Hara Kiri.

I do not usually write about NZ domestic politics, much less the personal dramas of those involved in them. But here I will make an exception because I am unhappy about recent events.

To be clear, the downward mental health spiral that ended Kiri Allan’s political career has produced some good commentary on the pressures in NZ politics and the toll that they take on politician’s mental health and family life. It was just a few years ago that Todd Muller had to step down from the National Party Leadership due to the stresses of the job, and to the credit of most he was allowed to do so in some measure of peace and dignity. 

However, while there has been empathetic commentary about former minister Kiri Allan, the sad fact is that many in the National-Act coalition—particularly their two leaders– and a swathe of media acolytes have used the personal tragedy to attack Ms. Allan and the government that she served in what can only be seen as venal, nasty political opportunism coupled with media complicity. Like a pack of baying hyenas with a scent for blood, they have continued to hector the former minister in stand-ups and interviews, write irrelevant stories about people who lived in the area of an accident that was the last act in a prolonged process of psychological deterioration, talked with the owner of the parked vehicle that was involved in the accident (who was not present when it happened) and to cap it off, demanded and received permission from the Speaker of the House to engage in an emergency debate on Ms. Allan’s resignation and her mental “well-being” that quickly proved to be nothing more than an excuse to launch spurious attacks on the government. Shame on the Speaker for caving to the demands of the frothing Opposition mob, shame on the ACT Party Alfred E Newman look-alike who used someone’s personal tragedy for opportunistic political gain and shame on the unethical shills who pass as conservative media for cheerleading the whole thing and for continuing the ad hominem persecution well after Ms. Allan departed her portfolios.

Psychologically damaged by a dark combination of personal and professional pressures and therefore fragile in spite of her outwards appearance, Ms. Allan committed an act of political suicide last week. Like Mr. Muller, she should be allowed to find her peace.

Moreover, when one looks at the media treatment of this story and others involving Wahine Maori in politics, one cannot but suspect that there is some misogynistic racism behind the slant in the coverage to say nothing of the crude hypocrisy of not focusing balanced attention on the less than salubrious behaviours of some in the NACT coalition (who tend to be Pakeha and generally male). The “people living in glass houses throwing stones” adage would seem appropriate here, but the Opposition leadership and NZ corporate media seem keen to keep the focus on those being pelted rather than those doing the throwing.

Anyway, in the days after the news broke and seeing how it was covered and commented upon, I wrote a few Social Media posts reflecting on the affair. Here they are in annotated form.

“Voters may want to consider the responses of some Opposition politicians and Rightwing media figures to the personal tragedy of a Government Minister in order to assess their character and fitness for governing. Some might be found wanting (both as politicians and as commentators) if empathy and restraint are required.

Some have claimed that empathy caused the “mess.” Sorry, wrong. The former minister was a competent cabinet member and not an “empathy” hire (whatever that is, but presumably in reference to her Maori ethnicity). Political leadership is measured in various ways and seen on various dimensions, and empathy encompasses both.

Others claim that this is just an attempt to “deflect” from the former minister’s responsibility in causing a non-injury accident. There is no deflection. The drink driving/resisting arrest (which are more likely “failure to accompany”) charges will be handled by the courts under penalty of law. She will face justice and be held responsible for her actions. That is a personal matter, and should not be cause for politically opportunistic attacks. I should also note the the drink driving charge was on the lowest range of the scale so she will at worst receive a fine and possible disqualification from driving. Likewise, the resisting arrest/failure to accompany charge appears to be a case of lack of cooperation rather than physical resistance, so that too will unlikely result in a jail term. It is by no means a trivial matter, but in the scheme of things Ms. Allan’s alleged offending is not going to bring about Armageddon.

Still others claim that this shows Labour government incompetence because Ms. Allan was allowed to return to her job after a previous mental health breakdown. To which I responded: Please stay on topic. This is about a personal mental health problem that destroyed a political career, not about competence (which has never been disputed in this particular case). Other recent ministerial resignations are fair partisan game given the circumstances of their exit, but this one is not.”

