• Judy McGregor is a professor at AUT, a former Human Rights Commissioner and a former newspaper editor
A stark clash of values over saying sorry accompanies early voters to the polls today. So far Paula Bennett has apologised, Winston Peters promises to say sorry and Steven Joyce won't say sorry.
The rarity of a polly apology was tempered by the fact that police spokesperson, Paula Bennett, apologised to her leader Bill English, rather than to the public or her targets. During National's predictable anti-gang policy announcement that police would be given super powers to crack down on the scourge of methamphetamine and new powers to search without a warrant, she said that some serious criminals had "fewer human rights than others when they were creating a string of victims behind them ... there is a different standard".
I prefer to think that Bennett was ignorant of the widely accepted idea that human rights are universal and attach to being human, not to whether someone conforms to a stereotype of goodness. The alternative is that she was courting the votes of the punitive lobby so her apology was politically tailored to say sorry to English but not to those who want harsher penalties. The Prime Minister had said his deputy had got it wrong prior to her apology.
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NZ First's Winston Peters promises to apologise to Aussies for the actions of what he calls "old parties". That's highly unlikely to be a vote winner given public disquiet about transtasman equity issues.
He was referring to Jacinda Ardern's tit-for-tat comment that if Australia makes it harder for New Zealanders to study across the Tasman, then it was only fair that New Zealand made it harder for Australians to study here.
Steven Joyce won't say sorry. His discredited claim of a $11.7 billion budget hole was meant to strike at Labour's economic credibility. Instead it has become a lingering and damaging own goal that will dog National. The black hole has a Trumpian flavour of alternative facts. Sales of George Orwell's dystopian classic, 1984, spiked after the rise of alternative facts.
Joyce states that his black hole assertion was not a smear. "This is the reality of it."
Do voters unrealistically hold politicians to a higher level of accountability? Should they accept degrees of fudging the truth in the rough and tumble of electioneering? The essence of political campaigning is claim, counter-claim, promises and the art of effective rebuttals. The public is legitimately sceptical of much of the political noise including negative ads during election campaigns. There is low tolerance for what Ardern calls "bickering politicians" especially among a new generation of voters. Attack politics appears uncivilised by her standard of relentless positivism and National has yet to counter her optimism.
Truthfulness was explored in the second leader's debate. English talked of trust and twice said that "none of us is perfect". Ardern said she believed it was possible to survive politics without lying.
Truth may be losing its value as a moral compass by which we set our daily direction. But the 2017 election result may remind us that truth matters and saying sorry counts.