It feels odd, even wrong, to mention the name of Behrouz Boochani and that of National MP Stuart Smith in the same sentence.
One has proven integrity, and shown bravery and moral strength. One has shown an iron will to fight for his freedom and the rights of Australia's offshore detainees. One is admired for his great resilience. One has written a powerful and up-close account of Australia's penal colony system in No Friend but the Mountains.
The other one wears clothes, and presumably gets up each morning. Otherwise, not much more is known of the Kaikoura MP well into his second term in parliament.
It was with some disbelief in March that I first heard Smith raise his concerns on RNZ about New Zealand granting political asylum to Boochani. Then lockdown at level 4 commenced and the nation went quiet.
Now we're back to business with an election approaching – the trolls are out in force, the dog whistling is loud and piercing, some, to their shame – Smith and his leader Judith Collins, and NZ First - have resumed waving cardboard pitchforks in Boochani's
I wonder whether either Smith or Collins has ever stopped to wonder what it might be like to spend six years behind a high wire fence, and not know whether you will ever get off the island. Alive in the knowledge there is no home to return to, or another country to go to.
So, let's revisit Boochani's story. It is a good one.
The boat he hopes will take him to Australia sinks in a storm. He and his fellow survivors are plucked from the sea, taken to Christmas Island, processed and entered into Australia's offshore penal system.
Almost immediately, Boochani sets out to expose the conditions of the set-up on Manus Island. He writes articles, conducts interviews. All this is achieved on a mobile phone, late at night, tapped out under the cover of his bedding. Very quickly he becomes known internationally as the conscience of Manus Island. He is its witness. To that end he taps out on his phone the text that will become the celebrated testimony, No Friend but the Mountains.
The book goes on to win one of Australia's most prestigious writing awards, the Victorian Prize for Literature. Boochani is unable to collect his prize. He is still behind a high fence on Manus Island.
After many years, by now an embarrassment to its host country, Papua New Guinea, the detention centre is dismantled, its detainees are dispersed, some elect to stay on Manus, others, Boochani among them, choose to go to Port Moresby.
Boochani's story is about to get better.
Rachael King, director of the Word Programme, invites Boochani to take part at an event in Christchurch. Amnesty International sponsors his visa. The UN Refugee Agency provides him with travel papers to leave.
In November last year, a tired but elated Boochani is met off the plane at Auckland by the Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, herself a refugee and a Farsi speaker, and King. Boochani arrives in Christchurch the following morning to be welcomed by mayor Lianne Dalziel and Ngai Tahu representatives. This is our country at its best.
Sometime later, when Boochani is granted asylum here, a lot of cheering heard is from afar, especially in Melbourne and Sydney where his story is better known. For we have given this man hope. We have done what the Australian government could not bring itself to do.
But, hang on. There are dissenting voices. Ugly voices. The jackals of talkback, not to be taken seriously, who will say anything to light up a switchboard. Boochani is accused of "hiding". He is accused of "queue-jumping". All of it untrue.
For one thing, there is no queue to jump. Cases of people seeking political asylum are heard as they arise. There is, however, a quota for refugees.
But none of this appears to make a dent for Smith or Collins – the latter leading the media on with innuendo and a wink and a nudge that she has "something" on Boochani. She does not - and grinning into a TV camera does not convince otherwise.
Shame on her. Shame on Smith.
Such feckless politicians will hardly surprise Boochani, but for the rest of us it is embarrassing. A slight on the country, even.
We need to ask ourselves – which story do we wish for ourselves? The warmth of generosity and decency that met Boochani off the plane?
Or the small-minded and bawling one pitched by Smith and his leader?
Which story is ours? One that pushes dignity and humanity to the fore? Or one that whistles up the bigotry that runs like a dark seam in our society?
We have been tested by earthquakes, by the mosque shootings and now Covid-19. What are the values that have got us by? Openness and acceptance and community.
Of one thing I am quite sure. Smith and his leader have not read No Friend but the Mountains.
Were they to do so, I like to think they would feel ashamed of themselves.
If I am wrong and they have read Boochani's testimony, and still feel a need to go after him, then something is deeply wrong with their moral compass.
They should also bear in mind that when they go after Boochani they go after what is good about this country.
We can all be proud of the Christchurch writing community's support for Boochani, likewise the wit and generosity of Ngai Tahu to create a research fellowship for him.
These are examples of our community knuckling down and quietly going about its work.
But frankly, I am far from convinced that Smith is the kind of person we want in this country.
There is an election coming up.
If a crayfish happens to stand against Smith in the Kaikoura electorate, I will urge his constituents to vote for the cray. A crayfish may only know the one thing – the vagaries of migration – but it knows it well.
What does Smith know? Whatever it is, I would suggest, is confined to a very small place unworthy of our attention.
&bll; Lloyd Jones is a New Zealand author. His novel Mister Pip was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.