It also must be understood that it is hard to ascertain when a person can return to work after a mental health crisis and what might trigger another one. That is at best a matter to be discussed between the person involved and their psychological counselors, not by medically unqualified political party leaders (who should reply on expert advice as well as personal assurances when making calls about reinstatement). Everything indicates that professional criteria, not political expediency, was the main determinant of Ms. Allan’s return to work.

Nearly a week after the accident, today’s news story is that police dogs were used to track Ms. Allan after the crash and she was found 500 meters away from the scene. So the dogs did their job and it is certainly not a good look to have left the scene. But what relevance does this have to politics? Why is it still a major news story? Ms. Allan was in crisis and made bad decisions on that night. The matter is now between Ms. Allan and the justice system, and the evidentiary how’s and why’s of the accident will be presented in court. So what is the point in salaciously belaboring and speculating about the circumstances? She has resigned and will not run for re-election in October, in a district where she is widely respected and admired. Politically speaking, the story has run its course so everything at this point is a partisan beat-up (and bullying).

Meanwhile, the human offal that passes for the National and ACT Party leaders continue to lie and dog-whistle using US-style politics of racial and class division as a wedge on the electorate while capitalizing on personal failures in the government ranks to score cheap political points rather than concentrate on delivering realistic and collectively beneficial policy alternatives oriented toward pursuing the common good. Truth be told, the NACTs have nothing other than the tired old “hard on crime, lower taxes, cut public spending and roll back regulations while privatizing public services” rubbish that has proven detrimental to the welfare of most people in contemporary market democracies. Vague and discredited trickle down economic policies do not work and are no substitute for creative approaches to the collective interest. Since the NACTs have nothing on that score, they just whine, lie and engage in personal attacks as per the Dirty Politics playbook.

Whatever the failures of the current government and some of its ministers, one thing appears certain at this point: having a NACT coalition in power will be a disaster for most of us even while it benefits a very distinct few and the corporate media uncritically applauds—some would say encourages–their self-serving nation-busting antics. Now is the time to open our eyes and see what choice is before us in October: the politics of cruelty, division and avarice, or the politics of moderation and continuity. If the choice turns out in favour of the latter, even as a “lesser evil” option, it offers a basis to repudiate nastiness, greed and sectarianism as well as foreign ideological influences in NZ. If the choice is for the former, it means that a majority chooses to embrace the darker side of our national psyche.

That will be a collective tragedy, not a personal one.

17 thoughts on “Hara Kiri.

  1. For anyone who knows Wellington winds, plus rain and salt spray over the road in the area of the occurrence, it could really be said that anyone could have a minor crash in such wintery circumstances. It’s really not surprising at all.

    The shaggy dog story really doesn’t mix with the so-called ‘resisting arrest ‘ story. They can’t both be true. I would suspect that the dog chase account is fabricated by those who want to dramatize the situation.

    However, I would also expect that the resisting arrest charge will either fail or be dropped at some point. It’s most likely that she had no intention to resist at all, but that the police were unable to understand her reactions and responses, which were due to her agitated internal condition. It’s perhaps a sad fact that police are not trained to recognise and understand the behaviour of those either suffering from mental upset or autism or Asperger’s or other forms of neurodiversity. But really they should know by now…. these sorts of conditions have been a part of human experience for at least some of us, since the year dot..

  2. Thank you for your compassionate take on this very sad matter, Pablo. You’ve said all that’s needed to be said. I’ve been personally sickened by many in the media’s response to Kiri Allan’s resignation and the background to it, as I believe many others have been too. The only possible silver lining may be that NACT play their dastardly hands just once too often and show themselves for the compassionless, cruel people they really are. Jason Ake was bang on when he said the sharks are circling. I understand David Parker is the next minister in the sights of those who are orchestrating the dirty politics behind this campaign.

    Thank you too, to William Daniel for your insightful comments. This will all blow over in time, but at what personal cost to Kiri Allan and the others that are being subjected to this vile behaviour? You are correct, Pablo – Ao/NZ will be a terrible place to live for very many people if NACT is elected into government.

