Rise issue 10 cover

Paula Bennett on success

The Minister for Social Development and Employment and of Youth Affairs talks about finding success - and going for it.

paula bennet smiling

When asked what ‘success’ means, Paula Bennett's response is one that will probably resonate with many people.

“Personally I think success means different things to different people,” says the Minister for Social Development and Employment, and of Youth Affairs.

It’s a question she often fields, as in many people’s eyes her rise to becoming MP for Waitakere, and to becoming a Cabinet Minister overseeing a $20-billion portfolio, is a great success story.

"...measure my success on whether I am happy."

To briefly re-cap, Paula was a solo mum on the DPB, who returned to study, gained her qualifications and managed a successful recruiting business before running for Parliament.

Despite her personal advances and high-profile position, her take on success is pretty simple.

“I think my family and the people I love measure my success on whether I am happy.

“What other people think doesn't matter too much. The media judge my success on all sorts of weird formulas that don't deserve too much thought, but I measure my success on how I treat others and my respect for other people. Success does mean different things to different people.”

Success on social development

When asked how the public can measure the Government's success on social development, Paula says it will be across a range of areas over the coming year.

Supporting people into jobs and having an unrelenting focus on helping people who can work, find work is a key aim. That will be coupled with having a fair welfare system for those who need it and providing support so people can help themselves.

Delivering targeted, efficient and effective services to those in need and making them easier to access is paramount, while community-based services are vital cogs in getting results and providing the support people need, as communities know what works for them.

Protecting our children and developing more opportunities for youth are the other main planks of successful social development, says Paula.

“Every child should have the opportunity to thrive and succeed, and it is all our responsibility to protect children. If people can't protect their children, we will, while every young New Zealander should be in work, training or education. We will not leave young people behind.”

The Vulnerable Children Programme

Paula’s passion for supporting young people and protecting children is evident by her participation in the Vulnerable Children Programme. Acknowledging the complexity of the prevention of child abuse and neglect, she spearheaded the Programme to get agencies to work together and start talking about making positive changes.

One outcome of the Programme includes the Never, Ever Shake a Baby campaign, released in early December. The multi-media campaign includes television, radio and print advertising, as well as resource materials to teach parents and other caregivers about the dangers of shaking a baby, as well as where to go for help when a screaming infant has put them at wit’s end.

“Every year around 60 babies under two are admitted to hospital, more than a third of these babies have been shaken. Often people don't realise how little it takes to damage a baby's brain and the devastating results of the injuries sustained,” says Paula.

Though young, the campaign has already received considerable interest: over 2,000 website visits (www.powertoprotect.net.nz) and over 70 emails less than two months after it was launched. The website has attracted visitors from Australia, the US and the UK, a possible sign that groups in other countries want to learn from the campaign in order to create something similar.

Much of the campaign's interest has come from Government and non-Government agencies requesting information to pass on to individuals and their families. Hospital waiting rooms are now well-stocked with Power to Protect informational brochures that include a helpline phone number for stressed parents and caregivers to call when they’re at risk of shaking their baby. By mid-January, five phone calls had come in from people in crisis – that's five babies whose parents have learned to ask for help as a result of the campaign.

Paula has been involved with the campaign from the beginning, gladly calling upon ideas from experts to make the campaign, and the Vulnerable Children Programme as a whole, as meaningful as it can be.

“I am calling on every New Zealander to play a role in protecting our vulnerable children,” she says.

A challenge to New Zealanders: Find your own success

Nearly every day the proud `Westie' is asked about her decision and motives for wading into politics, and her reasons shed more light on what success means to her.

Believing she owed it to herself and the people she cared about, and knowing she had the ability to do a good job, were key drivers.

“Your success is your own. It is deeply personal and I choose to ignore the strangers with shallow measures.

“But I do challenge New Zealanders to find their own success. Is it in being the best parent you can be, in loving and caring for others, in helping others and being respectful, in pushing yourself and discovering new possibilities? Whatever it is, go for it.”