Key Points:

And they say there are no longer any real characters left in Parliament these days ... well, hello Paula Bennett.

If diving into a melee of scrapping teenagers and physically separating the protagonists doesn't qualify her as one out of the political box, then nothing else will.

Physically breaking up a maul in a shopping mall certainly gives new meaning to the term "hands-on minister" - especially as youth affairs comes under the ambit of her Social Development portfolio.

But should a minister of the Crown be playing law enforcement officer, placing herself at risk of potential injury and leaving herself open to someone claiming she had been over-vigorous in ending the fracas?

"Probably not," was John Key's response when asked that question at the Prime Minister's post-Cabinet press conference yesterday. He hastened to add Bennett's intervention had been a "brave move". He also tried to downplay and depersonalise the incident by saying it was an example of someone carrying out their civic duty - something scores of New Zealanders did every day when confronted with unacceptable behaviour.

If the Prime Minister was steering a careful path, applauding her action while pointing out the risks, he had to do so.

Most people will be quietly saying "good on yer, Paula". A Herald website poll had her running ahead of Trevor Mallard and just behind Tau Henare in being the MP who respondents would prefer to have on their side if they were breaking up a fight.

The feisty, no-nonsense Bennett has probably earned herself more brownie points with the public in one afternoon than dozens of glowing reports of the youth policy achievements of her ministry under her watch would in a month of Sundays.

However, political spin-offs would have been the last thing on Bennett's mind on Saturday. As she wagged her finger in the faces of those fighting and shouted at them to back off, she would have cut an intimidating figure.

Whether she should or should not have intervened was ultimately - as Key declared - a judgment call.

She defused things. Her intervention was successful.

But - as the Prime Minister also acknowledged - an angry Bennett had been reacting on gut instinct.

What the incident confirms - if anyone needed telling - is that Bennett is not going to allow herself to forced into some stereotype of how a minister ought to behave.

She is a politician who is not always going to play it safe. She got it right this time - in spades. She was right "on message" in terms of National's intention to impose "boot camp" discipline on wayward youth.

Labour, however, will be quietly and confidently betting that she will not always get it right. But then Key was fully aware of that possibility when he appointed her to his Cabinet.