Monday, 27 April 2015

An open letter to the women's caucus of the NZ National Party

This letter is written ahead of your caucus meeting today.

I understand some senior women were out of the country during the debate about the Prime Minister's actions in a local cafe and so may not have yet had an opportunity to understand the full ramifications of the incident as they are now unfolding within the wider New Zealand community.

It was MP Nicky Wagner who once shared an invaluable insight with me, about how it is easy for any politician of any party, to only hear from particular viewpoints, and the effort required to search out and listen to those in the community who hold differing views but who may not speak to you.

As a teacher of political science I feel strongly that some aspects of the incident are too serious to be allowed to become partisan political issues of left or right. As Jackie Blue and Marilyn Waring have highlighted, one of these issues is ensuring New Zealand workplaces are free from harassment.

A second issue is the freedom to speak without fear. And it is this issue that I wish to highlight now.

I wrote a story for children because I was dismayed to hear young people express feelings of disempowerment, not only as a result of the actions of the Prime Minister, (which by his own admission failed the standards of his office), but by the way the incident was reported by some media.

We can not be responsible for the actions of every single party supporter, let alone every media commentator, but we can be responsible, and we must be, for our own actions and the tone and standard we set in our Government, our political parties, and the wider democracy.

It is completely unacceptable if any young woman or indeed any New Zealand citizen who speaks out is subjected to censure by powerful friends or networks of any political party via  mainstream or social media. New Zealand democracy must be a space in which all citizens can speak freely. We do not have to become a polemic media environment, like the USA, nor should we.

I will be taking a formal complaint to the Press Council about the NZ Herald's media coverage and to the Broadcasting Standards Authority about TVNZ's Seven Sharp commentary, both of which I argue failed standards of journalism worthy of NZ democracy.

I have been deeply disappointed to date by the Minister of Women's Affairs comments on the incident,  however I hope she may be waiting for the caucus meeting today before making a stronger comment. I am equally dismayed by Chris Trotter's attempt in the Christchurch paper today to introduce partisan politics into this issue by trying to compare his experience to that of the young woman. They are not the same. Nor do I agree that all National MPs disrespect their opponents, this may be a recent phenomena, but I know it is not typical of past or of all National party politicians.

I look to the women of the NZ National Party to step forward and lead in resolving a deepening division, by clearly defending the young woman's right to speak out regardless of her political views and by condemning the behaviour of the NZ Prime Minister in the strongest terms.

Bronwyn Hayward
Associate Professor of Political Science
Head of Department of Politics
University of Canterbury, NZ

1 comment:

  1. In my young days about 45 years ago I fought for the freedom of speech in my old country, about the inequalities between men and women and was chastised, along with women who believed as I did, by many who should have known better. We won in the end, but at a cost. So here it is all over again, in a country that celebrates equailty and democracy. This PM should take a careful look at his actions and their consequences, at all times.