No place for destroying minister in NZ

Dunedin South MP Clare Curran has experienced in the past how chilly political life can be. Here...
Dunedin South MP Clare Curran has experienced in the past how chilly political life can be. Here she talks with visitors to her Octagon winter campsite in July 2017 as she attempted to get a better housing deal for constituents. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
The daily rough-and-tumble of politics is not a natural fit for this column — there are plenty of other opinion pieces, analyses and blogs out there already dealing with that.

But I feel compelled to write something about the Clare Curran issue, specifically her treatment by some in Parliament and in the media.

Before I start, I need to make it clear that I, too, think Ms Curran has not been a good cabinet minister. She has made a hash of things, acting inappropriately on several occasions.

When you accept the big bucks of a ministerial salary, you have to be ready to deal with the intense pressure and huge responsibilities.

However, she also has my sympathies.

I am concerned about the purveyors of schadenfreude in this. There seems to have been far too much joy from some in bringing her down. It is a nasty side of human nature — more common in politics than in everyday life — and there are quite a few who should take stock and think about the way they have behaved.

When Ms Curran was questioned in Parliament last week about her use of Gmail for official purposes, it was obvious she was under immense stress and unable to think clearly.

Her incomplete answers were taken as a sign of evasiveness or of playing for extra time. But anyone with a modicum of compassion, empathy and humanity, or with experience in reading their fellow humans, might also have recognised them as a reflection of mental overload. Those pauses, stammers and repetitions have now been  widely used to mock  her further.

Photo: Joe Enright
Photo: Joe Enright
What I’m struggling to marry up here is that, on the one hand, we have a country agonising about rising levels of substance abuse, bullying, deteriorating mental health, shocking suicide statistics, and a general disaffection/disconnection with life by many young people. We  need to do something about  that.

Yet, on the other, here we are, a people with a vicious, abhorrent edge, revelling in kicking someone when they are obviously down — the audience giving the thumbs down to the gladiator before  the victim  is killed for their satisfaction, the crowd excitedly awaiting the execution at dawn.

I am proud of being a journalist — 99% of the time. But just occasionally, I’m not at all proud. And any good journo knows that when you don’t hunt with the pack, when you exercise a bit of sensitivity and approach things in a softly-softly manner, you will often get the better story.

As journalists, our job is to voraciously work to uncover what needs to be public but is not.

It is not our role to hammer away at someone until they crumble. It is not to destroy vulnerable people. You make your point and you move on.

There are two words I’d suggest might go a long way towards halting our slide into a mean, repugnant society. Compassion and empathy.

Yes, Ms Curran should not be in Cabinet. But anyone who "strategically" picked her out  many months ago as a "soft" target to torment until she folded is an utter disgrace. Call me naive. Call me thin-skinned. Call me a hopeless romantic. But does politics really need to be so savage?


No shortage here. ODT reader Sharon Troy-Heron found 13 Harrogate-flavoured toffees in her bag of...
No shortage here. ODT reader Sharon Troy-Heron found 13 Harrogate-flavoured toffees in her bag of Mackintosh’s. Photo: Sharon Troy-Heron
Moving on ... I was very pleased to hear from Sharon Troy-Heron, who found no less than 13 Harrogates in her bag of Mackintosh’s toffees. So what actually is a Harrogate toffee?

One reader did a little digging.

"According to The Northern Echo, a newspaper in northeast England, the flavour Harrogate was originally developed by confectioners in the spa town of Harrogate in Yorkshire to remove the pungent taste of the town’s spa waters."

Ahh, that gentle waft of hydrogen sulphide. Perhaps that smell is where the idea for egg-and-cream toffees came from, too?

South Seas exhibition

Some great memories being shared about the 1925-26 big show (whoops, almost typed "snow") in Dunedin.

Tom Landreth, of Cromwell, recalls going there as a 6-year-old with his grandparents.

"I recall the tower, just like the one on TV1 before the news, with a spiral slide round it and people sliding down on mats having a great time. Unfortunately, I did not get to take part.

"Then on to a building, where we followed a path through a diorama of swampland. The path was about a metre (three feet in those days) below the level of the diorama. As a result, I rounded a curve and found myself directly opposite a huge wild boar glaring at me at eye-level from between two clumps of rushes.

"What a relief to realise after a moment that he was stuffed and not going to charge with those massive tusks!"


Agree with your comments on Clare Curran. The endless repeat on TV of her stammering in Parliament is unnecessary and cruel.