The State is Not Above the Law: Bennett and the Beneficiaries

In their haste to jump to the aspect of the Paula Bennett and the beneficiaries story that best supports their political view, most commentators seem to be missing the fact that Paula Bennett, government Minister, arguably broke the law when she reached into her department’s records and made public the precise amounts of welfare each of her political opponents were in receipt of.

The issue is not a question of did/would Labour have done the same thing? (this is the tu quoque flaw of reasoning – two wrongs do not make a right) It is also not relevant whether the law itself is a stupid law or whether a right to privacy exists or not and it most certainly is not appropriate to simply focus on whether her doing this was relevant to the debate or the broader issues around welfare. These all miss the point which is that the state is not above the law.

This concept can be seen in the Bible, in our legal system it goes back to the Magna Carta and can be found in constitutional documents around the world. Anyone who loves freedom and democracy must object when the state acts as if the law does not apply to itself. Can any of us decide to set aside the law when it does not suit, when we want to win a debate?

The state passed the Privacy Act. In doing this they imposed this law on all of us including themselves – see section 5 of the Privacy Act:

5 Act to bind the Crown

This Act binds the Crown.

Further one of the contractual promises the state makes to every beneficiary on their welfare system is that they will not release private information. If they don’t like their own laws, then they can repeal them before acting in conflict with them. If they do not want to be bound by their contractual promises then they should not enter them or they should lawfully end them before acting in conflict with them.

It is about getting our priorities straight, our foundations correct.

I am fairly libertarian. I don’t support state funded welfare, I do not believe in a right to welfare. I think the parent that walks from the relationship should pay for their own kids and the person they left holding the baby – not the rest of us. I happen to think that in this debate the information Paula Bennett released was relevant to the debate. I am also not sure what I think of the Privacy Act; I do believe that property can be non-tangible such as original ideas, personal information and so on, however, I am not convinced that the Privacy Act is a reasonable limitation on the right to free expression, the right to seek, receive and impart information (and the right not to).

But all this is irrelevant.

I will not approve of an act that amounts to a state minister acting as if she is above the law no matter how much this might suit my politics and I find it reprehensible that the government are not intending to reprimand her. I find it equally reprehensible that so many bloggers and commentators are willing to turn a blind eye to this abuse of power and in fact enable the government to get away with acting as if it is above the law by focusing on how Bennett’s actions benefit their own causes.

What About the Poor? Sustenance Rights Examined
What About the Poor? More on Sustenance Rights

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