctions' being abolished might even convince those families that, this time, it's worth casting a vote" - see: Sins Of Admission - critiquing John Armstrong's attack on Metiria.
Similarly, Martyn Bradbury argues the Greens could be the surprise electoral success this year: "The majority of the 800 000 missing voters are beneficiaries. They have walked away from the system because they fear and hate the punitive system... Metiria's honestly and courage has reached out directly to those beneficiaries and made a direct appeal in a way Labour has always been too frightened to do. If the Greens can get those beneficiaries to the ballot box in September, and their promise to lift base benefits by $180 each week gives those beneficiaries every real incentive to do so, then the Greens could destroy all expectations" - see: The importance of what Metiria has done and why we should all support her.
The reaction of Verity Johnson is case in point - see her column today, The only reason I want to vote is because Metiria Turei lied to WINZ. She says that "it's the first time ever I've felt inspired to vote. Before this, I was approaching voting in the general election like I do my tax return. It's painful, dull and soul-crushingly uninspiring".
But Johnson's larger point is that, for "the first time I'd properly respected a politician. It smacks of integrity. I know that is counterintuitive because she technically lied. But I still think this move is overwhelmingly honest. Her whole campaign is that the benefits aren't enough to live on. You know she believes this because she clearly has been there and experienced it. She's also prepared to fight for this moral principle by staking her political career on it."
And even Rodney Hide on the right concedes Turei's move may prove electorally smart: "Whoa, Turei gets it. It's exhilarating. She lied and cheated and shows no shame and offers no apology. Imagine her as deputy PM. Wicked. If it's okay for her, it's okay for us. Turei wins the handout vote, hands-down. The other parties don't come close. They might promise more, but they will expect you to be truthful and live within the rules. The last Labour Government had zero-tolerance for benefit fraud. Turei's admission is a smart move for votes. She's the handout voter's dream" - see: Turei wins the handout vote.
Vernon Small also writes on this today, and suggests there will be gains and losses for the Greens: "Instinctively, you would expect the Greens to pick up some support from those marginalised non-voters. Some votes could also wash across from the left of Labour. At the same time, some Greens will move the other way in protest at Turei's approach; those who weigh their Green vote more on environmental than social justice matters, once called the 'Kedgley Mums' after former MP Sue Kedgley" - see: Just when we thought we were sleepwalking to the election.
2: The wider political left could suffer
Regardless of how the Greens fare in the next polls, many commentators believe that the overall vote for the parties of the left might suffer, in particular negatively affecting the Labour Party. Vernon Small says "Labour should budget for a loss of voters to NZ First in protest at the close relationship Labour has with that party. Probably a net loss for Labour looks the most likely."
Martin van Beynen also says the damage will be to Labour: "it will worry Labourites. They are hitched to the Greens and will be concerned Turei has just scared off a whole lot of ordinary, innately conservative working and small business people who still believe welfare is a hand-up rather than a hand-out" - see: Turei's middle-class hand wringing will hurt Labour.
Turei's increased radicalism is clearly a ploy "aimed at hoovering up left-wing voters in New Zealand who have looked at the surge in popularity of an alternative, radical UK Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, and decided they want some of that" says the NBR's Rob Hosking in his column, Metiria's benefit concert (paywalled).
But, Hosking says, it will ultimately have a negative impact: "Watch for it to turn people off, especially but not exclusively those who vote for Mr Peters' party. There is no shortage of core Labour voters, too, who resent beneficiaries ripping off the system. In the end, people elect people, not policies. Ms Turei's admission, as lawyers say, "goes to character." It is going to hurt not just her, or even her party, but the broader Left."
In another column, Rob Hosking forecasts: "The Greens will lose some of their more conservative supporters who like the party for ecological reasons. It will pull a few of Labour's leftists, those who are desperate for a local Jeremy Corbyn, to lead a radical socialist insurgency. It will, at the same time, push more conservative Labour voters towards New Zealand First" - see: Mid-air U-turns and a slow-motion re-run of 2014 election (paywalled).
Hosking ponders whether we are witnessing the 2017 version of the left's "Moment of Truth", when in search of radicalism and the "missing million" voters, the left scores an "own goal", driving centre voters back towards National.
Unsurprisingly, we are now seeing Labour try to disentangle itself from the controversy - see Craig McCulloch's Greens' potential partners keep distance from Turei controversy.
