A couple of quick words from the Minister ... whoops

By Audrey Young

Education Minister Steve Maharey says it was "a slip of the tongue" yesterday in Parliament when he said "f*** you" to Northcote MP Jonathan Coleman.

Mr Maharey uttered the profanity as he sat down after answering questions from Dr Coleman, and possibly thought his microphone was off.

It wasn't, and his comment was heard by some viewers watching the live television cover of Parliament's question time - and by Dr Coleman.

Dr Coleman sought and received an apology.

Mr Maharey had been repeatedly questioned about whether it was appropriate for him as Broadcasting Minister to threaten to complain to the Radio New Zealand Board - which he appoints - about an item on Radio New Zealand's Morning Report.

In a discussion on March 23 about the NCEA, co-host Sean Plunket said Mr Maharey's statement that the Cambridge exam was taken in Botswana was "a criticism that was full of implied racism".

After making his comment, Mr Maharey quickly corrected himself and said: "Sorry, I said I'm fed up with you, Jonathan."

He refused to talk about it later, but said through a spokeswoman it had been "a slip of the tongue in the heat of the moment about an issue he was very angry about".

He had apologised and withdrawn the comment as soon as he was asked to do so.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said through a spokeswoman it was "not uncommon from MPs from both sides of the House to say silly things in the heat of the moment and the apology is appropriate".

National speakers seized on the profanity to paint Mr Maharey as a minister under pressure in a Government that often bullied journalists.

In a similar offence in the House recently, New Zealand first MP Ron Mark apologised three times after making an obscene gesture - known as flipping the bird - with one finger.

He said last night that he was not going to get on his "high horse" over Mr Maharey's comment.

"To err is human; to forgive is divine and I forgive.

"In the heat of debate, people make mistakes. And you can regret it so very very much for so very very long."

* Mr Maharey said he had not taken his complaint against Morning Report any further.

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