Stuck in anger


After our first son, Tom, died I found myself getting angry over all sorts of things that normally wouldn’t have worried me.

It was only at a Women in Agriculture day, entitled beyond aspirin for feelings that are a pain in the neck that I worked out why.

I didn’t blame anyone for Tom’s death. He had a degenerative brain disorder and we had both had the best possible care from the start of my pregnancy.

But what I learned that day made me realise that although I didn’t blame anyone and it was no-one’s fault, I was still very angry that the son we’d loved had died.

The facilitator taught us to name, claim and tame our feelings. Once I’d named the anger and claimed it – worked out what I was feeling, why and the effect it was having on me – I was able to tame it and pull myself away from it.

I was reminded of this while reading about the man who allegedly chucked the muck at Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee:

The man who allegedly tipped a chocolate and flour mixture over Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee lost his son in the February 2011 earthquake.

John Howland arrived at the Christchurch District Court on Tuesday on what would have been the 20th birthday of his son, Jayden Andrews-Howland.

He said he attacked Brownlee “to prove a point”. . . 

“The Government, they’re heartless.” Howland said.

“They don’t listen to people. They don’t care about us, don’t care about nobody.”

Howland said he had been planning the move on Brownlee “for a few years” and hoped his actions would make the Government “get their s… together and sort this blimmin city out and all the people that are suffering. It’s just bulls…. I’ve just had enough”. . . .

The only point he’s proved is that he’s stuck in anger.

Attacking the Minister at any time would be wrong. To do it after yesterday’s memorial service to quake victims was also insensitive and lacked respect for the others who were at the service to commemorate their own losses.

This is the third time a government minister has had something thrown at them by angry people in the last couple of weeks.

The first was the dildo that Steven Joyce copped at Waitangi, to which he responded in good humour.

The second was the glitter-bombing of Prime Minister John Key at the Big Gay Out.

And the muck chucked yesterday completes the shabby trifecta.

In an editorial, published before yesterday’s muck-chuck, the Listener opines:

Josie Butler wasn’t exactly breaking new ground when she hurled a rubber dildo at Cabinet minister Steven Joyce on Waitangi Day. Her choice of missile may have been novel, but the nature of the act was ­wearisomely familiar.

Elements of the protest movement clearly regard physical assaults on politicians as a legitimate tactic. Don Brash, then leader of the National Party, was struck hard in the face with a clod at Waitangi in 2004. More recently, brothers John and ­Wikitana Popata assaulted Prime Minister John Key at Te Tii Marae in 2009 – an act that their uncle, Hone Harawira, then a Maori Party MP, gave every ­impression of excusing.

It doesn’t need to be Waitangi Day for the angry and dis­affected to justify hands-on attacks. Act MP John Boscawen was speaking in a debate during the Mt Roskill by-election campaign in 2009 when a rival candidate, campaigning on a “People Before Profit” ticket, smeared a lamington on his head. And when broadcaster Paul Henry tried to enter Auckland’s SkyCity Casino for a charity lunch – unconnected with politics – in May 2015, he was jostled, menaced, abused and spat on by a screaming mob purporting to be concerned about child poverty. . . 

Butler’s dildo attack prompted a commendably droll response from Joyce, who tweeted that someone should send a video to British comedian John Oliver – noted for his lampooning of New Zealand as a weird place – and “get it over with”. Sure enough, Oliver devoted more than four minutes of his HBO show Last Week Tonight to the item. But amid all the chortling, he made a serious point: “If you threw something at a politician in this country, you’d be dead before the dildo hit the ground.” That, at least, is a point of difference about which New ­Zealanders can be proud.

Levity aside, there’s another serious issue here. Physical attacks – whether with a dildo, a lump of earth, a lamington or a gob of spit – are not part of the repertoire of legitimate protest. They are an intrusion on the rights of others. They are also a sad admission that gestures of inarticulate rage are too often preferred over the skills of reasoned debate.

It matters not whether any serious harm is done in such incidents. In a civilised, liberal democracy, people engaging in politics are entitled to expect that basic rights, such as freedom of speech and movement, will be respected. It’s legitimate to ask what would have happened had the Waitangi attack been aimed at Jacinda Ardern, say – if she had been hit in the face by a big rubber teat thrown by a skinhead protesting about refugee immigration.

Some might consider it not to be funny if a woman gets hit. Yet a female journalist was in fact struck on the breast by Butler’s dildo after it bounced off Joyce.

There is no question that throwing a missile hard enough to hit two people constitutes assault, though Butler appears to have escaped prosecution. So what happens now if young people are punished for throwing rubber missiles at teachers or students with whom they disagree? Are they not entitled to cry “hypocrisy”?