  3. “and a swathe of media acolytes have used the personal tragedy to attack Ms. Allan and the government that she served in what can only be seen as venal, nasty political opportunism coupled with media complicity.”

    NZ is long overdue for its equivalent of the Leveson & Finkelstein Inquiries. While NZ doesn’t have any Rupert Murdoch-type media barons in charge, I suspect the media landscape has become gentrified & click-baity thanks to Big Tech cannibalising its traditional revenue sources, and the probable de-unionisation of the sector.

  4. Im sorry i dont agree with you, you are creating the poor me story which doesnt exist here. The reality of this is when you hide and change the story you create a bigger story. I feel sorry for Kiri Allan for what she has been through, like I would for any person in that position, but labour has carried on the story by trying to deflect around the statements on Monday morning. Hipkins assured she was in the car alone but not sure who was driving. He would have know about the dogs and what happened and should have come clean then and it would have been all over. It is his fault this has carried on, not Kiri’s the medias or anyones elses. Labour have used this for their gain to try to spin a way out of it and make Hipkins look empathetic.
    Kiri Allen has a reputation, she obviously fires up when upset or doesn’t get her way or has high standards. She has breached the standards we would expect as a minister too many times. RNZ speech, bullying allegations, Hard boss reputation and now a terrible lack of judgement. Hipkins should have let her go, her supporters should have talked her out of returning to work. Clearly there were health issues which made it impossible for to return, and the train wreck that was anticipated unfortunately happened when it didnt need to.

  5. Where was your compassion for Todd Mulleur? Such hypocrisy. Kiri drove drunk, ran from police, resisted arrest, could have killed an innocent person etc. What kind of example is this from a justice minister? If it were a Nat MP the left and the media would be howling with glee. As always it’s OK when the left do it. The race card, the woman card, and the mental health card are suddenly played. Such utter and obvious hypocrisy. Key stood his Ministers down for far far less. The left never change, all you do is endlessly excuse any wrong doing, as long as it’s from the left cabal. So utterly dishonest. Good riddance to this shocker and openly corrupt rabble of a govt. Beyond doubt,the most incompetent and undemocratic in our entire history.

  6. As regards domestic NZ politics, I’d be interested to know your thoughts on the fact that non-citizen foreign residents have voting rights in national elections here, unlike in nearly every other democracy on the planet… no one seems to want to look at, or even acknowledge this, in spite of the fact that the numbers are such that they may determine election outcomes, this last being a situation unique to NZ among all nations, and, quite frankly, uncharted territory.

  7. The difference between Todd Muller and Kiri Allan is that Muller didn’t get himself charged with resisting arrest and careless driving or receive an infringement notice for driving over the limit. Both were coping with mental illness challenges, but only one of them endangered others as a result. You’re right to question the relevance of stories about who happened to live nearby but ministers and the government should be held accountable for these sorts of mistakes. You can have some sympathy for Kiri and at the same time, want some accountability.

  8. Lobo Jr:

    Interesting question that is close to my heart since I was a long-term permanent resident before acquiring NZ citizenship (and am now a dual US-NZ citizen). In principle I support the granting of voting rights to PRs because PRs have “skin in the game.” They pay taxes, pump money into the economy as they purchase goods and services, contribute their labour across the employment spectrum, do voluntary and community service and support political parties (even if they cannot run for office, which is limited to citizens). There are exceptions to this rule and of course there will be parasitic PRs mooching off of NZ’s largesse, but they are a fraction of the PR population.

    Granting of PR status is also seen as a pathway to full citizenship, as in my case. It may not make a difference to most PRs who do not seek public office or want a NZ passport, but for many it is the best way of doing so. Having filled out the naturalisation forms, I can safely say that having PR status helps smooth the process.

