Never Say Sorry


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With the clock ticking down to the election, the headlines this week were filled with tidbits that were off-message, off-side and off-colour. The Left struggled with credibility issues whilst the Right wrestled with questions of competence. Meanwhile, in the most disturbing and distasteful distraction of the week, an international scandal groped its way into the local papers.

Trevor Mallard’s Moa motives remain unclear. A futurist? A fantasist? A fool? Paul Little spelt it out in the Herald on Sunday: Moa fantasy a dead duck: “In a speech that could be described as wide-ranging but would perhaps better be described as rambling, a senior member of the New Zealand Parliament advocated bringing the extinct moa back to life as a tourist attraction for the Rimutaka National Park….Rather than daydreaming about undoing the past, we need to concentrate on making sure that our nearly 3000 endangered species have a future. It’s not too late to prevent their disappearance. And it’s much easier to save an apparently doomed species than to resurrect one. Although, with this sort of thinking at its senior levels, I’m not sure that rule applies to the Labour Party.”

No one thanked Mallard, one of Labour’s longest-serving members, for introducing the concept of ‘extinction’ so preposterously into the political conversation. On Stuff, Tracy Watkins called it ‘Mallard’s mad Moa blurt’: “Labour needed Trevor Mallard this week like it needed a hole in the head. Mallard’s blurt about bringing Moa back from the dead was a gift to National who gloried in the treasure trove of one-liners about dinosaurs and extinction. Ironically, Mallard’s grand Moa plan coincided with a morning tea shout to mark him and Annette King celebrating three decades in Parliament. Even Mallard’s Labour colleagues couldn’t resist the Jurassic Park comparisons. Bizarrely, there was also a school of thought that Mallard might actually be a genius because people were finally talking about Labour. That must surely be the definition of clutching at straws, but it is symptomatic of the trough Labour has found itself in that generating any sort of chatter round the water cooler – even when it invites ridicule – is an improvement.”

Why Trevor, why? In the Dominion Post, Duncan Garner theorised that “Mallard is in trouble in his Hutt South electorate, which he knows is now a marginal seat. National is pulling out all the stops to up-end him. So Mallard set out to court some publicity with a bird-brained idea that detracted from some sensible Labour policy, offering to fund $100 for every pupil at schools that do not hit up parents for “voluntary” donations. Mallard is one of Labour’s most experienced MPs. He should be taking the fight to National. Instead he’s content to play the class clown, dragging leader David Cunliffe into the fray, who was forced to declare that the “moa’s not a goer”.  When you’re trying to present your party as an alternative government you need to stay on-message – and look like you’re ready to govern. If National gets it way in Hutt South Mallard could have plenty of time to roam the hills in his beloved Wainuiomata. No wonder he’s already thinking about who could keep him company.”

One would like to think at this late stage of the game that a government in waiting had its ducks in a row, that it had a compelling message and that that message was being relentlessly sold by disciplined disciples, undeviating in their devotion to the cause. The object of the exercise is votes not jokes. The Left is pushing a rock up a hill at the moment. This week, for reasons best known to himself, Trevor Mallard took some time out to sit on that rock. Thanks for nothing, Trev.

Meanwhile, true to form, our no-surprises Government continued to deliver surprises. In the spotlight this week was Foreign Minister Murray McCully, sprung for saying one thing in public and doing another in private. This week’s Herald on Sunday editorial blared ‘Diplomatic duplicity is a disgrace’.

“McCully insisted the ministry had asked Malaysia to waive immunity so Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail could be tried in this country. Malaysia’s foreign minister, Anifah Aman, said New Zealand had wanted him out. McCully released letters to show Aman was wrong. Too late, McCully learned his officials were putting one message on paper but giving a different message to the Malaysians face to face. That sort of duplicity might be diplomatic but it is not acceptable. Who was the ministry’s formal letter intended to deceive? The minister? The prime minister? The public? All could be forgiven for taking the letter at face value. It expressed the only proper position for a country that means to punish crimes against a citizen. The unnamed officials who gave their Malaysian counterparts a different message were not thinking of the woman who had complained to the police and has a right to see justice done. What were they thinking? The Herald has unearthed four comparable cases in the past four years. When diplomats offend, it seems, they look after each other. McCully needs to change that culture and gain his officials’ confidence. This mess suggests something is seriously wrong in the ranks of those who represent our interests and values to the world. And it is not over yet.”

