Do principles like fairness and kindness matter in New Zealand?

by Virginia Larson / 13 August, 2018
Illustration: Getty Images

Illustration: Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - editorials

Fair and square 

Amid a hate speech and free speech furore, there are people working to build a better New Zealand.

Club sandwiches, two days in a row. I’m really a wholegrain bread person, but there’s something irresistible about club sandwiches: those soft, crust-less savoury layers. They’re a bit old-fashioned – in a good way – reminiscent of church hall gatherings and community observances.

And so it was they appeared, twice, on a sunny-showery Auckland weekend at the end of July. The Saturday afternoon event I attended was a memorial for a colleague’s mother: “…a gathering to share laughter and memories of a large life well lived”. It was held in a secular space, small and pretty, that even without religious symbols still managed to feel spiritual – certainly celebratory of the human spirit, among the stories, poetry, laughter and tears for Shirley.


On Sunday, I joined friends and supporters of Graeme MacCormick – and what seemed the entire congregation from St Andrew’s Church – at the adjacent hall to launch the former judge’s memoir, Recollections and Reflections.

Graeme wrote an essay for North & South in 2011 and we’ve stayed in touch. In his opinion piece, The Damage Done, he made a case for the universal monitoring of every baby born in New Zealand, and intervening when necessary. It was written out of compassion, but also from the coal-face perspective of 16 years on the bench of the Family Court, observing a relentless toll of child abuse and neglect. Then and now, he continues to champion the work of the Brainwave Trust, which has done much to raise awareness of research into brain development, especially the crucial first three years of a child’s life when the brain is still wiring up, laying the foundations for adult life.

After the sandwiches and clinking of church hall teacups, there was a warm, heartfelt introduction from Judy Bailey – yes, the Judy Bailey, who’s on the Brainwave Trust board. Graeme followed with his “supplementary comments”, beginning with an explanation of why his faith occupies the front section of his book, with personal memoir at the end.

For non-religious me, Graeme represents Christian faith at its best. My dips into his book confirm him to be a man of humility, kindness and open-mindedness; his decisions both as a judge and human rights commissioner would have been firm when they needed to be, and always fair and thoughtful. For all the sad, sorry, venal cases that have passed before him, he’s never lost his belief that we can change the trajectory of all our children’s lives – and build a better New Zealand. His comment at the book launch, “Those with an abused or neglected start, who end up aggrieved and with nothing to lose, will always pose a danger, and a cost, to society” is echoed in Paul Little’s piece in this month's issue. In The Case for Closing Prisons, the connection between early harm and our shameful incarceration rates is made by a number of expert interviewees.

I ask Graeme if he’s attending Andrew Little’s justice summit in August. He’s not, but says he’s a supporter of Little and his handling of the justice portfolio. “While he was leader of the Opposition, I wrote to him a couple of times and his replies gave the clear impression he was responding personally, not having had the letters written for him – as has appeared to be the case with almost every other political response I’ve ever received.”

I pester Graeme further by email, as our print deadline coincides with the visit of Canadian far-right activists Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, recently banned by Mayor Phil Goff from speaking at Auckland Council venues, and the subject of much-heated debate over free speech and hate speech. It seems the sort of issue that might well end up in front of a human rights commissioner. Graeme replies that he’s not studied the pair’s views sufficiently to be definitive in his comments, but adds: “If the mayor thinks their views do not sit comfortably with the culture of tolerance and inclusiveness that Auckland is trying to promote, then I have no problem with saying they’re not welcome to use council-owned venues. The downside is the publicity it gives them.

“People’s human rights frequently compete, and it becomes necessary to strike a balance. Generally, I favour people being able to say pretty much what they want, with the rubbish just being ignored – or rather what I regard as rubbish. A response usually only indicates that you regard the comments worthy of response. But actually, inciting racial or religious hatred is another matter. Where you draw the line is always difficult...”

Had he been tasked, you know Graeme MacCormick would have drawn that line – straight, fair and principled. 

 

• Graeme’s memoir is for sale only via a contribution to the Brainwave Trust (suggested donation $30 plus $5 postage). Email gjmac@pl.net.

This article first appeared in the September 2018 issue of North & South.
Follow North & South on on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and sign up to the weekly e-mail

Latest

Science must trump ideology in the GE debate
104784 2019-04-18 08:52:29Z Politics

Science must trump ideology in the GE debate

by The Listener

A New Zealand-developed super-grass that appears to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions might be blocked in this country by the Green Party.

Read more
Simon Bridges hails PM Jacinda Ardern's capital gains tax u-turn as victory
104803 2019-04-18 00:00:00Z Politics

Simon Bridges hails PM Jacinda Ardern's capital ga…

by Jo Moir

The National Party is calling the u-turn on a capital gains tax a massive failure for the Prime Minister.

Read more
John Campbell is replacing Jack Tame on TVNZ's Breakfast show
104860 2019-04-18 00:00:00Z Television

John Campbell is replacing Jack Tame on TVNZ's Bre…

by Noted

The TV network is switching things up - again.

Read more
John Lanchester’s ecological-dystopian tale about a barricaded Britain
104431 2019-04-18 00:00:00Z Books

John Lanchester’s ecological-dystopian tale about…

by Catherine Woulfe

The Wall may be speculative fiction, but it feel like it's just round the corner.

Read more
Why we should take care when we talk about drug side effects
104426 2019-04-18 00:00:00Z Psychology

Why we should take care when we talk about drug si…

by Marc Wilson

If we find that up to 10% of people report insomnia after taking Panadol, does that mean it was a side effect of the drug?

Read more
Capital Gains Tax debate should have been a godsend for Simon Bridges
104754 2019-04-17 00:00:00Z Politics

Capital Gains Tax debate should have been a godsen…

by Bevan Rapson

Talk of a capital gains tax hits a particular nerve, but changing the tax system doesn’t always have to be like pulling teeth.

Read more
Government abandons capital gains tax plan
104759 2019-04-17 00:00:00Z Politics

Government abandons capital gains tax plan

by Noted

No consensus was reached over the capital gains tax recommendation.

Read more
How tough is it for the middle class in New Zealand?
104675 2019-04-17 00:00:00Z Social issues

How tough is it for the middle class in New Zealan…

by Pattrick Smellie

Money worries have set off a wave of populist politics in most Western democracies, but not here. Pattrick Smellie investigates why.

Read more