Editorial: MP should forget legal niceties

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It was predictable that Richard Worth should respond like a lawyer to the scandal this week that has almost certainly cost him his political career.

Worth, who was a partner in a major law firm by the age of 24, issued a statement through a public relations firm which cautioned the public against "a rush to judgment on the basis of rumour and speculation".

"There is a well-known principle in New Zealand that a person is presumed innocent until they have been proved guilty," he said, managing to sound pompous and defensive at the same time. "At the moment, I have not even been charged with any criminal offence, let alone had the opportunity to defend myself."

Defending himself is what Worth has vowed to do, and "vigorously" against any charges that might result from the criminal investigation now under way. But the readiness with which he invokes his legal right to the presumption of innocence simply shows how out of touch he is with the seriousness of his predicament.

Prime Minister John Key did not wait for the outcome of any investigation or subsequent proceedings before saying "His conduct does not befit a minister and I will not have him in my Cabinet" and (this latter three times within a few minutes) "If he had not resigned, I would have sacked him".

It is probably telling that, when asked on radio what he would do if criminal charges were laid, Key said that he could not sack Worth twice. It plainly implied that he did sack the minister and allowed the public announcement of a resignation as a face-saving gesture. If so, it is plainly the only slack the PM is cutting him. Helen Clark left a back door ajar or or at least unlocked for errant ministers to return; Key makes it plain that it will be a very cold day in hell before Richard Worth holds a ministerial warrant in one of his Cabinets.

Key's management of the matter has not been beyond reproach. He was decisive and unambiguous on Wednesday, but only after police had forced his hand by announcing that they were investigating "an MP". Extraordinarily, when approached by Labour leader Phil Goff about one of the two complainants, he did not ask to see the evidence that Goff had.

It is worth wondering, too, why Key awarded important portfolios, including Internal Affairs, to a man of questionable acumen. Worth took a dive in Epsom to help Rodney Hide's election - and the Act Party's survival - in November. The PM might like to comment on what, if any, connection there is.

As to Worth himself, it may be beyond his capability to feel any shame. A man who exudes a sense of entitlement disproportionate to his status, he seems incapable of showing remorse about actions that plainly warrant remorse. After a private trip to India in which he spoke in his capacity as a minister while promoting an aviation company in which he had an interest, he was carpeted by his boss but would only allow, with a pained smile, that there had been a "perception" of a conflict of interest.

Well, the crystal-clear perception in that case was everybody's but his - and this case is beginning to look remarkably similar. Rather than hide behind the niceties of legal procedure, Worth might like to act like a man: tell the public what he said and wrote, and when and to whom. And then he could explain why he considers it acceptable behaviour for an MP, never mind a minister.

- Herald on Sunday

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