Sunday, April 30, 2023

Graham Adams: Is Kiri Allan fit to be Justice Minister?

Whether it is Posie Parker, hate-speech laws or donations, the East Coast MP is completely out of her depth.

Kiritapu Allan was appointed New Zealand’s 51st Minister of Justice on 14 June 2022. Her predecessors — nearly all men — include political heavyweights such as Jack Marshall, Ralph Hanan, Martyn Finlay, Geoffrey Palmer, Doug Graham and Annette King.

Less than a year into her tenure, Allan is looking more and more like a rube who lacks the gravitas and good judgment to hold such an important position in government.

The news last Friday that in 2020 she accepted a payment of $1500 and rent subsidies worth $9185 for a campaign office from Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon and his wife but didn’t declare a conflict of interest when she became Minister of Justice was astonishing. Foon’s appointment was made by then Justice Minister Andrew Little in 2019 but Allan’s office is responsible for deciding whether to reappoint Foon when his five-year term expires next year.

Caught out, she defended herself by saying she was a backbencher at the time Foon was appointed and — incorrectly — that she had not received a monetary donation from him. Reminded that she had, indeed, received $1500 she said she had declared the donations to the Electoral Commission. However, in a tacit admission that was insufficient for a minister, she hastily recorded a “perceived conflict of interest” after 1News had interviewed her — as if that would be enough to redeem her reputation as a conscientious member of Cabinet.

Pressed by Jack Tame on TVNZ’s Q&A on Sunday about her failure to handle the donations properly, Allan was entirely unrepentant and insouciant.

She insisted she had simply forgotten about the largest individual donation to her electoral campaign in 2020 and that Foon had donated to other parties “across the political aisle” as well. It apparently hadn’t crossed her mind that a Race Relations Commissioner is expected to be politically impartial and she should have refused any donation from him in the first place.

In fact, she didn’t even seem to see where the problem lay. She cavalierly suggested she should “chuck everybody [who donated] onto the conflict list” as a simple way of covering herself in the future. Allan clearly doesn’t understand that merely declaring a conflict of interest doesn’t make it go away and there are protocols for how any conflict — perceived or real — should be managed.

She also told Tame she wasn’t required to declare a conflict of interest with Foon on becoming Justice Minister, yet the Cabinet Manual states clearly: “Ministers themselves are responsible for proactively identifying and reviewing possible conflicts of interest, and ensuring that any conflicts of interest are addressed promptly.”

Unfortunately, the other segments of the Q&A interview further exposed her inadequacies. She couldn’t see there might be any connection between a 30 per cent rise in violent crimes since Labour came to power in 2017 and the government engineering a 20 per cent drop in prison numbers. When Tame asked why the majority of the expert witnesses the government had funded to testify in court to support victims of non-fatal strangulation had ended up supporting defendants, she had no coherent answer.

Asked about the government’s push in mid-2021 to heavily increase penalties for “hate speech” and to widen the reach of the law to include more protected groups, Allan said of the public consultation: “As we went through that process, you could see it was just incredibly challenging. I thought it was [simply]… changing a few words and she’ll be right; and it just wasn’t.”

When Tame retorted, “That’s a bit naïve, isn’t it?”, Allan doubled down: “Well, that was ultimately the recommendation from the Royal Commission [into the mosque murders]… ‘Change a couple of words and then it will be okay.’”

This is staggeringly stupid. The Royal Commission recommended repealing section 131 of the Human Rights Act 1993 and inserting a provision in the Crimes Act 1961 for an offence of “inciting racial or religious disharmony, based on an intent to stir up, maintain or normalise hatred, through threatening, abusive or insulting communications with protected characteristics that include religious affiliation” — as well as amending existing laws “to create hate-motivated offences”. Anyone hearing Allan’s glib statement would have wondered exactly how she managed to graduate with a law degree from Wellington’s Victoria University.

Even if Allan doesn’t happen to care about free speech personally, you might think she’d have the sense to twig that the hate-speech debate is a graveyard of political reputations. This was very apparent with the embarrassing attempts by Jacinda Ardern and her predecessor in the Justice portfolio, Chris Faafoi, to grapple coherently and intelligently with the issue in 2021. Neither of them could even articulate what kinds of speech might be caught under the proposed legislation. When a journalist asked Faafoi whether millennials expressing hatred towards Boomers because houses are too expensive could be found liable for that hatred, the minister couldn’t say.

What’s remarkable is that the humiliation heaped on Ardern and Faafoi hadn’t prompted the minister to come to the interview with more thoughtful answers to the inevitable questions about hate-speech legislation.

Just three weeks ago, she had to apologise for her ill-judged remarks at an RNZ farewell marking the resignation of her fiancée, Mani Dunlop. Dunlop had made it clear that she was miffed at not getting the role of co-hosting Morning Report alongside Corin Dann and Allan obviously didn’t see any problem in upbraiding RNZ for its culture and treatment of Māori staff.

Allan isn’t the Minister of Broadcasting, but the Radio New Zealand Act 1995 states that “no responsible Minister or any other Minister... may give direction to the public radio company in respect of a particular programme or a particular allegation or a particular complaint”, “the gathering or presentation of news” or the “responsibility of the company for programme standards”.

