Sunday, August 9, 2020
Karl du Fresne: Institutional overkill? The case of Deborah HugillLabels: Free speech, Karl du Fresne
I wonder if anyone else felt uneasy reading the story on Stuff - see HERE - about a Taranaki nurse, Deborah Hugill, who was deregistered by the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal for making racist comments.
Hugill was held to be guilty of professional misconduct after a social media post – prompted by a news report about the absence of Maori voices from a mental health and addictions inquiry – in which she described Maori nurses as lazy, cunning and underhanded [sic]. She also said they got a lot of unfair handouts and spent too much time eating and going to meetings.
It was a statement that even staunch upholders of the right to free speech would have trouble defending, and Hugill asked for trouble by posting it on a New Zealand Nurses Organisation’s Facebook page. Yet Stuff’s account of the tribunal hearing left the discomforting impression that the proceedings had the hallmarks of a show trial.
The tribunal chair, Maria Dew QC, rebuked Hugill for her “failure to show a sustained and genuine understanding or remorse for her highly offensive and racist comments”. That suggests she was punished not just for her offence but for not being sufficiently contrite.
Dew also acknowledged “mana whenua” – by which she apparently meant local Maori, though that’s not the Maori Dictionary’s definition of the term – for their “very special contribution” to the hearing, saying it was important for the tribunal to be part of restoring mana for Maori. “Ms Hugill’s conduct has damaged that mana.”
Really? I would have thought the purpose of the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal was to ensure professional standards are upheld. Restoring mana for Maori suggests a broader agenda that goes beyond the tribunal’s warrant. This is fashionable ideological rhetoric, not the dispassionate language expected from a quasi-judicial body. Was this a case of the tribunal buying into the culture of grievance and victimhood?
Perhaps it was Hugill’s misfortune to be subjected to disciplinary proceedings at a time when confected fury over supposed white supremacy, fanned by the Black Lives Matter movement, has fuelled an appetite for retribution against anyone bold or foolish enough (and this case involved a bit of both) to expose themselves to charges of racism.
Cherene Neilson-Hornblow, who laid the complaint against Hugill, told the tribunal that Hugill had “trampled on the heads of our people”. Later, when the hearing was over, she said: “I’m just overwhelmed, I’m so pleased. It’s thousands of years of injustices, it’s tears of joy.” Hyperbole, much? Remember, we’re not talking about the righting of grievous historic wrongs here. We’re talking about a lone woman who expressed racially offensive (but, we must presume, sincerely held) opinions and has paid what some would regard as a disproportionate penalty.
As well as having her registration cancelled, Hugill was formally censured and ordered to pay 15 per cent of the costs of the hearing: $8362.95. She was barred from practising for two years and before working as a nurse again must complete what Stuff called a cultural confidence course (I think they mean cultural competence). Used punitively, as appears to be the case here, this is a more benign form of the re-education camps favoured by Pol Pot and the current Chinese communist regime: a means of moral purification by which ideological transgressors are persuaded to see the error of their ways and given a chance to purge themselves of their sins.
Stuff also reported that after the tribunal had come to its decision, proceedings were closed with a karakia. Well, of course.
Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at karldufresne.blogspot.co.nz.
at 8:12 AM