In the last couple of days, Lockwood Smith and Maurice Williamson have provided a timely reminder that no matter how much the public may like John Key, there is some truly awful deadwood on the National front bench. Having the shadow Immigration Minister clumsily repeat gross racial stereotypes he has heard about the very people that he could soon be making eligibility decisions about is bad enough – but doing so when National is ardently trying to woo the Maori Party looks like the height of stupidity.
It has been an interesting exercise all round, though. Maori Party Co-Leader Tariana Turia says this morning that she has already moved on. Yesterday’s example of racism, it seems, has become today’s forgivable gaffe. Yes, Turia is that keen on a deal with National.
Certainly, Turia’s readiness to forgive, forget and move on must be leaving Key with his head spinning. In a ‘how high do I need to jump to satisfy the Maori Party’s hurt feelings’ initial response, Key had reportedly taking Smith aside, and told him he could forget about being Immigration Minister.
He should stick to that initial decision, and count his blessings. What Smith has done is give him an excuse to deal with a genuine problem – that there is younger, fresher talent within National’s ranks than the 1990s crew ( Smith, Maurice Williamson, Tony Ryall etc etc) who are expecting Cabinet status to be their due, now and well into the next decade. Through their own foolishness, Smith and Williamson have given their leader an excellent opportunity to show some leadership, and shunt them aside.
The public after all, deserve better. The Immigration Service is a shambles. It needs a capable, energetic minister at the helm who is capable of driving the department’s internal need for renewal – Smith, by contrast has been a pushover for his officials in the past – and who is sensitive to New Zealand’s role in the Pacific and in Asia. Because migration and tourism from Asia is down.
Do we really want to appoint a walking embarrassment like Smith to the job of putting things right? Moreover, one of the first pieces of major legislation that a National –led government will be inheriting is the passage of the contentious Immigration Bill. Does Key really think Smith is a safe pair of hands for that job ? Surely there is some safer pigeonhole – the Minister of Surf Lifesaving perhaps ? – where Smith can be hidden for the next three years ?
One final management hint. When Maurice Williamson opens his trap about road tolls being easily affordable, that certainly creates a campaign problem for National. Mainly because the weekly toll dollars that Williamson is so jaunty about, would exceed – even at $30 a week, down from his $50 estimate in August – the amounts that the vast bulk of the population stand to receive from National’s much vaunted tax cuts. National would prefer that Williamson did not draw attention to that point again, over the next three weeks.
Even so, if Key wants to silence Williamson, surely it is possible to take him quietly into a corner and sandbag him – rather than have him featuring the very next day in the Herald as a man who has been silenced by his party ? Silencing is supposed to ensure silence, not martyrdom. Again, if there is a silver lining to these clouds, Key has been provided with ample reason NOT to promote these ageing dunderheads to Cabinet rank. Offering the immigration ministry to the Maori Party – to Dr Pita Sharples, say – would be a much better idea.
Footnote: in some quarters, Smith has his defenders ie, he was only repeating what the Marlborough winegrowers were saying etc. On RNZ’s Checkpoint last night, there was even talk of well, what if its true ? Maybe Asians do have fine little hands, that make them intrinsically better for grape picking work ? ( But gosh, some of them also play the piano quite well. How do they manage that with their teeny tiny hands ? Etc Etc.) Interestingly, not too many defenders came forward to support the other half of Smith’s comments – about the alleged ignorance of flush toilets and showering among Pacific Islanders.
To repeat: New Zealand doesn’t want to become known in the Pacific and in Asia for basing its immigration criteria on crude racial stereotypes. That’s a 19th century approach. What’s the next logical step down the road that Smith has charted – bringing back phrenology as a basis for judging the intelligence and adaptability of migrant workers ? Now, that’s something that could appeal to the vintners of Marlborough.