There will be many New Zealanders at the bottom of the economic heap cheering on Metiria Turei's bold stand. But obviously not all will feel the same and, in fact, there will be former beneficiaries who resent her, according to Mike Hosking: "every beneficiary who is in exactly the same position as Turei and her fellow thieves, but through hard work, diligence, and decency doesn't scam the system" - see: Metiria Turei should know - knowledge of a crime is a crime itself.
Another talk back radio host says similar things. Tim Beveridge thinks the whole controversy is "surely, an insult to all the honest people who don't set their standards at that level, and those beneficiaries who struggle through difficult times without breaking the law. Not to mention the hard-working New Zealanders of all political stripes, who struggle to pay their mortgage, their rent, their power bills, their tax, and support their families, without breaking the law" - see: The new essential Kiwi value, dishonesty.
3: Metiria Turei's reputation and career could be fatally damaged
The worst possible outcome for Metiria Turei, is that she could get charged and convicted under the Crimes Act for benefit fraud. Patrick Gower says "Under the Electoral Act, if an MP is convicted of a crime punishable with a sentence of more than two years, they have to leave Parliament" - see: Conviction for fraud could see Metiria Turei quit.
However, an article by Jo Moir and Henry Cooke says "Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis told Stuff that would be unlikely as the charges would be hard to bring and the law at the time didn't specify a prison sentence of over two years - the barometer for whether a convicted MP has to leave Parliament or not" - see: Metiria Turei to meet with Work and Income investigators next week about her benefit fraud.
For better or worse, Turei's reputation has been irrevocably altered. According to Rodney Hide, her lack of remorse or apology means she is destined to be dumped as co-leader of the Greens - see: Turei wins the handout vote.
Turei's untrustworthiness is what will kill her career, says Hide: "It has finished her politically. She's self-labelled a benefit cheat. That will haunt her. It will be the first thought most people have on hearing her name. It's not a positive for the great majority of us. She's proved she will lie to suit her purpose. And have no remorse in doing so. That's the very damaging thing: she doesn't see she's done wrong. She sees herself as simply doing what was necessary. That's not the behaviour of a person you can trust. It's not a person to have in power."
It's the lack of contrition that is the problem according to fellow fraudster, Damien Grant, who says "we've both committed fraud", but Turei has failed to acknowledge any wrongdoing - see: Sorry seems to be the hardest word for Metiria Turei.
4: Public trust in politicians will erode further
Metiria Turei has recently pronounced that "Todd Barclay's actions damage the relationship between the public and the politicians elected to represent them. The Green Party want to be part of a government you can trust". There are plenty of commentators suggesting that the Greens, too, are now untrustworthy as well as hypocritical.
Tracy Watkins says "trust in politicians telling the truth is at an all-time low. Yet the Green Party has always held itself apart from all that. The party acts like it has a natural advantage in a place where the rest of the participants struggle to sell us on their honesty and integrity. Maybe that's why Metiria Turei's admission that she lied to maximise her income from the DPB is so jarring." According to Watkins, Turei has now "failed the most basic political test - the hypocrisy one."
Turei's confession is nothing more than a craven attempt to win votes. That's her real crime according to Patrick Gower in his hard-hitting opinion piece - see: Metiria Turei's political fraud is ripping off the New Zealand public.
Gower's accusation is worth quoting at length: "make no mistake: the main motivation of her admission was to try and get votes. It is all about getting attention for her and the Greens. It is all a tactic - the party wants to turn her into Aotearoa's Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn. Good luck to them - but it still needs to be called out as nothing but a calculated political move by the Green leadership and spin doctors to get attention. It is an attempt to use her benefit fraud to manipulate the media and the public eight weeks before an election. It is all about Metiria. In my opinion, she is ripping off the New Zealand public by dropping, drip-feeding and dragging out this saga. It is a political fraud. Everything else is secondary. Yes, she genuinely wants to help New Zealand's poor - but her priority has been to rip off the public and get votes. She is playing textbook wedge politics - she wants people to criticise her because that extends the story."
Mike Hosking also judges Turei to be guilty of this, saying "There is no doubt in my mind the original confession was designed for nothing more than political reasons, making her not only dishonest but an opportunist as well" - see: Metiria Turei should know - knowledge of a crime is a crime itself. However, he rather strangely suggests that this is unusual for politicians, saying that politicians "have a broad code of conduct - and deception, dishonesty, fraud and general illegality aren't part of it."
