Gordon Campbell on the PM's Hair-Pulling Power Trip

There have been striking differences between (a) the account of the waitress involved in the hair-pulling incidents, and (b) the account being given by Prime Minister John Key. The version by the waitress is available here and is recommended to anyone yet to read it. By her account, there were multiple instances of hair-pulling and these persisted and persisted long after she had made her annoyance clear to Key – who had also been advised by his wife, and by other café staff that the behavior was evidently not being welcomed.

According to Key though, he was merely joking and had apologized immediately he realized that offence had been taken. This doesnt square with her account of repeated transgressions, and the PMs Office has not disputed the facts of her account. Ultimately, even one incident of a customer pulling the hair of a young woman in her workplace is unacceptable. Even more so by a Prime Minister – given the power and potential for intimidation he has, and which the young woman clearly felt. The repeated behavior, even after being told that offence had been taken, is disturbing. It is as if her rebuke had only angered him, and compelled him to repeat the actions to assert his authority. Maybe the sort of response shown by Anne Shirley ( in Anne of Green Gables ) would have given Key the message more clearly :

Yes, the PM did eventually apologise, but his subsequent comments have only minimized his actions and undercut the apology. It was one of those faux apologies – as in “Sorry, if you felt offended” and not “Sorry, my behavior was wrong.’ As National Council of Women chief executive Sue McCabe has pointed out, it is not acceptable to use an apology to make the victim come across as uptight and over-sensitive.

“A common reaction when these types of things are outed is for someone to say they are ‘sorry… but’, and after the ‘but’ always comes some sort of downplaying of the incident,” she said. “We see this all the time. It’s often that it was well-intentioned. The onus is put on the victim – it was funny, can’t you take a joke, that type of thing.”

The rest of the world – the New York Times, the Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Hindustani Times, the Italian press etc. has reported the incident with bemused mockery. The Guardian has even used the occasion to publish a list of Key’s
weirdest moments in office (so far) :

For now, the waitress faces the prospect of what response – if any – might be forthcoming from her employers. According to them, she had not made an official complaint before going public.

Her bosses, Hip Group owners Jackie Grant and Scott Brown, told the Herald they were disappointed Ms Bailey – who they say has “strong political points of view” – went public rather than coming to them directly with her concerns. However, they are hoping to “put this all behind us” now. Hip Group owns several cafes in Auckland, including Rosie. “We believe Amanda’s intention was never to reflect any ill will to the Hip Group or to her co-workers. Had we been aware that Amanda had a grievance we would have acted but she did not make an official complaint. She said nothing to us. The Prime Minister is a regular at Rosie and he’s well loved amongst the staff.”

Since then, the circumstances under which the comments made in the above NZ Herald story were apparently obtained, have emerged.

According to the waitress, the comments in the “interview” were obtained by journalist Rachel Glucina while Glucina was acting as a mediator in confidential negotiations between the waitress and the café management – supposedly, in order to reach agreement on a statement that the café management had fully discharged their duty of care to their employee.

.Their friend, Rachel, was concerned with how seriously this would effect their business, and wanted a better understanding of the situation, so that, together, we could proof and agree upon a statement to be released to the media by my employers themselves. A statement clarifying that I took issue with John’s behaviour, and that only, and not with them as my employers; that I had no intention of claiming any negligence on their part….Out of respect for my employers, and what seemed like their genuine concern for my well-being along with the future of their business (a business doing good things which I fully support), they introduced me to Rachel. Questions were asked of me by Rachel, under the guise of a Public Relations expert working confidentially for my employer….

Eventually, the penny dropped that the “ Rachel” in question was in fact, the NZ Herald journalist Rachel Glucina – identified via Google as someone who has a close working relationship with John Key.

Rachel contacted [the employers] again and we expressed that I felt extremely uncomfortable with the discussions that had taken place as any comments I had made were made in confidence and good faith under the understanding that I was discussing an employment issue with a public relations specialist and had absolutely no knowledge whatsoever that the person my employers had requested I speak with, who was so determinedly trying to put the word “political” in my mouth, was a “feared” and “loathed” journalist from the New Zealand Herald.

Rachel’s story changed. RAPIDLY…… She was absolutely acting in her capacity as a journalist for the New Zealand Herald and claimed that my employers had known all along, which they denied.

Glucina has since denied this account. In sum, the whole affair has brought the Prime Ministerial office into disrepute, both here and around the world. Key seems to be a serial offender when it comes to pony-tails, even when they’re on children.

This is odd, and pretty unpleasant behaviour. Behind Key’s smiling persona it seems, is the usual anger of a powerful man who will not brook being challenged – especially not by a young woman, and a waitress to boot. ‘Don’t pull my hair’ was taken by Key as a challenge to his authority, and not as a red light to be recognized. Just joking ? Not really.

And talking of people with responsibility and who should better …where has been the response from (a) the Minister of Women’s Affairs and (b) the Minister of Labour ?


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