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In the Dominion, Duncan Garner didn’t ” buy the emerging spin that it’s all the ministry’s fault.” : “It is unforgivable that McCully wasn’t all over this from the start, engaging Allen and seeking regular updates. That’s a minister’s job. Perhaps the minister was too busy wining and dining those who may vote for us to get a place on the UN Security Council? Or was he hopelessly distracted while greasing up the Yanks in Washington with the prime minister to worry about a young Kiwi victim and the whereabouts of the Malaysian diplomat? How hard is it to ask a few questions? McCully said this week that he’d followed good process throughout. That is laughable. Is the relationship between Allen and McCully so dysfunctional that all this got simply lost? Something is not right here. Blaming Mfat staff might be politically convenient, but it doesn’t look or feel right.
The buck stops with ministers. Yes, McCully grabbed a late victory by getting the diplomat to return here for trial – but I say the damage has been done. He and his department have got this one horribly wrong. You can only imagine how the female complainant is feeling watching this circus play out.”

Heads will roll over this diplomatic incident. Not McCully’s though. The PM said he had not received nor would he accept McCully’s resignation. For John Key, excusing Ministerial incompetence seems to be the true meaning of ‘no-surprises’.

Finally, a couple of confessions in the NZ Herald grabbed the headlines: ‘David Cunliffe: I’m sorry for being a man’ and ‘Maggie Barry: I was groped by Rolf Harris’. Ms Barry, usually a waste of political space, deserves credit for her forthright account of an encounter with the now-notorious Harris.

Mr Cunliffe, upon whose shoulders the hopes of the Left fall in this election cycle, can’t seem to do a thing right. The Herald reported that his full speech on family violence ” went down well with the overwhelmingly female audience. One woman came up to him as he left and said she had moved away from Labour but his speech had won her vote back. Refuge chief executive Heather Henare said Labour had consulted her about its policy, unlike the National Government which announced its own policy on family violence this week without consulting Refuge. “David Cunliffe’s speech was, I have to say, inspiring,” she said. Unfortunately, for Cunliffe and Labour, that’s not what the headline said.

Like love, victory means never having to say you’re sorry.


  1. Really? – you should tell Cinliffe that. If anyone needs that sort of advice – he needs.

    Fancy the smarmy bugger saying that hes sorry for being a man!. Most men dont go around beating uop wives and children so what does the idiot think hes up to.

    • It would help, Barry, if you quoted Cunliffe (not “Cinliffe”) correctly, and not so far out of context as to make your comments sheer idiocy.

      Most drivers are not drunk drivers either. But we all take responsibility for stopping friends, relations, work colleagues, etc, from getting behind the wheel when intoxicated.

      It is time that the notion of collective social responsibility made it’s way back into our national psyche.

      • Frank – if you want collective responsibility – go live in some communist country somewhere – like north Korea.

        • That is ridiculous. Equating the idea of a community that acts responsibly with each others wellbeing in mind with a communist dictatorship is absolutely facile and totally lacking in thought. If you want anyone to take anything you say seriously, this is precisely the kind of statement that will destroy all chance of them doing so, unless they are also spouting crap.

          • richarquis – I am very serious. This thing – well I think its crap – about every problem in the world being “Societies” problem is simply moving the responsibility from the individual to everyone else. Everyone talks about drink driving as being the example of why the “Its Societies” problem works – but thats all bullshit. The drink drive campaign was all aimed at the drink driver – with phrases like ‘Youre a bloody idiot if you drink and drive’ Societies attitude change FOLLOWED.

            And it will need the same sort of programme with violence – its has to be targeted at the individual and they have to be made to get the message. Telling men thats it ‘ their’ problem just results in pissing them off.
            AND recent studies in the UK show that women are 45% of the people who are the offenders – often against kids – so telling everyone that its a male problem is wrong and it tells the women who are offenders that they are immune.