5: Foster a greater philosophical debate about law and power / Foster a greater ethical debate about law breaking
Much of the outrage about Turei's confession rests on the simple fact that she broke the law, together with the idea that this is a particular problem for politicians, since they are the ones responsible for making the laws. But this has fuelled a philosophical debate about whether it is ever justified to break laws. Turei herself made the case in favour, when justifying her lawbreaking as enabling her to feed her child.
This argument gets the thumbs up from Chris Trotter, who argues that the concept of "fairness" should sometimes over-ride legal concerns, and in judging Turei's actions you can't separates "the law from its economic, social and political context" - see: Was Metiria Turei's welfare fraud a case of a fair go over-ruling the law?.
His point is essentially that laws sometimes exist to protect an unjust status quo, where the powerful dominate the weak. And to make this point he quotes Anatole France: "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."
Others have questioned whether this results in a very slippery slope, whereby all sorts of lawbreaking might be justified by a sense of injustice. Audrey Young points out, "Her sense of entitlement to break the law has invited a host of examples moral equivalents - hypothetical offending by other types of people, including say farmers, and other types of offending, including say tax fraud, in order to justify getting more money to feed the kids" - see: Metiria Turei turns spotlight on her own failures.
Similarly, Mike Hosking asks: "Having set a precedent, which this is, where does it stop? For those who feel they pay too much tax, can they just keep a bit aside? Any interaction with a government department - whether it be the tax office, social welfare, the health system, or ACC - can we now set the rules we feel are appropriate?"
6: Encourage a bigger debate about the problems in the welfare system
Unfortunately, the substance of the Greens' new radical welfare policy has been overshadowed by Turei's benefit confession. Gordon Campbell proposes three important questions about the current system in his article, On the real truth deficit in welfare.
David Farrar puts forward his own interpretation of what the party now believes in: "You should be able to be on the unemployment benefit for 15+ years and never ever be required to turn up to a job interview or even look for a job"; "Welfare fraud is noble and should not be condemned or even discouraged by MPs but all other sorts of fraud are bad"; "You should get a benefit even if your partner is a millionaire so long as you have been living together for less than three years" - see: Green Party welfare policy summarised.
The issue of benefits for those in relationships could be relevant to the Green co-leader herself. Nicholas Jones reports that "Metiria Turei won't say whether one of the flatmates she failed to tell Work and Income about was a boyfriend - saying the state has no right to investigate a woman's intimate personal life" - see: Metiria Turei explains silence on flatmates in fraud case.
And some journalists and commentators are asking questions about the role of fathers in these cases, which the Greens seem to argue should be left out of the equation - see Barry Soper: What could Metiria Turei's admission do?.
Others are finding themselves brought into the debate. For example, questions are still being put to the deputy prime minister about her own welfare history - see Emma Hurley's I never lied to get the benefit - Paula Bennett. Politicians may increasingly find themselves grilled about their past, and the families of politicians might also be brought into the debate more - see, for example Corazon Miller's Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei's daughter: 'I would've gone hungry'.
7: Create a backlash against Turei's critics
In recent days it appears as if the tide has turned against the Greens, with an onslaught of criticisms in the media about Turei's benefit confession. Ultimately this is fanning the flames, and Turei's supporters are starting to push back, expressing frustration and anger at her critics. Martyn Bradbury is at the forefront of this mood - see his posts, Barry Soper, Guyon Espiner, Duncan Garner & Patrick Gower maul Metiria, and Why I refuse to criticise Metiria & why I stand with her & the tens of thousands of others.
Similarly, Steven Cowan says "Turei might want to have a national conversation on reforming the welfare system, but the corporate media don't" - see: Media attacks on Metiria Turei continue.
Graham Cameron also points out that "The attacks have been inevitably led by white and wealthy men who have stated that it is the crime of benefit fraud and should be prosecuted forthwith. It's been a pile-on really" - see: Raging at Metiria is not about the fraud; it's that she sided with the lepers.
Finally, for the ultimate defence of Metiria Turei's right to campaign on her benefit confession, see Hayden Donnell's very smart satire: The rot goes deep: more blatant 'political fraud' for Patrick Gower to investigate.