Ferrier pouts while Laws rewrites the law: a weekend's reading

The self pity of Andrew Ferrier and the self righteousness of Michael Laws leapt from the pages of our newspapers this weekend, and shouldn't go unanswered

A long weekend is a good time to get some newsprint on your fingers, but having read comments by a couple of our supposed leaders in the past 72 hours, I'm wishing I went fishing instead.

Fonterra CEO Andrew Ferrier got me started. The head of this country's biggest export business spoke with Michele Hewitson [not online], and the word beleaguered sums up the impression left by the interview. Ferrier insists he's just trying to make a success of Fonterra, doing the best he can, trying to keep his head down and move on. Yet the media, he thinks, are agin him and he's feeling a bit hard done by. He says so, more than once. First, he says he understands how the All Blacks felt last year.

"I thought that was brutally unfair and I can identify with them now."

Later, Hewitson asks if he's feeling battered.

"Yes, yes, I am. Let me give you my words, as opposed to yours but yeah, I'm feeling... we've been kicked around a lot. We – Fonterra, me the CEO of Fonterra – have been kicked around."

From the midst of his self pity, Ferrier says not a word about the fact that six babies died and thousands more were made sick because a food company in which Fonterra had a 43 percent stake wasn't able to protect its supply chain. In the sort of free-flowing interview that shows what's front-of-mind, Ferrier indulges in the boardroom equivalent of sticking his bottom lip out, stamping his foot and crying, "it's not fair".

Hewitson even offers him a chance to reconsider his ill-chosen words, but he repeats them, saying "we felt, I felt, very hard done by".

Does he still not get it? Is he a leader or a nine year-old? I'm sure Ferrier feels remorse over what happened. But he's been behaving as if he and his company were victims and passive observers, not 43 percent stakeholders who should have known better. And now he's wallowing. Those whose job it is to hold the powerful accountable and the people of New Zealand who care about the culture of this country's biggest businesses don't want remorse, we want responsibility.

Ferrier says all his company can do is learn from the Sanlu scandal and move on. He's wrong. He and his directors could front up. They could stop trying to pretend that Sanlu acted independently of Fonterra, say sorry, accept some responsibility for the system failures and see where that led them.

On Sunday it was Michael Laws' turn. While Ferrier didn't want to deal with responsibility, Laws wanted to talk about nothing else, and in a pitiless fashion. He opened his Sunday Star-Times column like this:

Burn in hell, Antonie Dixon. And, how on earth can we convince the Curtis brothers to similarly depart this mortal existence? That was the near uniform response from my talkback callers as news broke that there was one less evil person sharing their air. I could do nothing but concur.

When, I'm left wondering, did it become acceptable to make such a public expression of hate? When did enough of us start thinking that it was somehow strong and decent to wish death on people? And how do you honour the sacredness of life by deeming yourself worthy to condemn other men to death?

Is Laws vicious, vapid, or just desperate to be popular? Or all three? His lack of thought is laid out like lamb chops in a butcher's window. He condemns the centuries-old rule of law that we inherited from Britain as "corrupt", something no public leader should never do without first taking more than a few deep breaths. Our justice system, which has for over 150 years guarded us from anarchy, disorder and revolution, is dismissed in one fell swoop as "a joke". Instead of a system based on precedent (and therefore proportionality), he would like our laws to "recognise evil". Quite how we could recognise an ideological concept that has been debated and re-defined for centuries, and who would be given this onerous duty (and perhaps an indentikit description?), he doesn't say.

Laws wants the death penalty reinstated, but offers only two arguments in support. One, he's angry as hell. Two, prison's expensive. It's a remarkably thin case, but then it's someone else's life he wants taken, someone he doesn't know. So that's alright then. Of course if he had seen Dixon as a child, tied to a clothesline and forced to bark or witnessed the Curtis boys beaten by their own father... But forget offences against the offenders. It's a black and white world and Laws knows better than the law.

Come to think of it, the Chinese government was quick to sentence some involved in the Sanlu contaminations to death. Perhaps he'd like our justice system to be more like China's.

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