            Socializing the blame is a cop out, doesnt work, is dishonest and misses half the offenders.

            • I see the point you’re making now that you clarify it, but the argument runs deeper than just the issue of personal responsibility. We still should be building a society that maintains an attitude of looking out for each other as well. I think what others here are trying to say, and speaking for myself, it’s the old adage – “It takes a village to raise a child.” The parents have to be responsible for that child, for sure. However, if the kid is in trouble, do we, as other members of society, abandon the kid to their fate, or help out? And do we, as members of society, sweep the issue of domestic violence under the rug, or seek to maintain an awareness and dialogue on the matter? It could be your sister, or mine, who is the next victim. Better for society as a whole to try and collectively solve these problems than just invoke “personal responsibility.” That’s not gonna help the woman who just got beat with a cricket bat, or the kid who just got whipped with a kettle cord.

              Anyway, thanks for answering in more detail.

        • I love when right wing idiots think it funny to tell liberals and the like to go to North Korea. Because North Korea is a conservatives paradise – no unions, no labour laws, no rights for women, a cult of personality John Key has wet dreams over, and no freedom of speech. Yeap what every left wing person dreams of. And collective responsibility Barry, there is no collective responsibility in North Korea it’s put up or shut up – bit like National wants it here.

    • One of the hardest situations to be in, is to be with friends and/or loved ones and then hear a comment or be involved in an incident that is mildly offensive to some group.

      In terms of derogatory comments about women – everyone would have been in that position – both men and women. Women who speak up may be labelled ball-breakers or overly sensitive. Men who speak up are not usually honoured for that stance.

      Bystanders – in both incident and challenge – are complicit in continuing a dismissive culture.

      And perhaps Cunliffe recognises that he has been a bystander in the past. As have most of us at some point or other.

      We do share a collective responsibility in that way – and a collective guilt.

  2. It’s interesting that the media have been incessantly whining that Cunliffe has not been “sincere” with the public.

    Well, he gave a sincere response to the ugly side of New Zealand – domestic violence – and was panned by media commentators. Many of those same commentators seem more interested in creating a reputation for themselves as “hard nosed critics”. Others, like John Roughan, are mouthpieces for the National Party.

    It’s evidence that Labour leaders are damned if the do, and damned if they don’t, when it comes to speaking publicly.

    One thing is for sure, honesty and baring one’s soul in public leads to negative outcomes when it comes to a sensationalist-headline driven media. Honesty is definitely not the best policy.

    As for McCully – it is not the first time the Nats have shifted responsibility for stuff-ups onto civil servants.

    We saw Lesley Longstone made a scapegoat and sacked by this rotten government.

    The British newspaper, “The Guardian”, even warned UK civil servants to be cautious when seeking positions in this country;–UK-paper/tabid/423/articleID/283284/Default.aspx

    National has “form” when it comes to blaming others for it’s failed policies, and the collapse of “Solid Energy” must rank at the top of finger-pointing to avoid taking the rap for ministerial incompetance.

    It’s a shame New Zealanders don’t take more notice of what National get’s up to. They’d never be elected into office again.

    • Yup – this government has everybody pining for Muldoon they’re so useless – and nobody wanted Muldoon for another minute.

  3. I get David Cunliffe’s intent, but it to me it landed wrong and presented a gift to the naysayers.

    Don’t apologise or be sorry for who you are, especially for attributes like gender or race that you have no control over. Do apologise for things you have (or have not) done that you sincerely regret.

  4. The News in the story is National has starved rape crisis and womans refuges of money ………….. leading to christchurch’s rape crisis center having to close down.

    While Labor pledges millions extra in funding for these groups.

    Spot the difference between the two.

    National is the party that toasts the roastbusters and getting teenage girls pissed with Judith’s full strength RTD’s .

  5. Great analysis Simon. Jesse Hume said of the explosion of criticism of Cunliffe’s personal ‘sorry’ addressing his particular audience, that it is ‘nit-picking about an apology that shows respect and comes from the heart. Because when you reveal your priorities to be more focused on personal offense than a problem of this scale, you are being part of the problem.’ Tautoko Jesse. Tautoko Simon.

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