Wellington Scoop

Voting with gritted teeth in Ohariu


by Gordon Campbell
Any social liberals left in Ohariu face something of a dilemma. Do they vote against Peter Dunne in order to change this government’s dismal policies on health, education, the environment, welfare and the economy? Or do they vote tactically for Dunne, to try and prevent Greg O’Connor – now selected as Labour’s Ohariu candidate – from becoming this country’s next Minister of Police?

Ultimately, they’ll probably vote for O’Connor, but with gritted teeth. And quite possibly, they’ll watch the conservatives in the Labour caucus (that they’ve just helped to elect) then come down hard on the Greens, and frustrate any chance of genuine reform. Put it this way. What hope would you pin on a centre-left government whose electoral success has come to hinge – supposedly – on getting the likes of O’Connor and Willie Jackson across the line?

Somehow, Labour’s head office has managed to make Peter Dunne look like a principled underdog. That’s quite some feat. And in case this sounds like an overstatement of the downsides of Labour’s pick for Ohariu, a few of O’Connor’s prior positions, back when he was president of the Police Association, are worth recalling.

In 2012, when the Auditor General had found only mixed progress had been made by Police in implementing the recommendations contained in the 2007 Commission of Inquiry (triggered by the Louise Nicholas rape case) O’Connor defended the Police, and described the report as “something of a ritual humiliation for the Police.”

In the past, O’Connor has also argued – going back at least to 2010 – for the need to arm the Police. At least he is consistent on this point. Just over two years ago, O’Connor wrote an op ed for the NZ Herald headlined “Time To Get Real And Arm Our Police” that concluded with this:

The sad reality is we will see many more deaths at the hands of run-of-the-mill armed offenders. It won’t be long before one of those deaths occurs because police at the scene couldn’t take action to save a life, because they weren’t armed. It is time to overcome our squeamishness and arm police.

There’s more. Tragically and avoidably, high speed Police pursuits regularly result in unnecessary deaths, as reported by Brian Rudman in an article that cited the saner, safer high speed chase policies being followed by Police in Australia. Rudman’s article brought this hostile response from O’Connor only seven months ago:

We have inadvertently given bad drivers the green light to flee at speed. Mr Rudman’s solution will entail police never attempting to pull such drivers over in the first place, and just policing law-abiding drivers who it is calculated will not flee.

In recent days, O’Connor has claimed that taking such positions was just part of his old job of promoting the attitudes and interests of his rank and file Police members. That’s disturbing on several counts. For starters, it validates the misgivings many people have voiced about the DNA of Police culture when it comes to the handling of sexual violence complaints. Moreover, if O’Connor can be exonerated because hey, he was only doing what his old job demanded of him…then I guess that lets National MPs Chris Bishop and Todd Barclay off the hook for their past lobbying on behalf of the tobacco industry. Yet Labour has regularly made a big deal about those links.

Like O’Connor though, it seems that Bishop and Barclay were just doing their job. Guns for hire. Or, in O’Connor’s case, hired to get guns. Maybe all MPs, once elected, need to be baptised in a ceremony at the Parliamentary pool, and ritually cleansed of the sins of their past lives.

This is part of a longer article by Gordon Campbell that was published yesterday on Werewolf. The full article is here.