It's a spectacular piece of mismanagement. In one deft move, Paula Bennett has undone the carefully crafted image of John Key's National Party and shown its true nature - nasty, ammoral and self-interested. It's appropriate that it should be Bennett, who supposedly personified the human side of the Nats, who did it.
I don't think Key and National's leadership have realised how bad this could be. Most people can put themselves in the position of Jennifer Johnston and Natasha Fuller. The government hold information on all of us. Can anyone who voices criticism expect to have personal details released, in the interests of 'balance'?
For the time, people will be lining themselves up against National, not alongside it. Having made a good effort at pretending to have been rebuilt as a nice bunch of everyday guys, lead by everyday guy turned millionaire Shoeless John Key, The Nats are the 'Nasty Party' again.
It is interesting to note the tactics they are using. This is the third time they've shifted attention from the message to the messenger, trying to make the issue about the integrty of their critics, not about what is actualy being sad. The other two times, the Richard Worth-Neelam Choudary fiasco (2) and the Bruce Burgess mess (3), it worked, probably down to the fact both these incidents were pretty obvious political beat ups by Labour. People saw through that, didn't like it, and ignored the substance.
This time, however, Natinoal seem to have shot themselves in the foot entirely on their own, without any help from Labour, and will struggle to divert attention and opprobrium. Trying to attack the integrity of Johnston and Fuller will only make the Nats look more and more like bullies, and increase the public's sympathy for the victims.
The Whaleoil right might be trying to find ways to turn this back on Johnston and Fuller (4), but National will be hoping it goes away, quickly. Possibly taking Paula Bennett with it.
1 - "Privacy issues stir Bennett welfare debate," unnattributed ONE News/NZPA article, published by ONE News, 29th of July, 2009. (http://tvnz.co.nz/politics-news/privacy-issues-stir-bennett-welfare-debate-2878506)
2 - "Worth's accuser hoped to retain anonymity," unattributed NZPA article, published in the New Zealand Herald, 10th of July, 2009. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10577700)
3 - "Labour runs for the hills over Burgess," by Claire Trevett, published in the New Zealand Herald, 23rd of July, 2009. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10586311)
4 - "Labour's Benny Sting explodes in their face," posted on Whale Oil Beef Hooked by WhaleOil, 29th of July, 2009. (http://www.whaleoil.co.nz/content/labours-benny-sting-explodes-their-face)