If apologies were commodities the Government surplus would be assured in perpetuity given the extent to which demand is outstripping supply.
Prime Minister John Key refused to apologise for accusing Labour and the Greens of supporting rapists and murderers by speaking up for the detainees in Christmas Island. Labour was also refusing to apologise - either for Kelvin Davis' ambush of the Prime Minister on his way into Parliament on Tuesday or for criticising the impartiality of the Speaker. Davis got a reprimand from the Speaker for his actions, while the Speaker's critics (Andrew Little and Chris Hipkins) found themselves referred to the Privileges Committee to assess whether they had breached the cardinal rule of Parliament: thou shalt not attack the Speaker.
The Speaker was the sorriest figure of them all. Having refused to make Key apologise on Tuesday, he said on Wednesday that he had listened back to the comments and would have required Key to apologise if he had heard them properly the first time round. Alas, better late than never is not a concept in Parliament's rules and he was unable to force Key to apologise in retrospect.
He soon discovered the price of that failure to demand an apology. It prompted woman after woman to stand up, declare they had been the victims of sexual assault and were offended by the Prime Minister's remarks.
Then they left, either kicked out by the Speaker for trying to relitigate his ruling or of their own volition.
It all prompted dramatic scenes in Parliament, but it also ensured focus spiralled well away from the issue in question - the detainees on Christmas Island. Meanwhile, Key got off scot-free. He could have put an end to both the Speaker's misery and the ructions by offering his own apology.
Instead, he opted to inflame things, by saying he stood by it.
Things were going swimmingly from his point of view. His claim that Labour supported rapists was so ridiculous and so hyperbolic it barely needed a denial at all. As it was, so much time and energy was spent on debating whether Key could and should apologise that precious little time was spent on the topic he did not want to talk about: the Australian Government and whether Key was doing enough to take them to task.
National and Labour agree that the detainees should remain in Australia. But their reasons are much different.
National knows full well who will wear the can if one of those serious offenders returns to New Zealand and commits a serious crime. That is why it is moving to change the law to effectively place blanket parole conditions on them. But for Key, the detainees are headaches waiting to board a plane to return to New Zealand. Key is banking on the public having little sympathy for them. To drive that home, he is using the worst of them to make his case: the child sex offenders, rapists and murderers.
The detainees Labour's Kelvin Davis uses for his case are the friendly ones - those with comparatively minor offences. Davis has become the detainees' crusader and this too carries its dangers. He has verged on depicting them as saints who simply made a mistake or got caught up in the wrong crowd. It is impossible to verify the claims they make. And he has been very quiet on the claims it was the New Zealanders who started the trouble in the centre over the past week, and comments from other detainees that they were more terrified of harm at the hands of the New Zealanders than the authorities. The nightmare for him too will come if one of those he has used for his case goes on to commit further crimes back in New Zealand.
As for the Speaker, he did manage to wring one begrudging apology out of an MP. It was not Key - it was Green co-leader James Shaw, who was forced to apologise after saying the Opposition had lost confidence in the Speaker for failing to get Key to apologise.
Debate on this article is now closed.