Across the nation, a great and timeless wail poured forth from a chorus of middle-aged blokes. There was more than just one victim in this lamentable case, they howled. Apart from poor old Roger Sutton, the suffering was shared by all happy-go-lucky, cheeky-chappy, fun-loving, Tiggerish, jiggery-pokery-japing, touchy-feely, nudgy-winky easy-going entertainer bosses.
What a travesty, others bemoaned, that the beloved boss of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority was to resign after trifling allegations of sexual harassment were upheld by a State Services Commission (SSC) inquiry. The usual formula: We don't know the details of the case so we can hardly speculate, now let me share with you my speculations.
Based on what we knew of the allegations, did declare the high altar of Hosking on Tuesday morning: "Whoever the complainant or complainants are they have caused a great deal of harm over what I strongly suspect for many would be dismissed as misguided behaviour if not the silly musings, meanderings or mistakes of a bloke who in reality meant no real harm."
A letter writer, published in this newspaper on Wednesday, chimed in: "The woman who complained should go to Somalia or Pakistan to see how women can be treated. Shame on her." It got even worse in the raw, untreated sewage of the internet. Among the printable reflections were the strikingly original assessment that this was "political correctness gone completely mental", and the tender reflection "I hope she is feeling bad about making such a fuss".
The basis for this outpouring was the information delivered to the public on Monday, in a conciliatory release from the SSC and an accompanying press conference featuring, mostly, Sutton. With the ink barely dry on a confidentiality agreement, Sutton breached it. As part of what a former Cera colleague later described as a "breathtaking PR snow job", the Cera boss told media he was guilty of hugging staff, of using words like "sweetie" and "honey", of joking around. He accepted he'd done wrong, he said, and was seeing a psychologist, and was resigning in a couple of months.
State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie watched on, doing nothing to halt or correct or rebuke this selective, deal-infringing version of events. When Sutton was done, he shared a public conciliatory hug with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet boss Andrew Kibblewhite. It remains a mystery quite why Kibblewhite - or Cuddlewhite, as he surely will be henceforth known in his own workplace - was there in the first place, but he can hardly now be regarded as an independent observer.
Rennie, perhaps having resolved that the image of Salem: Christchurch edition, was not what he had meant at all to convey, sharply shifted tone in a Campbell Live interview on Tuesday night, announcing publicly for the first time the critical fact that Sutton had been found to have committed "serious misconduct", and that, contrary to the implication in SSC releases, he had wanted Sutton to resign.
In the following day's Christchurch Press it emerged that the serious misconduct allegedly amounted to plenty more than what was revealed in Sutton's pseudo-mea culpa valedictory. On top of the language, young female staff were allegedly asked if they'd participate in "visible G-string Friday", there were "unwanted, body-press hugs", and the complainant had been asked whom she considered "hot" and would like to have sex with. Since the publication of these reports - which also included an allegation that Sutton had made lewd comments about Bronagh Key, which he strongly denied in his only interview, given to More FM - Sutton has agreed to go on gardening leave.
Jackie Blue cut to the core of the matter. The handling of the departure had been a "circus", the former National MP turned Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner said. And, crucially, it sent a terrible message. "I am already concerned that sexual harassment is under-reported and that publicity around this case could have a chilling effect on other alleged victims of sexual harassment speaking up."
Rennie bears the bulk of responsibility for that. And he can hardly complain he didn't see it coming. One of the country's most accomplished public relations experts, John Key, warned him many weeks ago that it was "blindly obvious" that the case would be pored over by the media and the public. Such a case presents a serious challenge in balancing the conflicting priorities of confidentiality, transparency and accountability. Rennie has blundered on all three.
John Key has left a lot of people bemused after telling Northland's Te Hiku Radio: "When we talk about the Treaty and sovereignty and all those matters, you take a step back and say, well, what was really happening? In my view New Zealand was one of the very few countries in the world that were settled peacefully."
Hmm. Did the Prime Minister forget to say "compared to some other places"? Has he been seduced by the Britannia-tinted history lessons of his education in the '60s and '70s? Or is it just that he can't remember which side he was on during the Land Wars?
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