Editorial: Honour choices must be credible

MICHAEL CUMMINGS
Last updated 13:51 02/01/2014

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OPINION: The knighthood bestowed on former Christchurch mayor Bob Parker has bitterly divided public opinion, particularly in the city he once led, and raises important questions about New Zealand's honours system.

Sir Bob was made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to local body affairs and the community in the New Year honours.

The reaction among the Christchurch community has been fierce, with social media and the comment sections on online news sites revealing many are aghast at the decision to bestow one of the nation's highest honours on the former mayor.

At the very least, the knighthood seems premature. It's accepted that as the public face of the disaster response following Christchurch's devastating earthquakes, Sir Bob did a stellar job. A former television presenter and a gifted communicator, he was a calm, reassuring face in the aftermath of the disaster.

His leadership of the Christchurch City Council since that time, however, is far more questionable. The organisation became mired in acrimony and dysfunction and, facing the strong prospect of defeat at the hands of mayoral challenger Lianne Dalziel, Sir Bob decided not to seek a third term last year.

History might be a kinder judge than Sir Bob's many critics, but for now his legacy is a murky one.

While debate about whether New Zealand should retain a titular honours system is healthy, the fact of the matter is we have one and while we do it must be seen as credible in the eyes of the public. There will always be public discussion about the worthiness of those recognised in the Queen's Birthday and New Year honours. However, the decisions should not be so contentious that large swathes of the public fiercely disagree with them. The knighthood bestowed on Sir Bob clearly falls into that category.

However unkind or unfair their assessment may be, a significant number of people view the decision as ridiculous, which undermines the credibility of the entire honours system.

In the fullness of time, after Christchurch has got back on its feet and its road to recovery can be looked back on and assessed, the role Bob Parker played might be seen as pivotal to its renaissance.

For now though, he is a polarising figure whose place in the history of one of New Zealand's most important events remains opaque. Until what he has achieved becomes clearer, it is impossible to determine what accolades he deserves, if he deserves any at all.

ONE MORE THING

How about those Black Caps? Say what you like about them, but the devastating display they put on against the West Indies yesterday shows what they are capable of when it all comes together.

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