Rodney Hide’s excuses for the lewd comment by his Act party colleague David Garrett – that he is new to Parliament, that he may be slow to realize that he is not still working on an oil rig etc etc. – are bizarre, and a bit desperate. Reportedly, Garrett made such comments on more than one occasion, and in more than one context – both inside the Act Party office, and elsewhere in the parliamentary complex. Apparently, the comments had to do with Garrett linking a female staffer (employed by Parliamentary Services) filling a drink bottle from a water cooler, and oral sex.
One reason why Hide’s excuse for Garrett is so lame is that Garrett has more than once paraded his expertise in employment law before the House. During the debate on the 90 day employment probation period – which limits the rights of new employees to take a personal grievance case, in situations that can include sexual harassment – Garrett said:
It is actually not very easy to sack somebody for improper reasons such as pregnancy, sexual harassment, or racial grounds, and hide it as a poor performance issue. It is very difficult. I can say that because I have been doing employment law for 15 years, since the Employment Contracts Act came in and employment law became a specialty.
Given that background, Garrett can hardly plead ignorance. The oil rig defence is particularly feeble, given that Garrett has been practicing law since, for close on two decades – with some of that being in employment law, and some of it involving work for law and order campaigners, the Sensible Sentencing Trust. It may also be recalled that Garrett was the one parliamentarian who did not rise to applaud Helen Clark after her farewell speech on leaving Parliament. Throughout, Garrett has been a strong advocate of Act’s ‘Three Strikes and You’re Out’ policy which seeks to impose harsh penalties on people guilty of multiple offences. In June 2008, Garrett reportedly turned up drunk to a TVNZ current affairs show taping, during which he linked homosexuality to paedophilia. If Garrett cannot control his own behaviour, what is doing in Parliament promoting laws that aim to set strict boundary lines and punitive repercussions for everyone else? His role in the Act Party may be to make Rodney Hide look benign by comparison, but Garrett is fast becoming the poster child for everything that is ugly and closeted about his party’s social attitudes.
It has been a rough 48 hours for the friends of the Sensible Sentencing Trust. Last week, Prime Minister John Key noted at his press conference that the Families Commission had come out in support of the current law on child discipline – which will soon have its public support tested in a citizens initiated referendum, starting in July. As Key also observed last week, the Families Commission reaches its decisions by consensus, and so he would not expect Rankin to continue to campaign against the current law. Surprise, surprise : Rankin initially agreed to front the “No” campaign against the law, during the upcoming referendum period. As Green MP Sue Bradford says,
Rankin’s decision to do so was ‘quite incredible’.
Already, Rankin seems to be back-tracking, and she will not now be fronting the ‘No’ campaign launch at least. Any back-pedaling though, seems only in response to the public backlash, and it is as yet unclear whether Rankin is sundering all of her public ties with the law’s opponents. If not, she will need to explain how she can continue to receive payment – as a commissioner, she receives $565 a day for up to 100 days a year – for being part of an organization whose collectively-reached decisions she appears willing to oppose. It is hard to see how her continued presence in the job would not impede the work of the Commission, by fostering dissent between herself and other commissioners.
Rankin owed it to Key not to raise even the prospect of her publicly undermining the Families Commission’s stance on this issue. Key needs to require Rankin to stand down from her Families Commission post, at least until the referendum is over. The political equation is simple. The longer that Rankin stays in the job, the more Key is going to seem foolish and indecisive.
Gordon Campbell adds: Family First director Bob McCroskie has since indicated that his initial release that Christine Rankin would launch the ‘No’ campaign was an error. To date, Ms Rankin has refused to comment on the referendum.