Kerre Woodham: Not Worth much now

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What a fall from grace for Internal Affairs Minister Richard Worth.

It seems almost certain his parliamentary career is over, whether he chooses to resign or not. John Key made that very clear when he said he didn't want Worth as a minister and that there was no way back irrespective of whether police charges are laid.

Worth's only comment has been a carefully worded statement through a public relations company in which he insists he is innocent of any crime and that he will defend himself against any accusation he has broken the law. The wording of his statement is clearly that of a man who has made a living splitting hairs - for 13 years he was a senior partner and chairman at Simpson Grierson, New Zealand's largest law firm.

He knows what he's saying - but really, whether or not what he's done is illegal is beside the point.

In his campaigning Key promised a higher standard of accountability for his ministers. He swore we wouldn't see the sort of ministerial muck-ups that blighted the last days of the Labour Administration. And if Key was unhappy with Worth's conflict of interest during a recent private trip to India - he reportedly gave the minister a bollocking for blurring the lines between his ministerial responsibilities and his private commercial interests - I can only imagine how thin-lipped and furious he is over Worth's reported involvement with two unidentified female complainants.

What on earth would possess a man to think he could engage in this sort of behaviour and get away with it? Especially when one of the women was a Labour Party member.

He should be dismissed for that sort of poor judgment alone. There may well be no law against being a randy old goat but some of the allegations make for very uncomfortable reading.

Worth's CV is impressive. He has a PhD; he was a senior legal partner; consul to Colombia and Monaco; he was made a Knight of the Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem after many years of service with the Order of St John, and he served in the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserves, attaining the rank of captain and being appointed an Officer of the British Empire for his efforts. And yet all that work, all that intellectual fire-power, and all that effort counts for nothing when allegations like this surface.

Truly, as Sophocles once said, escaping lust is like escaping a cruel and insane master. Generally, I like to believe people's private lives are their own. I don't believe anything I hear about anyone unless I'm actually stepping over them. I've heard too many ridiculous stories about friends - and indeed, myself - to believe everything I hear and read. But when you're a politician you abrogate your right to private predilections.

You have to expect that there are people on the other side of the political divide who will be seeking out dirt like enthusiastic truffle hunters in order to discredit you or your party - and you don't have to have committed an illegal act for you to take a direct hit and have your career scuppered.

Richard Worth is surely smart enough to know that. But maybe his past successes have led him to believe that he, like other rich, famous and powerful men, could behave as he has allegedly done.

By now he must realise, however, that whatever your past glories, being a problematic junior minister in a very new government makes you utterly expendable.

* www.kerrewoodham.com

- Herald on Sunday

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