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Minister under fire over welfare controversy -

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PETER CAVE: To New Zealand now and single mothers Natasha Fuller and Jennifer Johnston were unhappy
about plans by the New Zealand Government to cut a training allowance which they used to pay for
expenses relating to their tertiary studies.

When the pair went public with their concerns, a Government minister responded by releasing to the
media exactly how much the women are receiving in welfare.

New Zealand correspondent Kerri Ritchie reports the minister involved, who is a single mother
herself, is now accused of breaking the country's privacy laws.

KERRI RITCHIE: New Zealand woman Jennifer Johnston has three children and is studying to become a
nurse.

She wrote a letter to the Social Development Minister Paula Bennett after she announced that a
training allowance was no longer going to be available to single parents.

Opposition MPs got wind of that letter and read it out in Parliament and Jennifer Johnston's story
appeared in the papers.

Paula Bennett, the Minister, wasn't happy. She responded by telling journalists exactly how much
the Government was paying Jennifer Johnston in welfare - $NZ554 a week. That's roughly $AU440.

Ms Johnston says she's now being labelled a fat, lazy benefit bludger.

JENNIFER JOHNSTON: I feel like this whole maelstrom has kind of erupted around me. Part of me
wishes I'd never done it. I feel sick today. I just want to sleep and I've got two sick kids at
home.

But part of me also thinks that look, I'm a grown-up and we're in a democracy and we should have a
right to petition our leaders, our government in a democracy and say hey, we liked this decision or
we didn't like this decision, and expect some kind of a response, a respectful response.

I wrote a very respectful letter and to get my name and like, you should have heard them on the
radio live today. They've just been so rude. I'm a benefit bludger. I'm fat, I'm lazy, I just want
the world to give me everything on a plate, dadadadada.

KERRI RITCHIE: Paula Bennett is now vigorously defending her decision to release Ms Johnston's
welfare payment and that of another woman Natasha Fuller who'd also complained about the Government
funding cuts.

PAULA BENNETT: At no point have I ever said that I consider here a bludger and I think that
actually she's perfectly entitled to her payment.

KERRI RITCHIE: But Paula Bennet says she had to make the information public because the women were
presenting a skewed picture to the public.

PAULA BENNETT: It was never about putting her down. I think that actually I admire anyone that's
trying to get by on what they're getting and I don't think it's easy at any means.

I just thought it needed a full, a rounder debate to be had. So it's not me that's actually put her
in the media spotlight and had her dragged through, her name like that. It was Labour that put her
name up in the media.

KERRI RITCHIE: This story gets even more interesting.

Back in the 90s the Social Justice Minister was herself a struggling single mother. Paula Bennett
has made no secret of the fact she was on welfare and has been happy to talk in great length about
her "hard times" in media interviews.

When she returned to university Ms Bennett received the training allowance that she is now taking
away from other single parents.

Paula Bennett is now being called on by the Opposition to make public how much she received in
welfare. Ms Bennett is refusing to do it. She says it was a long time ago and it isn't relevant to
this case.

PAULA BENNETT: I mean I think this debate is kind of healthy that we talk about where we're at,
where we're going, where we put our resources.

She was being held up as the poster girl from Labour at some level. It was with limited
information.

KERRI RITCHIE: Jennifer Johnston says she never approached the media. She believes Paula Bennett
knew exactly what she was doing. This was payback.

JENNIFER JOHNSTON: I think the whole point of this was to intimidate us out of exercising our
democratic right to protest a Government decision.

I'm actually not anti-Paula Bennett. I was a big fan of hers last year. I looked up at her as
somebody who'd been in my situation, who had been able to access the funding to train and to
educate herself, to better herself and to get better for independent.

KERRI RITCHIE: Paula Bennett won't be apologising to the two women.

PAULA BENNETT: I am human and I don't like to hear that she is having such a dreadful time of this
and it was never the intention by releasing the information.

Perhaps there's a lesson there as well that if you let, you know, an Opposition party go bandying
you around as a poster girl then you know we've just got to be careful that there's two sides.

KERRI RITCHIE: One of the women has lodged a complaint with New Zealand's privacy commission.

The country's Prime Minister John Key has given his full support to Ms Bennett and says that he
doesn't believe she was being vindictive.

Jennifer Johnston hopes her experience doesn't stop other people speaking out if they believe the
Government is making a bad decision.

This is Kerri Ritchie in Auckland reporting for The World Today.