    However, I am also concerned about the type of people being granted PR status (as opposed to PRs having voting rights per se). By this I mean people who may not necessarily share our democratic values or social egalitarianism, or who may see the broad rights conferred upon PRs as a means to influence the political system via financial contributions, lobbying efforts, media campaigns and other means by which to manipulate the system in a specific and often undemocratic direction or in the interest of others. In other words, PR status may be seen instrumentally not as a path towards citizenship but as a means of influencing NZ politics for ulterior purposes. In addition, people who adhere to undemocratic social mores such as patriarchy, misogyny, homo- and transphobia can vote in favour of political agents who share those views, which if marginal at the moment risks becoming a more decisive voting bloc in the measure that more PRs with those views turn out to vote. It is theoretically possible that at some point given immigration trends the PR vote could run counter to the native vote on specific social or political issues, something that if not exactly tipping the scales could definitely skew the overall voting stats.

    If there some sort of civics test could be made part of the PR application process (along with an English/Maori language tests), then I would be much more comfortable with the status quo. Again, it is not about voting rights but about who is getting PR status in the first place.

  9. Hi Paul. My husband was killed by a drunk driver and died a horrible death that left children behind, one a baby.

    He never got to see his children hit any milestones.
    He will never meet his grandchildren, he will never give them sage advice, he wasn’t around for their first days of school, riding their bike for the first time, winning sports and academic accolades.
    My children were robbed and it happened so fast.

    It happens so fast.

    While I have empathy for Kiri’s personal circumstances and probably far more than most who have never gone through my family’s horror, she is a public servant.
    Our Justice Minister, a role model and a role modeler and she could easily have killed someone.

    There is a long list of bad behaviors dating over a couple of years at least.

    Public deserve accountability.

    And to think, all of this could have been avoided.

  10. Thanks Jo.

    My heartfelt condolences to you and your whanau. If I gave the impression that I am excusing Ms. Allan’s behaviour, my apologies. I am not. She will have her day in court and justice will be served. Hopefully she will become a spokesperson in anti-drink driving campaigns. Her breach of public trust must be atoned for in some way and again, I hope that it is. For the time being this is a personal mental health matter that is best left to her and her counsellors.

    What I object to is the cruelty and cynical opportunism of some in the media and Opposition who hypocritically use the event as an excuse to put the boot in and score political points. Remember that the personal attacks on Ms. Allan stemmed from selectively placed media leaks and were in part responsible for her first breakdown, and that continued unabated and accelerated after her return, leading to recent events. This does not absolve Ms. Allan from her responsibility in the matter but it explains how the nastier people in the media-party Opposition contributed to it. That is what I find reprehensible.

    I sincerely hope that memories of your husband provide you and your children the comfort and strength to overcome his absence. Kia kaha.

  11. Hello Pablo,
    Thank you for your commentary on this.
    I do not follow social media at all, and reading your and other comments I am glad I don’t. I see the headlines, question some of the facts (eg the peculiarity of the dogs) but then leave it be; feeling sorry for the people, the events and the fallout (which includes the trajectory of this column). You cannot know what it is like to experience mental health problems until you see and feel it in someone you love, a family member perhaps. It is an incredibly complex area. Compassion is always the key word. But some are not capable of that, they are too hard-wired.
    I had a thought that perhaps it is time to re-look at our political system. It is based on the adversarial model, age-old, from the 19th century when it was more apt. We aspire to the Scandinavian, multi-party, multi-representational system which I think calls for a more cross-party, collaborative approach. The party or parties with the most votes are merely the ones who take the important roles; but every party works together for the good of all. We have MMP. (A not-so-small miracle.) Is it time to take it to the next level ?… if only our politicians could.
    Politics is a fraught and hard area to work in at the best of times. I know some parties are finding it hard to attract candidates of calibre. (Evidence the poor selections in the Nats camp.) I think its time for an overhaul.

    Thanks as always for your input – on any issue :-)

  12. Thanks as always Barbara,

    for your considered reply. The same goes for Di Trower (who I neglected to reply to earlier). You both are always welcome here.

