John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Labour avoids fallout in Taurima case

Shane Taurima. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Shane Taurima. Photo / Paul Estcourt

David Cunliffe has probably done enough to avoid Labour suffering too much collateral damage from the Shane Taurima affair.

There was a high risk that the surreptitious use of TVNZ resources by Taurima and other Labour activists working in the state broadcaster's Maori and Pacific unit would rebound on Labour and prove to be extremely embarrassing for the party.

There was a danger that their behaviour would leave the impression Labour had no regard for impartiality in news coverage and current affairs programming.

That potential prospect had Labour's leader putting as much distance as possible between the party and Taurima despite him having been a serious proposition for the party's candidacy in Tamaki-Makaurau, one of the seven Maori seats.

Cunliffe might have been tempted to have given Taurima a verbal lashing and even invoke disciplinary procedures laid out in the party's rules.

Such actions would have only dragged things out, rather than putting the whole matter to bed as soon as possible. Any such punishment always has the potential to cause friction between the party's Maori faction and the leadership, something which might have easily spilled into the public domain.

Cunliffe's method of dealing with Taurima has been to paint him as a good bloke who had suffered an unusual lapse of judgment - and the responsibility for dealing with that lapse rested with Taurima's employer, TVNZ.

In pushing that line, Cunliffe was helped by two things. First, Taurima's swift resignation which effectively stifled National from exploiting Labour's patent discomfort, even though some Cabinet ministers and other National MPs who felt they had been subject to less than impartial interviews by Taurima were itching to do so.

Second, TVNZ has admitted that in hindsight it had been a mistake to allow Taurima to return to his management role after he failed to secure the Labour candidacy at last year's Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection. The state-owned company has also promised an inquiry.

Thus, at least so far, Cunliffe and Labour have got off comparatively lightly.

Sure the Labour leader had to endure some serious teasing by John Key in Parliament with the Prime Minister turning a question on unemployment and the difficulty those out of work had in finding a new job back on Cunliffe by noting there was now a vacancy in TVNZ for a senior executive.

The big question now is whether the Labour leadership can afford Taurima becoming a candidate at this year's election. Or whether the party's Maori wing realises he has done his chips?

- 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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