Matt McCarten: Beating up on Maori as terror stalks the corridors of power

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I think most New Zealanders would find it a bit of a stretch to believe that the Government is using the Suppression of Terrorism Bill to beat up on Maori as some have claimed. But Keith Locke was hilarious when he wryly commented that while he was speaking in Parliament against this bill, he said the Government was indeed doing its best to beat up Maori just a few metres from him.

Locke, of course, was referring to Government chief head-banger Trevor Mallard giving National Party MP Tau Henare a whack just outside the debating chamber, resulting in both of them brawling around on the floor.

It was a case of Labour's bovver boy testing macho-ness against National's designated hard man.

All the tut-tutting over this melee by their fellow MPs - and even the Prime Minister - is a bit disingenuous. After all, Mallard has been used - for over a decade now - as their resident pitbull to intimidate Labour's enemies. After Labour lost their original rottweiler, Richard Prebble, they replaced him with Mallard, whom they have proudly promoted over the years as their hard man.

In recent times, Mallard has been used to deal to Labour's opponents. The difference this time is that when Mallard was dished up some of his own medicine, he couldn't handle it, lost his cool and physically retaliated.

It was Mallard who was given the job to go after Brash and mercilessly tormented him over months.

The end came when Mallard called out the name of Brash's alleged mistress. Brash was unnerved by Mallard's hectoring. This whole affair ultimately resulted in Brash being dumped as leader and undermined his personal reputation and ended his political career.

At the time, the Labour Party was gloating over the success of Mallard's taunts and behaviour. Of course, it was a pyrrhic victory because Brash's replacement, John Key, has quite possibly sealed Labour's fate at the next election.

There are a number of MPs from all sides of the House who were sanctimoniously attacking Brash for his alleged affair when, in fact, they all knew that there were a number of others who were carrying out the exact same conduct. National was extremely bitter about Mallard. Henare was designated to target Mallard and deliver some of his medicine back to him.

This week, Henare succeeded beyond everyone's wildest expectations. For weeks now, Henare has barracked Mallard across the House, calling out personal jibes.

The last straw, it seems, was Henare calling out a comment, obviously referring to rumours about Mallard's personal life.

Television shots seem to show Mallard losing his cool and challenging Henare to step outside. That's the sort of behaviour, of course, that young, immature men engage in after a bit too much to drink. Loutish behaviour, but typical of both of these men. .

To be fair to Mallard, his father had died a couple of weeks before and obviously he was more emotionally vulnerable.

But then Joe Public, if he carried out anything like this sort of action, would have been arrested immediately with very little sympathy from any court about any personal stress he may have been under.

Frankly, both men are as bad as each other. But the senior party MPs from both main parties are also responsible as they must have known that once they set these two rottweilers against each other, something like this would happen.

On one level it's all a bit of a sideshow and a storm in a teacup. It's a distraction for the real crime that was going on in Parliament that night. Most of their other parliamentary colleagues were discussing giving more powers to the state to use against violent enemies of our society. The Prime Minister and other senior parliamentarians don't seem to be taking it too seriously at this point. But let me ask you this: if it had been Tau Henare who had called upon a Government minister to step outside the chamber, punched him in the head and then rolled around on the floor with him requiring the intervention of a parliamentary security officer to prise them apart - would the Prime Minister or the media be treating the incident in the same way? I think not.

This is probably the most serious assault that has ever occurred in Parliament. The media, in years gone by, referred to instances such as Jim Bolger throwing a pen in the chamber, Winston grabbing the arm of John Banks, or even Mallard flicking Bob Clarkson with a manila folder. In isolation, the sacking of Mallard from either the front bench or the Cabinet over this single incident would be unfair.

But the brawl between Mallard and Henare has raised their bullying characteristics, which they have proudly strutted in front of their peers for a very long time.

This incident is merely a symptom of the nature of both these men that makes it more serious and questions their suitability for high office.

Recently, we have the House overwhelmingly passing a law outlawing the smacking of kids under any provocation, and on the other, we have a Government minister hitting a member of the Opposition in a fit of rage.

That's why Clark doesn't have any choice but to dump Mallard. Otherwise, the taunt of "hypocrite" would rightfully stick on her.

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