16 May 2012

Minister defends appointments to WINZ board

3:08 pm on 16 May 2012

The Social Development Minister is defending the appointment of Paula Rebstock to the Work and Income board, saying she has a huge knowledge of the welfare system and is one of a group of people bringing an investment approach.

Political opponents say the appointment signals an approach based on penny-pinching, rather than supporting the most vulnerable.

The board will oversee major parts of the welfare changes, which are largely based on the report of the Welfare Working Group which was chaired by Ms Rebstock.

Paula Bennett told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Wednesday that the board members have management, rehabilitation and insurance skills and she wanted different thinking that has not been involved in welfare reform previously.

"It's not business having a greater role - it's people with a range of skills that are getting involved.

"I've got a doctor and professor, one of whom has huge experience in rehabilitation (who will be) looking at those people, for example, that are on sickness benefit and what might actually be helping them back into work."

Ms Bennett says Paula Rebstock is an experienced chairperson who will stick to the terms of reference and it is deceitful to say the board will take a business approach.

Appointment alarming, says Bradford

Sue Bradford, a former MP and member of the group Auckland Action for Poverty, says the appointment is alarming, as Ms Rebstock heads a group of business people who lack experience and empathy with beneficiaries.

"This is a really dangerous development and sees a much deeper consolidation of what the Government's started with the Welfare Working Group, given that Paula Rebstock is in charge of it, one of the other members is Kathryn McPherson, who was also on the Welfare Working Group.

"So what we're seeing here is a random bunch of people pulled from the corporate world."

Ms Bradford told Morning Report on Wednesday that new welfare reforms will lead to benefit cuts which are deeper and are a lot more serious than anyone realises.

She says says welfare will be treated like insurance, and when that is applied to beneficiaries it becomes ludicrous.

"It's ridiculous to calculate that out as if that person or that family will be in the benefit system for the rest of their lives. And you then start making assumptions and calculations on these ludicrous figures."

The Labour Party says the choice of board members clearly shows that the Government wants much greater private sector participation.