Hide & Harawira: sorry should be the hardest word

Hide's apology is out of kilter with earlier statements and behaviour, while any apology from Harawira would deman both him and us. It's no wonder voters have a low opinion of these crisis-time converts

What Rodney Hide said yesterday was right and proper in every way. It touched on the points that mattered. It was personal. And it was way, way too late.

Timing matters when it comes to principle, so it's hard not to be left with doubts after Hide's mea culpa. If the principles are only apparent when you get caught, what good are the principles in the first place? And how deeply felt?

Much the same applies to Hone Harawira. His column describing his trip to Paris, his media comments since asking who wouldn't grab a rare chance to see the city of light, and his email suggesting any criticism was race-based, make it perfectly clear what he really thinks about the matter. An apology would be not only meaningless, it would be insulting; a blatant piece of political theatre that demeans he who gives it and any fool enough to believe it.

The Maori Party have a set of strict kaupapa and tikanga, the first of which is manaakitanga. As per the party's constitution, it demands "behaviour that acknowledges the mana of others as having equal or greater importance than one’s own, through the expression of aroha, hospitality, generosity and mutual respect".

Harawira's decision lacked respect for not just the taxpayers without whom he wouldn't have been within a day's travel of Paris, but for the citizens he seeks to serve. When he's working, be it in parliament or in Europe, it's on behalf of the people of Tai Tokerau and all New Zealanders, and we deserve better. But an apology so clearly at odds with his personal beliefs would simply fail the Maori Party's admirably high standards for a second time, showing no respect for the public.

Sorry has to mean something. It demands contrition and implies a cost, to the ego at the very least.

I'm afraid Hide's apology fits in the same kite. It was frank and it seems he finally got the fact that his partner's presence on the trip to the US and Europe served his own needs, not the taxpayers'.

But back on August 30, Hide was asked about Sir Roger Douglas' decision to take a family holiday using his tax-payer funded travel allowance and whether it undermined ACT's core message. Hide replied:

Oh it hasn’t helped, but it's one of the difficulties and that’s why I'm so opposed to the perks.

Then asked if he'd told Sir Roger to rein in his travel, Hide said he had told all his MPs to be "careful". But he wasn't taking his own advice.

That August interview was after his winter getaway with his partner Lisa Crome to Hawaii, but before he decided to take her with him on his super city fact-finding trip, stopping off at her brother's wedding and at Universal Studios en route.

That's right, having used his own perks for a personal holiday in the previous month, Hide then implies criticism of Sir Roger for doing the same, admits it doesn't help his party's core message and uses it as an opportunity to re-state his 'perk-busting' beliefs. What's more, he learns nothing from that episode, taking Crome with him on another, albeit business-driven trip, just weeks later.

Well before the pressure of last week, he had considered the issue and come to a decision.

Add to that the fact that when he was sprung last week, he tried to brazen it out a la Bill English, saying it was vital he could maintain personal relationships while in parliament and that we wouldn't make a martyr of himself... and there's a prima facie case for scepticism about Hide's apology yesterday.

It's interesting to note that his deepest apology was for the people of Epsom. He was actually travelling primarily as minister for local government and the money spent was paid by us all, so why focus on his electorate? The reason seems likely to be political rather than ethical – ACT stands or falls on the Epsom electorate and any lingering damage there undermines not just Hide, not even just ACT, but the right-wing of New Zealand politics.

The martyr argument never stood up, either. If you believe something's wrong, you don't do it just because you can. That's a simple question of personal integrity. If it costs you something, so be it.

And that's perhaps the most disappointing thing in the fracas around Hide and Harawira, and even in the oaths sworn by Destiny church members to Brian Tamaki – they don't seem to recognise nature of public service.

An MP's primary duty is service to this country and its people, as it is for a minister of the church. But somehow it became all about them – Hide's relationship, Harawira's chance to see the Louvre, and Tamaki's ego. Hubris got in the way of service.

(Is it just me, or is anyone else enjoying the particular irony in Harawira skiving off to see the best of the white man's civilisation on display at the Louvre, then coming back and damning them for raping his land?).

I guess both men can be thankful for small mercies, however. Harawira can at least dodge the smear of hypocrisy that now clings to Hide. His behaviour is consistent, if not admirable. The question now is whether he wants to fight the system from within, or from without. It's no secret he hates being in government with National and his relationship with Tariana Turia is tense. She is instinctively a conservative; he's a radical. Her decision to stay on another three years in parliament could yet prompt a decision from him not to.

Hide can, well, hide somewhat behind Harawira's slurs. If there's anything that trumps political hypocrisy in this country, it's knee-jerk racism and sadly the public feedback I've seen in recent days seems to suggest a greater degree of anger at Harawira than at Hide. My best guess is that that's down to the colour of his skin. His travel has also drawn attention away from the greater sin of condescending to his prime minister. Journalist Fran O'Sullivan said on Q+A yesterday that Hide's criticism of Key wasn't limited to last week's breakfast speech in Christchurch; he made similar comments at a business event she was chairing.

Hide's excuse – conveniently accepted by John Key – that his comments about Key being a do-nothing prime minister were simply banter have been exposed for the fabrication they obviously were.

I actually have a huge admiration for most of our politicians; the work they do and the good intentions they have. But I end this post feeling fed up and sick of the excuses. If the conversion only comes when in the midst of crisis when it's most convenient, what are we supposed to make of it?