Allan apologised, saying she had made her remarks in a personal capacity but admitted they could have been interpreted as “me telling RNZ how to manage their staff or company”.

She said: “That was not my intent and it is certainly not my job.” Yet, she was first appointed a minister in November 2020 and two-and-a-half years later she obviously still hasn’t come to grips with the obligations and conventions of her ministerial job.

Perhaps the most shocking example of her breach of ministerial convention — and which proves just how ill-suited she is to be Justice Minister — was her inflammatory statement before the visit of Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull (aka Posie Parker) to New Zealand in late March.

When asked by journalists for her opinion about the British women’s rights activist, Allan said: “Nope to any person that tries to censor anyone else’s identity — race, sexuality, class, gender — just nope. Let’s do what we do, Aotearoa — stand up, make some noise and support our trans whānau by showing up and drowning out any bigotry that seeks to divide and hurt our whānau.”

A Justice Minister who drums up hostility to someone legally allowed to enter New Zealand and who effectively calls for their right to speak freely in public to be removed by shouting them down — while also denying the rights of those wanting to hear her speak — is a disgrace.

Even the Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Paul Hunt, who made much of his support for transgender rights in a column he wrote for the New Zealand Herald after Keen-Minshull had been mobbed and driven from Auckland’s Albert Park, acknowledged: “As much as we may disagree with her, Keen-Minshull is entitled to share her views, without being assaulted, intimidated, or shouted down… The state had a human rights responsibility to make arrangements for Keen-Minshull to speak without being assaulted, intimidated or shouted down. That did not happen.”

This statement could have been seen as a direct rebuke by the Chief Commissioner to the Justice Minister whose duties include protecting human rights but she appears impervious to such criticism.

Allan has been optimistically touted by the left as a future leader of the Labour Party. In fact, she is a distinct liability.

Three weeks ago, the Prime Minister’s office felt obliged to issue a statement saying that, while Hipkins accepted Allan's apology for her comments at RNZ’s event, “in this instance it would have been better if Kiri, given her ministerial position, had chosen not to take the opportunity to speak”.

Standing behind Allan at Friday’s excoriating 1News interview about Foon’s donations, the Prime Minister’s lips can be seen moving in what may have been a silent prayer to be teleported as far from Kiri Allan as possible. At one point as his minister stumbled through her explanation, he looked as if he might be dissociating as his soul left his body. Lip readers have yet to opine on what exactly he was muttering but it may well have been inspired by Dorothy Parker’s line — “What fresh hell is this, Kiri?”

Reading her biographical details on the Beehive website and assessing her performance, it’s hard not to conclude that the fact Allan is a “member of Labour’s Māori Caucus, Rainbow Caucus, and Women Caucus” may have been a major reason for her promotion last year. However, intersectional Brownie points are a poor qualification to make an undistinguished MP the Minister of Justice.

Nevertheless, National and Act would undoubtedly applaud her continued rise in the party’s hierarchy. She is already proving to be the gift that keeps on giving in an election year.

Graham Adams is an Auckland-based freelance editor, journalist and columnist. This article was originally published by and is published here with kind permission.


DeeM said...

And as if we needed any more evidence, this is what happens when you appoint by race and gender instead of ability. You end up with incompetents who don't understand their role or their responsibilities.

The Labour Party is riddled with it and that is why it is the worst government in living memory.

But it could get even worse if we end up with a Labour/Greens/Maori Party government.

Clearly, the last partner in this potential axis of evil is all about race - one race, Maori, and doesn't give a shit about anyone else. The calibre of both their MPs is bottom of the barrel stuff, just below the rotten apple.

The Greens...well, say no more. A more diverse assortment of mentally challenged and minority obsessed individuals you'd be hard pushed to find.

Luxon's pretty bad but he's not in the same category of awful.

Martin Hanson said...

Right on, Graham. Anyone who needs a Cabinet Manual to know not to take contributions is not fit to be an MP, let alone a Cabinet Minister.
And her treatment of Posie Parker showed just how far NZ politics has descended to a banana republic state. As Graham says, she's 'the gift that keeps on giving' to National.

Anonymous said...

Chapter & verse, thanks Graham. DeeM you're right, we can only hope ACT poll very well.

Robert Arthur said...

She being maori the strictly legal aspects associated koha, gifts, untaxed payments for services real and likely, inducement monies, etc would be somewhat alien to her.
I found "rube" in the dictionary and am sure I will find uses for. But I concede she has a point about the wording from the Royal commission.
Has Willie read the rules re minister and broadcasting? On that front I suspect RNZ listeners will find they are out of the frying aaninto the fire.

Tuatara said...

A mature lawyer explained to me she was appalled at how incompetents can now obtain degrees in law. Like much of academia- lacking in basic integrity and intellectual skills.

Anonymous said...

Is Allan fit to be Justice Minister - Hell No
Is Labour fit to be our government - Hell No
Do we the people want NZ to be a Marxist/Communists country - Hell No
Well, what are we going to do about it?