Thursday, August 25, 2022

Karl du Fresne: A few thoughts on the Sharma affair

Overwhelmingly, the opinion of press gallery journalists – including some for whom I retain a degree of respect – seems to be that Gaurav Sharma deserved what he got. Luke Malpass says so; so does Audrey Young.

But I wonder whether the public thinks the same. Political events often look different from a distance than they do from the close proximity of the press gallery, and what journalists think is often wildly at odds with public opinion. As I’ve argued before, they’re ill-equipped to know what the public thinks about anything.

Besides, reporters form their opinions based on information from political sources who have positions to protect, and no matter how conscientiously press gallery hacks try to take a neutral, objective line, their perspective is almost inevitably skewed by the views of whoever’s briefing them.

They also have a natural interest in remaining onside with their sources. All this needs to be taken into account in assessing press gallery opinion, which is often suspiciously homogeneous.

Even accepting the government line that Sharma is a problem child who got himself into trouble with his own staff and apparently refused offers of intervention, some aspects of the controversy remain unsettling.

My own antennae twitched when the story first broke. Not only did the full weight of the Labour Party machine come crashing down on the hapless Sharma – that’s politics, baby – but the media, almost without exception, obligingly parroted the government narrative from the start. The hit job on the Hamilton West MP was not only instantaneous and overwhelming but gave the impression of having media buy-in. Guilty as charged; done and dusted. It looked to me as if reporters were briefed and primed to go.

I couldn’t help but contrast the press pack’s apparent acceptance of the government line with their refusal to cut National any slack over the Uffindell saga. The difference was striking.

Of course I can no more claim to discern what the public thinks about the Sharma furore than the press gallery, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the public view has shifted over the course of the affair. I’m inclined to agree with the talkback host I heard last night who sensed that the balance of public opinion, which he thought was initially in the government’s favour, had probably moved as the controversy evolved and the perception grew that Sharma may not have been the guilty party – or at least not the sole bearer of blame.

The secret caucus meeting on Monday night certainly wouldn’t have helped. Gang-ups are never a good look. The irony is that this controversy arose out bullying claims and ended up showing in plain sight exactly what political bullying looks like.

Even accepting that Sharma broke caucus rules, the manner of his punishment – no, let’s call it humiliation, which is what it is – doesn’t play well to a public concerned with fairness and due process. It’s the ugly face of politics laid bare, and the government can’t escape being damaged.
As a talkback caller said, whatever happened to Ardern’s kindness shtick? Her earnest, imploring facial expression, so wearyingly familiar to viewers of news bulletins, has never looked more strained – some would say fake – than when she was defending the brutal demolition job on her wayward MP. The empathetic look has worked remarkably well for her, but its magic may be wearing off.

Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at


Anonymous said...

The empathetic magic has well and truely worn off mate. No one is listening or really cares what she has to say, it’s a void with big ears and teeth.

Ross said...

Dr Sharma is a hero. He is probably the only MP in the current Parliament that has shown independent thought, basic principles and courage of his convictions.
He obviously has high standards and a strong work ethic --things that were probably foreign to the staff he had assigned to him.

I do not think we have heard the end of this issue. Labour and PM are not dealing with some ex union flunky this time, they are dealing with a determined, intelligent, principled person. From what I have read he has fought bullying issues twice before and won both times.

NB. I am on the opposite side of the political spectrum to Dr Sharma, but that is not really relevant in this discussion.

Unknown said...

Anyone wishing to explore the inner sanctum and nefarious behaviours of this labour crew ,need go no further than to obtain a copy of Ian wisharts book"absolute power "an unauthorised but ver y well researched tome on what in a lot of cases would be termed totally unacceptable behaviour .its also a litany of some of the more dubious tactics of some big players in this present charade -notable amongst them of course is the departing speaker wqhom it appears faced the wrath of the head mistress more than once .like other writers I dont believe we have heard the end of this and im firmly of the belief this is yet another screw in the lid of the socialist coffin come next election.

Anonymous said...

I can't bear to listen to or watch don't.

Lesley Stephenson said...

Anyone who doesn't see how bullying this Govt are has blinkers on. The caucus are the elite and don't ever forget that all you peasants out there.

David Lillis said...

The recent controversies surrounding Tauranga National MP, Sam Uffindell, and Labour MP, Dr Gaurav Sharma, have underscored the serious and, by now very well-known, bullying problem in this country. Various observers have expressed quite diverse opinions on both issues. Of course, the general public cannot know all of the relevant details about either issue, and we can only react to what we read or hear.

As an advocate for people who have reported bullying, I believe that we have a long road ahead of us to address bullying in our workplaces and within Government. Uffindell has done wrong in the past and has admitted to his misdeeds. However, many people feel that Uffindell’s misdeeds belong so far in the past that they are of limited relevance today and that he should be allowed a second chance. However, we can all understand the controversy surrounding him and we can fully accept that many view him as having disqualified himself from public office. I tend to side with those who believe that he deserves a second chance and that, unless highly serious, the misdemeanors of a person’s youth belong in the past.

The reaction of many people to the debate surrounding Dr. Sharma tends towards sympathy for his situation, though we accept that any political party or employing organization has a right to keep their people in line. Recently, Tracey Watkins advanced a perspective that is somewhat less sympathetic to Dr. Sharma than perspectives advanced by some other observers (Watkins, 2022). Clearly, it is very hard for any third party to form a clear view on Dr. Sharma’s situation, but then our Parliament has a long-standing reputation for bullying.

I have observed truly sadistic bullying within our Public Service and, while I do not know the critical details of Dr. Sharma’s case, I can readily believe that Dr. Sharma has indeed been bullied at Parliament.
David Lillis

Anonymous said...

Nobody can rightfully (ethically, morally, legally) be fired - essentially overnight - without even any semblance of due process. There must be MUCH more going on here ...

Charles said...

Wow, this one struck a nerve! Quite frankly, whatever the presstitutes opine about, I am not listening and it's apparent I am not alone in this. As for that disgusting excuse of a human being Ardern, I simply can't stand the sight of her and whatever she says I shall automatically take the opposite view. The sooner she is disposed of and her coterie of self-serving sycophantic parasites the sooner we can dispense with the BS presently crippling this country.

Phantom said...

Dr Sharma's expulsion is yet another nail in the coffin of democracy in NZ. Since when can an MP be dismissed for behaviour disliked by the fuhrer? Surely it's for his electorate to throw him out if they consider he's not representing them as they wish?
I would think it was illegal to take such a step, however it appears the tooth fairy's govt isn't concerned with such trivialities as law breaking, and she especially doesn't want any reference to bullying as it highlights her style too readily. Hopefully the Sharma affair won't die hurriedly.