There were a number of high points and low points during the recent months of the election campaign. But the low point in my view came during the final leaders debate between Chris Hipkins and Christopher Luxon.
During the debate on TVNZ, there was discussion around the suitability and accountability of members of parliament, and Christopher Luxon raised the issue of recent cases of Labour cabinet ministers, getting caught out.
This included the ex-Minister of Justice Kiri Allan who recently pleaded not guilty to a charge of refusing to accompany police, which arose from alleged drunk driving in late July. The ex-Justice Minister also faces a charge of careless driving for the incident, in which she crashed into a parked car on Roseneath’s Evans Bay Parade. Kiri Allan was stripped of her portfolios after the crash. Kind of ironic that we’re talking about someone who was Minister of Justice at the time.
Minister of Police Stuart Nash was sacked after disclosing confidential information from a Cabinet meeting to two businessmen, both former donors.
There was also Meka Whaitiri and Shannon Halbert who were accused of bullying staff members, and that claim was also made by Hamilton West MP Gaurav Sharma, who was removed from Labour’s caucus in August for breaching confidentiality and losing his colleagues’ trust.
And then there was Cabinet Minister Michael Wood who failed to disclose conflicts of interest related to shareholdings emerged.
National of course weren’t perfect. There was claims that Tim van der Molen had bullied a Labour MP Shannan Halbert, who ironically got accused of bullying. And claims were also made about Elizabeth Kerekere from the Green Party bullying staff.
And I’m sure there may be others.
Our politicians in office should be held to account. They are adults, they are political leaders. And there is a Parliamentary standard. We expect high standards from our leaders. They are our elected officials.
Now during the debate on 1News last week, as Labour leader Chris Hipkins attempted to defend his MPs, he made the following statement. Here’s the segment
National Party leader Christopher Luxon took a shot at the five ministers who have left Labour this year, to which Hipkins replied with a reference to the accusations against Uffindell from his youth.
“People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. None of my MPs beat people up with a bed leg,”
Of course Hipkins was referring to what many people would know, and that is National MP Sam Uffindell, who, when he was a young teenager, committed some violent bullying against other students.
In 1999, Uffindell was asked to leave King’s College after he and some friends had beaten a 13-year-old boy, with what the victim thought were bed legs, leaving him severe bruising and trauma.
As a result, he was suspended from the school, and it was a costly mistake because it was a prestige school that he could no longer attend. So you could say that he paid the consequences. But most importantly, this was an action when he was a teenager. And as the left, always like to say, we should treat teenagers differently to adults when it comes to criminal activity. But not when they get into politics, apparently.
Uffindell said, “It was one of the silliest, stupidest things I’ve ever done. I really regretted it, I do really regret it still.”
To Sam Uffindell‘s credit, he attempted to contact the victim later in life and to make amends. Perhaps it was because he was genuinely repentant. Perhaps this was because he was about to go into politics.
The victim said Uffindell had contacted him out-of-the-blue through a mutual acquaintance a year before Uffindel entered parliament. Uffindell wanted to apologise, which after some consideration, the victim agreed to. At the time, he said he would never forgive the boy who hurt him, but forgave the man Uffindell had become. But then when the victim saw that Uffindel was now an MP and questioned the apology – rightly or wrongly.
The problem with Chris Hipkins making the statement and not allowing for youthful indiscretions means that we are potentially limiting leadership in this country to those with a perfect record.
But aren’t mistakes a part of growing up and learning. I don’t think any one of us could say that we haven’t made mistakes in our life either as young people, or even as adults that we don’t deeply regret, but from which we have hopefully learned from.
This is in no way to mitigate what Sam did in school, and what the victim suffered. It was on the extreme end.
The victim was correct when he said he could never forgive the boy who hurt him, but would forgive the man Uffindell had become.
At what point do we say this is part of who you were, but it’s not part of who you are now?
Do we still believe in a clean slate?
I can understand that it’s great to have politicians who don’t make mistakes, but in the real world, we also will have politicians who have made mistakes, have apologised, have reconciled, have learnt from their mistakes, and are better for it.
And to me that shows character.
The other MPs I mentioned, including the Labour cabinet ministers – those were errors of judgement and behaviour that are current. So the consequences apply today. Sam Uffindel’s terrible actions were 24 years ago -when he was a teenager.
So that’s why I thought Chris Hipkins comment was a political low blow, made in desperation for points because he was staring at political defeat.
That’s why I think it was the low point of the whole election campaign.
If we are looking for politicians who have never made a mistake, have never done something that they regret, we may find that we struggle to get enough politicians to fill the seats in Parliament.
Life is full of making mistakes and errors of judgement. Taking bad advice. Ignoring our conscience which is telling us not to go down a certain path.
It’s how we deal with that mistake, that failing, that reveals our true character and our potential for leadership.
What do you think? Do our dumb actions as teenagers disqualify us from leadership. Do even our past actions as adults permanently disqualify us? Or does it depend on what the action was, and what the consequence at the time was.
I’m interested to know. Share your view in the comments section.