The reality is that Brash, Key and Joyce were entitled to go to Waitangi to celebrate our national day without risk of assault. Similarly, Boscawen was entitled to take part in a political debate without being subjected to the humiliation of having a lamington planted on his head. The boundaries of reasonable protest will always be blurred but ­physical intimidation is never acceptable. It constitutes an assault on democracy itself.

It’s also counterproductive, since it conflicts with most New Zealanders’ views about how public life should be conducted. This may not bother hard-core protesters but it is a problem for the wider left, because as long as ideological zealots continue to parade their angry intolerance, the mainstream left will be tarnished by association. . . 

There is a place for righteous anger but there was nothing righteous about these protests.

The first two were political, the third partly political and partly what appears to be unresolved grief.

Regardless of the motivation, throwing toys, glitter bombing and chucking muck are not legitimate forms of protest.

Freedom of expression brings with it the responsibility to express it without infringing other people’s rights.

In New Zealand we have remarkably unfettered access to our Members of Parliament.

People who let their anger overcome them as these three protesters did, do nothing for their cause, potentially endanger their targets and innocent bystanders, and threaten the accessibility the rest of us have to politicians.





Boscawen seeks Epsom selection


Act President John Boscawen is seeking the Act selection for Epsom and his party’s leadership.

In a media release he says:

I am today announcing my intention to seek the Epsom nomination and leadership of the ACT Party in the 2014 general election.

  • I have been a member of ACT for over 17 years. I first stood for ACT in Epsom in 1996 and been involved in each of the five general election campaigns since. In 1996, I stood on a platform of maximising the party vote and our team achieved over 22% of the party votes cast in Epsom – a record not broken since.
  • In the years since 1996 I have held a number of party positions including over eight years’ service on the ACT board and as Campaign Manager, Treasurer and fundraiser.
  • In 2008, I stood in the North Shore electorate to maximise party votes and was elected to Parliament at No. 4 on ACT’s party list.
  • In August 2010, I was elected Deputy Leader and appointed Minister of Consumer Affairs and Associate Minister of Commerce.
  • At the 2011 general election I decided not to seek re-election on the party list although I did stand in Tamaki in an effort to maximise the party vote.
  • Following the 2011 election I continued in my role as Deputy Leader until my election, unopposed, in February 2013 as ACT President.

The ACT Board has announced it intends to make a decision on the ACT leadership over the weekend of 1-2 February 2014. Until a decision has been made, I will immediately stand aside from the position of President in the interim and leave the Board to be chaired by Vice President Barbara Astill.

We must rebuild our previous support and parliamentary representation and I believe that I am the best person to lead the party into the 2014 election. Just as importantly it is critical for New Zealand’s future that we do. We are the only party with a core philosophy of individual responsibility, prosperity and freedom. We have constantly pushed for social welfare and education reforms and for less government waste and lower taxes. We must get the incentives right if we are to encourage and reward hard work, savings and investment and that is why I have decided to offer myself for the position of candidate for Epsom and leader of the ACT Party.

Boscawen was an MP and replaced Heather Roy as Minister of Consumer Affairs.

He would bring experience to the role, he wouldn’t be regarded as the fresh blood the party needs.

It’s up to members to decide if he could resurrect it.

Banks calls media conference @ 11 UPDATED


Act leader John Banks and party president John Boscawen have called a media conference at 11am.

It will be to announce:

a) Banks is going to resign from parliament.

b) He’ll stay in parliament but won’t stand again at the next election.

c) He’s going to undertake a citizen’s initiated referendum calling for Len Brown to resign as mayor of Auckland so he (Banks) can stand for that position.

d) There is more to Act than two Johns.

e) ?


The answer was b:

Speaking to reporters at a press conference this morning, Mr Banks said: It’s time for me to move on from this place”.

He referred to the sentencing of his parents 50 years ago to long prison terms.

“I stood outside the High Court as a 17 year old absolutely committed to a liftetime of hard work honest endeavour and public service to try and balance the public ledger.”

“Anyone who knows me well knows I would not file a false return of anything.

He was now focused on the “long triangulated legal process to clear my name”.

“I will not be saying anything more about the particulars of the case now before the court except that I’m not fearful of the process or where it ends.”

There is a place on the political spectrum for a party to the right of National.

Can Act survive to do that or is the brand now so tarnished it would be better to start afresh?



Just a coincidence?


A  lot of farmers in the south have recently received a letter from Act MP John Boscawen seeking their views and support.

