Key Points:

Christchurch City councillor Barry Corbett's remark in support of the man accused of murdering Manurewa teenager Pihema Clifford Cameron was more than just appallingly insensitive. It must have come very close to contempt of court.

Clifford died after being confronted while he was allegedly tagging a fence and Corbett, during a council debate about graffiti vandalism, said that, if he was on the jury "I would let [the accused] get away with it".

Corbett, as an elected politician, should have had the smarts to know it was wrong. And his mealy-mouthed backdown - which included the observation that Cameron "would still be alive if he [hadn't been] tagging the fence" - was a statement of the blindingly obvious.

Corbett's comment does, however, tap into a deep vein of public disquiet about the spray-paint vandalism disfiguring our cities and towns. No vertical surface, it seems, is safe, and the tide of tagging, far from ebbing, seems not to have reached full flood.

Matters were hardly helped by the muddle-headed plea from Tariana Turia, who this week sought to describe taggers as a misunderstood subculture of artists. The Maori Party co-leader rightly expressed outrage at Corbett's statement. But she went much further - and much too far - when she suggested that taggers were simply expressing themselves.

She will encounter no disagreement, from us or anyone else, with her observation that "tagging dramatically alters our landscapes", although as a statement of the obvious it is up there with Corbett's sign-off line. But "it is about resistance" is a fine-sounding and utterly meaningless addendum. It could equally well be applied to burglary, drunk-driving and violent racist assaults on immigrants, and one assumes that Turia would not be arguing that perpetrators of those crimes are a misunderstood minority.

But it was with the final comment that Turia placed herself beyond the pale of sensible debate: tagging, she announced, "is about alternative points of view. Some members of our community see it as a crime; others see it as an expression of identity."

Since Turia is so out of touch with the vast majority of public opinion, she can say that she read it here first: tagging is a crime. It is wanton and heartbreaking vandalism of public and private property. Cleaning it up is a waste of money which could always be better spent elsewhere.

Tagging creates ugliness, not beauty and its perpetrators seek to impose on everybody else their notion of what constitutes an acceptable visual landscape. Taggers know very well that what they are doing is criminal and most know it is profoundly offensive.

Turia does support some sensible objectives - a restorative justice which provided for taggers to clean up their own mess - but her suggestions add nothing new to the debate.

It goes without saying that tagging is the expression of a deeper social malaise in which disenchanted youngsters are expressing their sense of alienation, and we would all do well to address the root causes of that alienation. But we do nobody, the taggers or ourselves, a favour by indulging them as artists.

The major parties, incidentally, have been conspicuously silent in responding to Turia. That is to be expected, perhaps, as they jockey for position in attempting to align themselves with Maori political leaders. John Key, in particular, has emerged from the week's Waitangi celebrations as the new instant friend of Maori - an interesting role for a man who was, by all accounts, a major target of the Tuhoe "terrorists".

Key may be surprised to find, as the year wears on, that he will be expected to pay a higher price for Maori support than having a hongi with Tame Iti. But National and Labour both need to realise that turning a politically expedient blind eye to silliness such as Turia's will not go down well with the electorate.