What defines a man's life? Is it the titles he holds, the wealth he accumulates or some other symbol of status that his contemporaries hold in high esteem? And how do we decide if those symbols of status are still deserved?

John Key has announced that Sir Douglas Graham will retain his Knighthood, despite his conviction for making false statements in a company prospectus becoming final. This is, on balance and considering all aspects of the issue, a good thing.

I should state at the outset that I'm not a huge fan of knighthoods or other fuedal honourifics. I also think that if we're going to have them, they are on occasion given for the wrong things. I'd like, for instance, to see a few more foster carers, foodbank managers and volunteer firefighters becoming "sirs" and "dames", and a few less retiring high-ranking politicians or judges, much less sportspeople, get the nod.

But having said that, Sir Douglas was accorded the honour for doing something very good for the country. As Claire Trevett outlines here, his work on the initial Treaty Settlements with Ngai Tahu and Tainui in the face of some considerable disquiet from his own side of the political aisle laid the path to where we are today: a place where an end to settlements of historic grievances is in sight, and we can move on to the question of how we are going to live together in the here and now. That was a display of the best that we want to see in our political leaders; real Statesmanship, in which the long-term interests of the country were put ahead of short-term political advantage.

That legacy seems worthy to me of our respect. And if that respect takes the form of bestowing the title "Sir", then I can live with it.

Nothing about Sir Douglas' subsequent fall from grace changes that assessment for me. Whatever the "bad" about his involvement in the collapse of Lombard Finance - and let's remember, the offence for which he has been convicted is one of ommission and not commission, and would no longer be a criminal matter if it occured today - it does not undo the "good" of his life as a whole.

(For anyone interested, the question of how "bad" we ought to view Sir Douglas' ommissions was scrapped over in this post by Tim and the subsequent comment thread.)

Yes, I recognise that the failure of Lombard Finance caused a lot of financial pain to a number of ordinary New Zealanders. And yes, I recognise that Sir Douglas' negligent approach to disclosing the true financial state of the company contributed to that pain. And yes, I recognise that at least some of those hurt by the collapse may have put their trust in the company because of the reassurance his name (and maybe even title) provided.

For this, he will be punished. Whether the punishment set down by the Court of Appeal (six months home detention, 200 hours community service and a fine of $100,000) is appropriate is something that the Supreme Court will tell us in time.

But to add to that punishment by stripping Sir Douglas of his knighthood would be to add a wrong to a wrong. So I'm glad it won't happen.

Comments (7)

by Tim Watkin on November 01, 2013
Tim Watkin

Or should it be re-arise?

I agree in terms of the punishment needing to fit the crime. As pleased as I have been to see equivalency in the law and the rich and pwerful treated much like the poor and weak, you can't write off his remarkable political achievements and the price he paid for them.

by Rex Ahdar on November 01, 2013
Rex Ahdar

I guess (Sir) Douglas Graham deserves to keep his knighthood. But as for that scoundrel, that paragon of perfidy, Russell Coutts, he should have been stripped of his title years ago. A good keelhauling would have been salutary too.

It's just as well I don't take my sport too seriously (mind you, it is yachting...)


by Scott Chris on November 01, 2013
Scott Chris

I think it's worth noting one of the reasons Key gave for not revoking Graham's knighthood:

Graham was convicted of a strict liability offence, where dishonest or criminal intent is not required for conviction.

 Mr Key noted the High Court found that Sir Douglas and the other defendants acted honestly at all times, genuinely believed the statements in the amended prospectus were true, and that careful attention had been given to the contents of the amended prospectus, including taking legal advice. 
by barry on November 01, 2013

As a contrary view:  You could say that the offence that he was convicted for came about because he sought to trade on his good name and title.  People invested with Lombard because they had "reputable" people and people of status on the board.

OTOH many people have got knighthoods for behaviour which was far worse (if not actually criminal), which makes it seem inconsistent to want to remove it from him.

by stuart munro on November 02, 2013
stuart munro

Meh. Political knighthoods are at best meaningless and at worst venal.

Mind, if we had a monarchical system of the kind Montesquieu envisaged, Graham would have given it up voluntarily.

by Katharine Moody on November 02, 2013
Katharine Moody

What defines a man's [or woman's] life?

Surely it is none of the above you mention, but rather the demonstration of their moral character - the way they 'see' themselves versus the way the 'see' others. Sir Douglas it seems 'sees' himself as "different" than the general public .. "entitled" to on-going taxpayer funded contributions to his retirement lifestyle in light of his past "service". Google his comments on the Air NZ travel perks for ex-Parliamentarians - not to mention his taxpayer subsidised pension. He suggests that when he's too old to fly - he'll take the cash, thank-you.

I assume he applied the same morals/values and view of himself to his job at Lombard where his 'constituent' investors where concerned. It wasn't about a sense of "service" in his role there either, but rather one of "entitlement".

by Rich on November 06, 2013

The laws that Graham breached were/are there for a very good reason - the ability of companies to solicit finance from the public is an obvious channel for abuse and fraud*. Part of regulating that process is that the companies are expected to have a board who take responsibility for the companies actions.

Anyone who takes on the (very well paid) role of director is obligated, as part of this, to understand and validate anything they put their name to. If they can't do this, they shouldn't take on the job. If they won't do this, then they're almost as culpable as if they instigated the fraud. 

* I noted back in 2005 that the very act of trying to borrow from the public was a signal that the borrower had been rejected by better informed investors.


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