MPs have access to electoral rolls which give names, addresses and occupations but this letter doesn’t appear to have gone to all farmers.

All those I know have received the letter are members of Federated Farmers and I’ve yet to find any who isn’t a member of Feds who’s got the letter.

I’m not suggesting that the Federated Farmers’ data base has been used – Feds works with and keeps its distance from all political parties.

And my sample may not be representative. There could well be Feds members who haven’t got the letter and non-members who have.

But I did wonder if the announcement that former Feds president Don Nicolson was standing for Act and the apparent targeting of this letter is just a coincidence.

UPDATE: – Bulaman’s comment below shows at least one non-Feds member got the letter.

Two Dons, two Johns


It’s not easy for a wee party to cover all bases and since Gerry Eckhoff missed out on returning to parliament in 2005, Act has lacked a rural voice.

That could change with Southland farmer, and Federated Farmers’ immediate past president, Don Nicolson becoming an Act candidate.

He’s standing as a candidate in Clutha Southland but I don’t think that will trouble sitting MP who got a majority of more than 13,000 and attracted about 65% of the electorate vote in the last election.

The party will have to do better that its dismal poll ratings if he’s to get into parliament on the list too. Labour’s doing it’s best to put farmers off voting for them but Nicolson might be able to persuade some of those disgruntled with National to try Act.

The has yet to rank its list but Keeping Stock points out so far it’s looking like Don, John, John and Don.

If the party’s to counter John Ansell’s proposition that Act is a party for men or women who think like men, it will need to introduce a little gender diversity.

What’s the point of changing ministers now?


A new leader wants to put his stamp on his party as soon as possible. But what’s the point of changing ministers when it’s little more than six months to the election?

The new ACT leader, Don Brash, who is not an MP, will meet the Prime Minister on Tuesday to discuss whether or not the former leader Rodney Hide and the deputy leader, John Boscawen, should retain their ministerial positions.

Mr Key says ministers serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister but that he will be listening to the opinions of Dr Brash as ACT party leader.

Mr Key says he could support Mr Hide, Mr Boscawen, or the former deputy, Heather Roy, as ministers.

Are Hide and Boscawen performing as well as they should as ministers? Would Roy be any better?

Unless the answer to both those questions is no the decision by Brash to seek to strip his predecessor, Hide, and/or the party’s deputy Boscawen, of their portfolios and replace one or both with Roy this late in the electoral cycle looks petty and vindictive.

However, if Brash’s intention is to leave Act with no ministers, that’s a sign he wants to be able to clearly differentiate Act from the government to show voters clearly what it stands for.

New leader has no mandate for demands


Don Brash grabbed the leadership of Act in an unorthodox manner with reportedly the support of only three MPs.

Former leader Rodney Hide has been gracious in defeat and given the new leader his support. The fifth member of the Act caucus, John Boscawen apears to be demonstrating that loyalty to the party is paramount and is supporting the new leader.

The party board will ratify the leadership decision today but that still doesn’t give Brash any mandate for making demands of Prime Minister John Key.

He is leading a wee party which got into parliament with only 3.65% of the party vote thanks to the seat of Epsom which was won by Hide, the leader he’s deposed.

He is confident he will lift the vote well above that in November and he might well do so. If he does and National is in a position to form a government he could start negotiating for ministerial places then, but only then.

However, he wants some influence sooner:

Mr Hide has said he wants to stay on in his roles as local government and regulatory reform minister.

However, Dr Brash said last night that he expected to discuss the issue with Mr Key next week.Those are held at the discretion of the Prime Minister but it is also the convention in a coalition that the leader of the party in which those portfolios are held has a view on that.”

He indicated he would ask Mr Key to give Mr Hide’s portfolios to another MP, citing as a precedent Mr Hide’s decision to strip Heather Roy of her portfolios because of her coup attempt.

That isn’t a valid comparison. Roy had done her best to replace Hide inflicting great damage on her party in the process.

 Hide by contrast has put the party first by stepping aside without any public display of acrimony.

If his replacement insists on attempting to take his portfolios from him it would be understandable if Hide decided the party, and the man who calls him a friend, no longer deserved his loyalty.

Regardless of that, the election is only seven months away and it would be unnecessarily disruptive to change ministers at this late stage without a much better reason than to reward someone else for disloyalty to her leader who happens to hold the portfolios.

I have a great deal of respect for Dr Brash but if he attempts to replace Hide as a minister he will be attempting to wield influence well out or proportion to his position. He should put his intellect and energy into helping his new party become part of the next government and leave this one be.

To do otherwise would risk damaging this government and reduce the chances of both National and Act being part of the next one.

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