    I am not going to rehash what I wrote in the post, but rather address your comments about the NZ political system and process. I agree that it needs an overhaul. The question is how much and where? It seems that political finance regulations need to be reformed and overhauled. Beyond that it gets trickier. I prefer MMP but do we want to tinker with the percentages of party votes required for admission into the House? Or the Maori electorate list? I lack the expertise to make authoritative comments one the subjects so am all ears. Surely there are enough NZ politics experts who can opine on the matter. I sit across from one across the dinner table, but she is humble and does not claim any particular expertise and in any event likes to focus on comparative politics in which NZ is just one case study (rather than specialise in the intricacies of its domestic political processes).

    But here is something to consider. You may recall Nanaia Mahuta’s “Taniwha and Dragon” foreign policy speech of two years ago. In it she spoke of bringing “Maori/Pacifika values” to NZ’s foreign policy approaches. More closely to me, I have noticed versions of that approach in my dealings with government agencies (mostly on security/intelligence things). The latter seem a bit tokenistic to me rather than seriously imbued with a new spirit or vision, but it is clear that a shift in thinking is at play in some official quarters.

    As I understand it, the Maori/Pacifika values approach differs from traditional Western approaches in that the former focus on starting with areas of commonality, consensus and agreement before moving to resolve areas of contention, difference or disagreement, whereas Western approaches start with a focus on areas of difference/disagreement and try to work towards areas of commonality and mutual agreement. In foreign policy this could mean, for example, first approaching the PRC on areas of agreement like respect for sovereignty and freedom of navigation or the importance of developmental and humanitarian assistance, then move towards discussion of human rights, the South China island-building projects and militarisation of the South Pacific. The idea in any event is to find common ground before working out differences as opposed to focusing on differences from the onset.

    It may be possible to translate this idea into political, or are least parliamentary practice.That may help soften the tone of political debates, which as I mentioned in the post I believe has become to “Americanized” in the last two decades (especially on the Right). But it will have to be for people smarter than me to put into practice because I can already guess that attempting to implement anything that has “Maori/Pacifika values” attached to it will be met with serious resistance on part of the more retrograde elements on the Right of the political spectrum, including certain party leaders. But a move to finding areas of common cause rather than highlight partisan differences might be a good start. As things stand we are going backwards on that score.

    Anyway, just some food for thought.

  13. Meanwhile, the human offal that passes for the National and ACT Party leaders…

    Well I can’t say I’m too thrilled about either one of them, for reasons pretty much 180 degrees opposed to yours but,….human offal? Cool. I’ll remember that one the next time I read about stuff like this:

    During the meeting, a first-term MP was reportedly visibly emotional, telling colleagues: “We can’t pretend that we haven’t known about this for two years.”

    The MP told the meeting they had been “bullied and yelled at” by Allan but thought it “was the price to pay to get decent policy through.” They did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday night.

    I’d say that this sort of dysfunction is exactly what there should be a debate about in Parliament because it goes directly to the heart of the uselessness of this government. I don’t know if enablers of any abuse rise to the level of “human offal” but I do know that Allan is a symptom of it and attacking Seymour’s request for such a debate by claiming he’s attacking a mental illness victim is just deflection.

    I don’t take much notice of domestic politics either, because of the Tweedle Dum Tweedle Dee nature of it all, but I had much the same reaction to Mullers breakdown. Which is to say that I’d identified him as a useless, get-along-to-go-along plonker a decade earlier when he was earning $600k a year while helping the rest of the executive team to drive Fonterra into the ground while supplier-shareholders could only look on helplessly. Then he turns up in politics, then leader of National, then can’t handle the pressure and goes down the gurgler – and then sticks around for another couple of years.

    In short, power and control is the drawcard for all these people. Perhaps that should be considered a mental illness of its own.

  14. Hi Tom,

    Thanks for chiming in. As per usual we will have to disagree. I would also not use Vance as parlayed by Farrar as authoritative sources on what may or may not have happened in the lead-up to Allan’s implosion. My focus, again, is on the cruelty and bullying emanating from people on your side of the aisle when it comes to a person in mental health distress. You can see evidence of that in some of the contrary comments on this post (although to be fair several have been polite in their disagreement). I was going to use the term “scum” to refer to Seymour and Luxon but decided on offal because scum has some beneficial purpose while offal is rapidly rotting waste. Seymour in particular is a misogynist, racist incel-adjacent creep. Luxon is just another bullet-headed corporate Xtian neofascist with zero new ideas and presentation skills. Maybe the new PR lady will polish his policy pitch, if not his dome, but that is like polishing a turd. Yes, I do despise them.

