Prisoners used to get just the Bible to read in their cells. David Garrett might want to take a look at the parable of the unforgiving servant himself, as he looks for a way out of this week's mess... and what it all means for ACT

The best line on David Garrett's tribulations comes from Howard League campaigner Peter Williams QC, and steals my thunder somewhat. Williams told the Herald simply that the ACT MP had "demonstrated that no human being is perfect, and some recognition should be given to rehabilitation and repentance".

Touche. Garrett has forged a career from condemnation and retribution; he has no interest in compassion or forgiveness, his preference being for punishment and deterrence. With the wind of the Sensible Sentencing Trust in his sails, he forged the three strikes law, saying telling the SST's conference just last month that, "People had clearly had enough of failed, soft on crime policies."

He went onto say, with a touch of the biblical, "What consecutive sentencing will do is hold violent thugs to account for each of their sins."

But it's a very human truth that those who are most judgmental and unrelenting are often those most in the need of compassion and mercy themselves, which is what Williams is getting at.

This week we've learnt that Garrett, ACT merciless law and order spokesman, has a conviction for assault in Tonga (regarding a punch he says he never threw) and that he stole the identity of a dead baby to get a fake passport - just to see whether he could - and pleaded guilty to the crime when it caught up with him in 2005.

All of which reminded me of the parable of the un forgiving servant. It's a bible story about a King who mercifully forgave a servant a vast debt, only for that servant to turn around and demand another man pay him the money he was owed. When the other man was unable to pay, the unmerciful servant had him thrown in prison.

One of the points of the story is to preach humility, forgiveness and compassion for the plight of others. It's a story Mr Garrett may want to reflect on while he figures out what to say to unimpressed New Zealand voters in the next few days. Or, given the fact he talked about "sin" so recently, he might prefer to ponder the line, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone".

In other words, a man who has willfully broken the law, dishonoured the memory of a dead baby and has an assault conviction for a crime he says he didn't commit, might want to get down from his high horse and be a little kinder to others who find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

So goes the morality. What about the politics? There's no upside for ACT in this.

The most damaging admission is that leader Rodney Hide knew about these offences and told Garrett that the public would judge him on his candidacy and his work as an MP, not this historic act. (Oh, and the fact that Hide has backed his MP so fully that his own leadership now stands and falls on this most peculiar gentleman).

Backing Garrett's candidacy in full knowledge of his past is a remarkable decision and must raise questions about his judgment as leader and the internal strength of the party. Given that this leak presumably came from deep within the party - very few people could have known about the passport, because Garrett had permanent name suppresion - that's precisely what it must have been intended to do. (And you've got to wonder whether there's more to come).

Hide had no choice but to keep the identity theft secret; the name suppression saw to that and he can't be faulted on that front. But why allow Garrett to be nominated? Is there such little talent in the ACT ranks that an identity thief was their best possible candidate? Was there no-one better to represent the party and the people? Is that really the character of man he wants beside him?

And knowing his past offences, why hand him the law and order portfolio and tell him to get stuck in? It's hypocrisy with eyes wide open.

That assessment extends to the Sensible Sentencing Trust as well; surely their "tough on crime" message is corroded when their own man in the House is hiding a criminal past.

Trust boss Garth McVicr has made the bizarre assertion that Garrett should have "killed... this carry-on" by revealing all in his maiden speech. Er, no. Either the name suppression sticks and you say nothing, ever, or you declare all before you ask the voters of New Zealand for their confidence.

Revealing these offences in his maiden speech would have been akin to the arch-baddie whipping of his mask after the event and saying, "mwah ha ha, fooled you all".

And really, where's the Trust's compassion for the victims of Garrett's crimes when its spokesman dismisses his offences as "this carry-on". It seems like it's one rule for 'one of us', another rule for the nasty crims who aren't like us.

And so it makes National's decision heading into next yar's election even tougher. John Key and the party board will be willing to suffer a lot to keep ACT in parliament. The inclination long must have been to run a party vote-only campaign in Epsom, letting Hide gather up the right-wing majority unopposed.

Even if ACT can only guarantee two MPs after the next election, those could be two very precious MPs indeed, because they're locked in to the right of National and imprisoned by their gratitude.

But how much more of this can National take? More to the point, how much more will Epsom voters take before they say, 'strategic vote or not, I just can't support this gaggle of oddities'?

Or put another way, how much more are National and Epsom willing to forgive?  

 

Comments (4)

by stuart munro on September 16, 2010
stuart munro

how much more are National and Epsom willing to forgive?

Oh, I imagine quite a lot. The ACT scandals draw media scrutiny away from government performance. Garrett is as much a blessing to National as Peters was to Labour. Goff is the guy who must hate Garrett.

If Epsom were sensitive to personalities all of ACT would've be back to taxi-dancing at the last election. Espom just wants tax cuts.

by Kyle Matthews on September 16, 2010
Kyle Matthews

It's like watching a train wreck when there's only five carriages. Which is what happens when you jump on populist weak individuals rather than smart capable people for your party list.

by David Small on September 17, 2010
David Small

I was surprised that Key chose to label Garrett's actions as 'bizarre', a term that, in the circumstances, seems inappropriately neutral and non-condemnatory.

by Alma Rae on September 17, 2010
Alma Rae

Key will be trying to play this down for all he's worth, I would think; if ACT completely implodes he'll miss his handy little right wing pets.  And while one thinks of quite a few other adjectives (revolting, disgusting, sick, vile etc) bizarre is pretty accurate, especially if he really didn't plan to use it...

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