Rodney Hide: Reverse racism fails to raise ire

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Shane Jones. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Shane Jones. Photo / Michael Cunningham

It's a wonderfully Kiwi thing that National Party honcho Sir Wira Gardiner financially supported Shane Jones' bid to become Labour leader. It's even more so that Sir Wira's wife is Education Minister Hekia Parata.

Jones' purpose was to knock her and every other minister out of office. That didn't bother Sir Wira. He supported Jones anyway.

His donation highlights that the two warring camps of Labour and National aren't as warring as they might appear.

Behind the scenes there's much working together and mateship. Sometimes it's a working together for a better country, sometimes it's a genuine friendship that develops from shared experience and sometimes it's the two old parties working to protect their interests and their dominant position in New Zealand politics.

Sir Wira's donation also belies the vitriol and hatred so often on display between parties and amped up by activists. To listen to Parliament, to rely on the news, or comments on news sites, it's easy to conclude that the other side is venal, corrupt and stupid.

There appears to be a desire to paint political opponents as Great Satans and the cause of everything rotten in the world. Of course, that's not true. Now we learn that not only was a National man financially supporting Jones' bid to be Labour leader but Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully was negotiating behind the scenes for Jones to leave Parliament for a Government-appointed job.

It's hard to imagine how that particular conversation started. Was it McCully in the corridor asking, "How's it going Jonesy?" "Rubbish, actually. Got a job?"

Or McCully calling first, "Jonesy, want a job?"

It's odd, to say the least, even by the standard of the very collegial behaviour that occurs in Parliament when no one is looking.

Jones had previously declared Prime Minister John Key a "mercenary of capitalism" and a "snake oil salesman". He said he wanted to string him up with a bungy cord around a "sensitive spot".

That was back when he was hotly contesting the Labour leadership. Six months on, he is happy to work for him. He says he has moved on. It's understandable why his former Labour colleagues are a little miffed.

There is, though, one disturbing aspect to all this and that's Sir Wira's reason for supporting Jones' campaign. It was because Jones is Maori. He says he donated to "encourage Maori leadership".

That has to be a stupid and chilling reason. It's not because Jones has the skill and qualities of leadership and would be good for the country. No. It's because of something that Jones played no part in and can do nothing about: he was born Maori.

What is chilling is that we have become so inured to this soft reverse racism that it strikes us now as nothing remarkable. It wasn't commented on.

What if I had donated $1000 to Cunliffe's campaign? That would generate news and attention. But imagine if I said I did so because Cunliffe is European and I want to encourage European leadership.

The reaction would be swift and decisive. I would be slammed and properly branded a racist. Cunliffe would be handing back my money and running a mile - and rightly so.

So how is it that a National Party man - the husband of a National Party cabinet minister and a knight of the realm - can so casually donate to Jones precisely and solely because of his race?

The chilling part is not that he donated but that his reason for doing so is so readily accepted without the outrage and condemnation it should provoke.

- Herald on Sunday

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