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Bennett grabs victory from jaws of sterilisation defeat

Wednesday 6 Jun 2012 12:50 p.m.

Paula Bennett (photo: Victoria Evans)

Paula Bennett (photo: Victoria Evans)

By Political Reporter Patrick Gower

Paula Bennett has just fronted a media pack hungry to know if she was looking at state-ordered sterilisation for child abusers.

She's essentially performed a "Westie side-step", bashing straight up the guts of the issue by saying no-way to sterilisation - but yes to permanent removal of children.

It followed some seemingly loose comments during a interview about "state-ordered sanctions" with RadioLIVE host Michael Laws, where Bennett said she was looking at a step that was "right out there" (It is near the end of the interview at 5.37).

Listen to the interview (the comments are at the 5:37 mark)

She told Laws her Cabinet colleagues were "fed up with these children continuously being born to completely unfit parents".

It looked like she could have been talking about sterilisation - a total no-no for so many reasons.

Bennett's enemies had already started circling, namely her arch-nemesis the Greens co-leader Metiria Turei who called "talk of forced sterilisation very extreme".

But was she really talking about forced sterilisation? Bennett says no way.

Instead, Bennett has revealed the sanctions she's looking at is removal of children from parents of abusers.

Its hardline - but nothing like sterilisation.

Essentially, Bennett is looking at an order, say from a judge at sentencing, that tells an offender in black and white language: "If you have any more kids, we will come and take them off you – permanently."

There are plenty of New Zealanders who will agree with that. The same people who sit in front of their TV's at night and say, "how are these people allowed to have more children?"

It's still ambulance at the bottom of the cliff stuff. But the reality is sterilisation is just a step too far for the majority of society and far too controversial.

A permanent removal order is much easier to sell.

Whether you agree with Bennett on this issue or not, this is a good example of political management by her.

Confronted with a thorny issue that looked like it had her cornered, she's fronted up, and put a realistic and populist alternative out there - one that will create plenty of debate.

My boss Duncan Garner has just blogged today on how Hekia Parata created a "stuff up of epic proportions" by performing poorly as a Minister.

Read Duncan Garner's blog

Well, by that standard, Bennett has performed a comeback of epic proportions by turning a potentially damaging issue into a potential vote-winner.

Here's the transcript of the Laws interview:

LAWS: "Can't we just stop these people having children by saying if you've committed child abuse and it's been proven to be a history of neglect here, you don't get to have any more children and there's a state ordered sanction to stop that?"

BENNETT: "My colleagues and I… are discussing that kind of measure around the white paper that I'm in the middle of writing and I can tell you that they are completely fed up with these children continuously being born to completely unfit parents... that is a step that's right out there, and I can tell you that there is certainly discussion going on around it."

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