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Oscar Kightley: Brave Turei's main mistake was to be so honest

Oscar Kightley thinks the end of Turei's 15-year career in Parliament, advocating for the country's most vulnerable, seems a bit heavy given what she was trying to highlight in going public with her story.

OPINION: Well, that worked out... not.

Former Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei tried to start a conversation about poverty and the welfare system with an admission of benefit fraud from back in the day when she was a young single mum, studying law and raising her baby.

It was a brave move in a country that has form for prejudice against people who are say… female, or Maori, or a beneficiary – and, sure enough, it sparked New Zealand's own version of fire and fury. 

Metiria Turei's honesty has brought her to a watershed in her political career, says Oscar Kightley.

If Jesus had been in Wellington last week, he would have asked for people without sin to cast the first stone.  But even he would have copped it if he'd stood in front of Turei, as she was stoned all the way to her political death.

READ MORE:
Ousted Green MPs split over return after Turei's resignation
* Greens reject Graham's bid to re-enter party
*
Live: Metiria Turei resigns as co-leader of the Greens as party takes huge hit in polls
Jacinda Ardern says she can handle it and her path to the top would suggest she's right

She's off the party's list but is running for Te Tai Tonga – the largest of New Zealand's 71 electorates. It covers an area from Petone and the Hutt Valley in Wellington, all the way through the South Island and takes in all our islands in the Southern Ocean. No pressure then, but she's not expected to win.

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The end of a 15-year career in Parliament, advocating for the country's most vulnerable, seems a bit heavy given what Turei was trying to highlight in going public with her story.

Her supporters blamed the media for her stepping down but – as the party's remaining leader James Shaw has rightly said – they were just doing their job. 

But to me, it just seems as if the media went a bit insane with the story. As if Turei hasn't only claimed an accommodation allowance she wasn't entitled to, but that she hadn't told Winz about her flatmates... because she'd murdered them.

It was nice of the fourth estate to get all up in Turei's grill on our behalf. I just wish they went to town like that on things that are actually wrong with our country.

Yes, no one should ever steal from taxpayers. And, yes, there are plenty of people who struggle to get by without breaking the rules. But come on. Life must be so nice in a world so black and white, with no messy uncomfortable grey bits.

It seems like social welfare only counts when it comes to the country caring about keeping track of every tax dollar.  I would much rather my tax dollars be spent on topping up the accommodation allowance for those struggling, than, say, something like providing free air travel for former MPs and their spouses once they leave Parliament.

Perhaps one of her mistakes was to be honest in a place where politicians have no issue looking the public in the eye and lying that they can't recall something.

This won't be the end of Metiria Turei. It could well be a watershed moment in her career that will springboard her into another phase of public service.

Of course her confession was never going to go down well with most voters. But there would have been many people – especially those among the 800,000 who don't see the point in voting – who may have taken heart from Turei's mea culpa.

People who perhaps may have thought that, at last, here was a politician who knows what they go through and who they could relate to. Someone, who perhaps could inspire them to turn up to vote come September 23. 

That could still happen, who knows?

I just hope this controversy won't stop normal people from wanting to run for Parliament. People who've had a life and made mistakes, and who care enough to change the way things are.

Sunday Star Times

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