The first thing Alf has to say this morning is that the SST has conned him – and all its readers – with its headline Political punchup over call-girl claim.
There was no punch-up.
Not even the hint of a bit of arm wrestling or of someone firmly putting an arm on the shoulders of someone else.
The second thing to say is that the story involves George Hawkins, mostly known to Alf as a bloke who spat the dummy when the Labour Party placed him around 25th on its party list in 2006. Hawkins thought he deserved a higher place, withdrew his name from the list, and won the seat handsomely when he stood for election in Manurewa.
But Alf reckons this tells us much more about the collective wisdom of the people of Manurewa than about the electoral appeal of George Hawkins, although the voters did have the good sense to lop his majority when he stood again in 2008.
Hawkins is now standing for the local Manurewa board at the upcoming Auckland Super City council election and if successful in the election next month will stay on as the MP for Manurewa only until next year’s General Election, when he will step aside.
This might be construed as a bribe: if the people of Manurewa give him a job on the community board, he will do them a big favour and not stand again as their member of Parliament.
But politics can be complicated and someone called Colleen Brown is standing against Hawkins for a place on the Manurewa board.
That’s where the punchup comes into the story, except – as we have established – the punchup is a figment of the wild imagination of whoever wrote the SST headline.
This is no more than a minor political barney that would have gone unnoticed except that prostitution comes into the reckoning and news media can’t resist stories that include prostitution, especially when the prostitutes are under the age of 16.
Let’s see if Alf can explain events in a nutshell.
Hawkins won’t apologise to Brown after accusing her – under parliamentary privilege, so she can’t sue him – of making up a story about a teenage prostitute.
He made his comments about her during a debate on street prostitution.
She says the remarks were untrue and damaging and she wants an apology.
She has gone to Speaker Lockwood Smith who has agreed to give her a right of reply, which will be included in parliament’s official record, Hansard.
Brown said Hawkins’ comments were “untrue and damaging” but the decision to include her right of reply in Hansard helped restore her faith in democracy.
“This is an unusual step and it goes some way towards righting a wrong. I’ve been a tireless advocate for curbs on street prostitution and other anti-social behaviour in our city.”
So what did Hawkins say?
Alf must confess he had slipped out of the debating chamber for a snifter in Bellamys when the remarks were made, and hence he can not tell his constituents what they were.
But the SST says:
In a speech introducing Manukau City Council’s street prostitution bill, Hawkins said that Brown was someone who “does not do anything other than make up stories”, accusing her of inventing a 14-year-old prostitute called Holly in an article she wrote. Brown says the speech was clearly designed to undermine her.
Hawkins is refusing to back down, saying: “I’ve got one view and she’s got a different view.”
Despite knowing she will have her side of the story put on the official record, Brown is sticking to her demand for an apology in parliament from Hawkins.
She has received an apology of sorts from Manukau East MP Ross Robertson, who also made comments that rankled her, although she is
…upset that he described the incident as a “bit of fun”.
A bit of fun?
This tells us much about the Labour Party mindset.
They get their fun in very strange ways.
But what should we make of the SST’s coverage of this punchup that is not a punchup when we check out the account in the Manukau Courier?
At the Courier we learn that Hawkins used his speech introducing the Manukau City Council’s street prostitution bill to attack both Brown and ticket-mate Waina Emery, chairwoman of the Wiri Licensing Trust.
We also learn that Brown is a Labour Party member and that she and Emery have gone to Phil Goff to have Hawkins censured.
According to the Courier, Hawkins
… described Mrs Brown as someone who makes “a lot of noise” about street prostitution but does nothing. The Labour MP then cited her 2006 Manukau Courier article about “Holly”, a 14-year-old on the streets in Manurewa.
“The trouble with the article is that it is made up by Colleen Brown who does not do anything other than make up stories,” he told Parliament.
Borrowing a line from the article, Manukau East MP Ross Robertson then chipped in: “She wrings her hands.”
“Yes, she wrings her hands,” Mr Hawkins continued. “And this is a problem that needs far more support than that.”
A clearly upset Mrs Brown says the statements are “untrue and capable of damaging my reputation as an elected representative” on the eve of ballot papers going out to voters.
Brown reckons Hawkins’ remarks in Parliament were a deliberate attempt to destroy her reputation in Manurewa.
She says even correcting Hansard won’t wipe out the stain because the unedited record has been sent around Manurewa by email by Mr Hawkins’ ticket leader councillor Daniel Newman.
“This is serious, serious stuff because I’m standing for the local board and the district health board and the voting papers go out tomorrow,” Mrs Brown says.
“I utterly reject the assertion that I am lazy. I do not wring my hands. I have been a tireless advocate for curbs against street prostitution and other forms of anti-social behaviour in Manukau city.”
She’s on the council’s working party on street prostitution, has lobbied ministers and Parliament and worked with the council to improve security in areas of Manurewa with street prostitutes.
She also says Hawkins’ attack has “trampled on the mana of our bill” and polarises the community at a time when elected representatives need to be working together…
When she warbles about the mana of a bit of legislation, she loses Alf’s sympathy and would certainly lose his vote were she standing for election to a local body in his neck of the woods.
Hawkins remarks about Emery – by the way – raise a different issue, the question of alcohol sales. Further details can be found in the aforementioned Manukau Courier report.
Suffice to say the Manurewa Maori Wardens Association has jumped to the defence of both women “known for their tireless work in the community”.
Dammit, Alf is almost starting to feel sorry for poor old George.