    Your comments on Muller are interesting. I have met him prior to his assuming the leadership and for a Nat he seemed reasonable and moderate. You clearly know about him than I do so I shall defer to your assessment. What I can say is that I was saddened to see him crack, but then again he had Collins and Slater running an insider guerrilla campaign against precisely because he was moderate and reasonable.

    You might be right about politics as a mental illness of sorts. Obsession with power seems to have replaced serving the people as a guiding principle these days, although again, mostly on the Right. My wish in any case is for voters to take a good hard look at the character of the opposition these days. Labour and the Greens have plenty of flaws, but in both style and substance they pale in comparison to the mean-spirited and cynical callousness of their political adversaries.

  15. I would also not use Vance as parlayed by Farrar…
    Meh. Vance has been an apologist for this crowd for several years now but sees the tide turning and has decided to return to being a journalist, who will usually rise to the scent of blood sooner or later, especially to try and retain some credibility as being “fair and balanced”. Ha! Were I in National or ACT I wouldn’t give her the time of day, but then I think that about almost all of them.

    Having said that, according to people I still know in Wellington, including two ex-journalists, Vance’s sources are good, including inside Labour. Besides, it’s obvious now that the latter are leaking in their fear and desperation.

    I was going to use the term “scum” to refer to Seymour and Luxon but decided on offal…
    Yes. “Scum” is so over-used, I much prefer “offal”. As to the rest of the descriptions, if you keep up that sort of florid writing you’ll be invited on to The Standard next, or at least The Daily Blog.
    And remember, you might as well be writing about me, since I’ll be electorate vote National and Party Vote ACT this election.

    My focus, again, is on the cruelty and bullying emanating from people on your side of the aisle when it comes to a person in mental health distress
    Pffft. I can recall Mallard taunting Nick Smith about his “pills” in the debating chamber and I don’t recall anybody on the Left, let alone inside Labour, pulling him back. And personally I’ve seen too many decades of nastiness from the Left, especially during our recent “pandemic” – often directed against their own side when they don’t toe the line – to accept your four-legs-good-two-legs take.

    You clearly know more about him than I do so I shall defer to your assessment.
    You shouldn’t since yours is a personal assessment and mine purely about ability which, at the end of the day for me, is all I care about. I really couldn’t give a damn about the personalities of any of these creatures so long as they enact the policies that I want. Rather like journalist Nina Burleigh who told the WaPo in 1998 that, “”I’d be happy to give him {oral sex} just to thank him for keeping abortion legal,”… “I think American women should be lining up with their Presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs.”.

    Although I wouldn’t go that far. :)

  16. Pablo on July 28, 2023 at 15:06 said:

    ” NZ political system and process. I agree that it needs an overhaul ”

    Hi Pablo

    A story to tell about my voting preferences and then a suggestion to make about the overhaul

    During previous elections I have have been a neither / nor voter.
    Neither Labour, National, The greens, ACT or NZ First, choosing
    any of the minor parties instead.
    It is my form of a ” protest vote ” if you like, based on my cynical opinion that nothing is really going to change anyway!
    And lets face it, our current lackey’s in Wellington manage the status quo adequately, I don’t see any real visionary leadership.

    I understand the critics will say it is a wasted vote. True. But therein lies the rort of the current system. That votes for minor parties that do not make the 5% threshold are quietly distribributed to the other parties anyway.
    This is what needs correction

    So my suggestion to overhaul the current system is to change the structure of the party vote only.
    1. Get rid of the 5% threshhold
    2. Introduce a ” no vote ” option for both the electoral and party votes.

  17. Pingback: Another link added – the Democracy Project – No Minister

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