August 2021 was a time when a form of mass hysteria swept through the halls of New Zealand’s parliament. The psychologists prefer to use the term ‘mass psychogenic illness’.
This episode began with the Green Party.
They had begun to resent a portrait of Sir Winston Churchill that hung outside the entrance to the corridor that leads to their offices. Not because it was a bad portrait. In fact, it was a very good likeness. They resented it because of the man it depicted.
Now most people remember Churchill as the man who stood up to fascism when others just caved in. Not only did he stand up to Hitler but after a torrid five years beat him and preserved freedom and democracy in Europe.
But the Greens have other memories of Churchill. They remember the man who was undoubtedly a racist with a strong Victorian belief in Anglo Saxon protestant superiority. Perhaps they also resented him for his contribution to the 1943 Bengal famine that saw two million people starve to death. He had Australian wheat bypass India for Europe and insisted India continued to export rice to fuel the war effort.
Judith Collins was incensed and found it deeply offensive. Having just told her party faithful at the National Party conference that she and her team would not be distracted and be focussing on the matters that matter, she took this one by the throat and had her way with it.
She claimed the Churchill painting for National and had it sent to their floor. The problem being that they had no room on the walls for such a fine piece.
Something had to go.
Stuart Smith pointed with a long accusing finger at the Colin McCahon painting in their foyer with the word Aotearoa written across the width of the canvass. He said he didn’t have an objection to the name itself but that it was crooked, and each letter was written in a different colour. He reckoned he could have done it himself. He also complained bitterly how Labour had sneakily put the word Aotearoa onto his passport until Tim van de Molen pointed out that it was John Key who did that.
However, his colleagues agreed that it should be replaced by the Churchill painting.
The Maori Party were incensed. Maori had been using the name Aotearoa for centuries and besides admired a good colour scheme. Rawiri Waititi personally went down to the National Party foyer and collected the McCahon himself. On his return, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer looked at the painting covered walls in the Maori Party vestibule and reckoned the Dick Frizzel ‘Mickey To Tiki Tu Meke’ had to go immediately. The cultural appropriation by this Pakeha artist rubbed salt into the suppurating wounds of our pain as a people.
Jacinda Ardern was incensed. Dick Frizzel is a national taonga and that work one of the most iconic images of the nation. She sent Kieran McAnulty immediately down to retrieve the piece for the ninth floor.
Again, the walls were covered but a photograph had always rankled with Labour types. A beaming Jim Bolger was enthusiastically pumping Nelson Mandela’s hand. Not many years earlier he had been in the cabinet of Muldoon that had supported the apartheid regime by breaking the Gleneagles agreement. It was taken down.
Act’s David Seymour was incensed. He said this was appalling given the photo was of one of the greatest figures of the 20th century. People were surprised until they realised, he was talking about Mandela. He sent his MP that even he couldn’t remember the name of to retrieve the framed photograph.
Meanwhile in the debating chamber, the government passed two pieces of legislation while the opposition were doing their interior decorating.