Parliament can be something of a hell hole for its inhabitants.
The extent of how much it is a hellhole was laid bare by the Debbie Francis Report into bullying and harassment in Parliament. Her conclusion was that bad that she recommended that a confidential mental health helpline be provided for all those on the precinct, with 24/7 access to clinical professionals.
Staff are far too often the subject of bullying and harassment and show the scars.
National MPs have a significant history of engaging in bullying behaviour and have a significant culture problem.
But Labour MPs are not immune from criticism. Gaurav Sharma’s treatment of his staff was appalling, especially since he saw himself as being the victim of bullying, not the perpetrator. And Meka Whaitiri was demoted from Cabinet after a physical altercation with a staff member. As I said at the time of her demotion Labour Ministers and MPs ought to treat their staff with dignity and respect. No ifs no buts.
MPs are also not immune to the pressures of the place and there have been a few recent examples.
For instance Todd Muller’s issues with mental health are well known. Jacinda Ardern’s instruction to the Labour Party to leave him alone was welcome and appropriate. Her approach of being kind was the best way to handle the matter.
Jami Lee Ross was another whose troubles with mental health were well known.
Although there is more than a hint that there was an attempt to allow political considerations to dominate the decision making. Because at the time Ross recorded a discussion between himself, Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett and the tape was subsequently leaked.
From Dan Satherley at Newshub:
Secret recordings of a conversation involving Jami-Lee Ross, Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett have been leaked to The AM Show.
The clip features Mr Ross talking to the National Party leadership ahead of his decision to take personal leave at the start of October.
The comments on the tape suggest the National leadership team was trying to cover up the wrongdoing by Mr Ross. They discuss what reasons they will give for his leave – medical or family. Ms Bennett says medical leave would be better, as it would reduce media interest.
“So it would be for medical reasons?” asks Mr Ross.
“Is that what you want?” asks Ms Bennett. “I think either medical or family.”
“Medical is true,” says Mr Ross.
“That’s right,” says Mr Bridges. “There’s no shame in that.”
“And it means everyone will back off you too – the media and all that sort of stuff,” says Ms Bennett.
Unfortunately the current National leadership do not consider that when Parliamentarians are suffering from medical issues they should back off. They have gone after issues relating to Kiritapu Allan with a vengeance.
Compare and contrast Labour’s approach when Muller or Ross had their difficulties with National’s approach to Allan which is cynically calculated to maximise political advantage. As shown by this fascinating insight provided by Jo Moir at Newsroom. In particular what it shows about National’s approach to issues relating to Allan’s health:
Newsroom approached [National’s mental health spokesperson Matt] Doocey personally to ask him what his experiences after nine years in Parliament had taught him about dealing with mental health struggles and how politicians could better address this.
But the National Party blocked the interview, instead referring any comments to Luxon and justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith.
The National Party is campaigning to have a minister for mental health if elected to government but didn’t want its more-than-qualified spokesperson to comment on the environment and pressures that may have contributed to Allan’s behaviour.
Instead Luxon fronted media and pointed to there being “something going wrong in the culture and leadership of that Cabinet group”.
“Here we are yet again, another week discussing drama and personnel issues within the Labour government.
“It’s a Labour government that’s not focused on the New Zealand people,” he said.
National could have treated this issue with some sensitivity. Clearly it decided not to for political advantage.
And the sense of double standard is strong.
Sam hit it on the head, like it was a 13-year-old schoolboy. pic.twitter.com/QMuMWwKiGj
— Christopher Luxon ChatGPT (@rugbyintel) July 25, 2023
Kiritapu has announced her retirement from politics. I wish her well in the future.