John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Key wastes chance to heal decades-old tour sore

John Key. Photo / Natalie Slade
John Key. Photo / Natalie Slade

In failing to include at least one prominent figure from New Zealand's anti-apartheid movement in his delegation to Nelson Mandela's funeral, John Key has wasted a golden opportunity to reach out to those portions of the voting public who find him hard to stomach.

Questions surrounding the make-up of New Zealand's official party stretch beyond party politics, however. Mandela's death has revealed how close to the surface sensitivities about the 1981 Springbok tour remain in New Zealand society.

A delegation more representative and inclusive of the anti-tour movement would have gone a long way towards further helping to heal this 30-years-plus sore.

Many of those who protested against the tour will feel that neither former Prime Minister Jim Bolger nor former Commonwealth Secretary-General Sir Don McKinnon speak for them, even though McKinnon says he was opposed to the tour.

Those who took part in protest marches will also find Key's neither-for, nor-against position on the tour hard to swallow, given the tour was a defining moment in their lives.

David Cunliffe's presence is down to simple protocol that the leader of the Opposition be part of such delegations. Like Cunliffe, Pita Sharples, the remaining politician in the official party, was also vigorously opposed to the tour.

He has said that he will represent the protesters. But that sounds like an afterthought rather than an initiative.

If John Minto carries too much post-tour political baggage for National's liking or comfort, another option would have been to invite the now Paris-based Trevor Richards, who chaired the Halt All Racist Tours organisation before Minto's tenure.

Another possibility would have been Green MP Kevin Hague, who was arrested five times during the tour. But his presence would have risked being seen as National deliberately belittling Cunliffe.

Key has said the make-up of the delegation followed advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

But that ministry's officials are not paid to offer advice on domestic political gestures.

South African authorities stipulated heads of government would be able to take only one other member of their delegation into Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium where last night's memorial service for Mandela was being held.

Key opted for Cunliffe. That was the only option, however, if he was serious about reflecting Mandela's spirit of unity and national reconciliation.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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