Thursday, February 22, 2024

Simon Says What!? Don’t You Dare Speak For Us: A Message to My MP, Simon O’Connor

Kelly Bertrand reminds her Member of Parliament, Simon O’Connor, who truly holds the power in New Zealand – the voters – and gives a little lesson in faith, belief and hell – that hath no fury like a woman pissed off.


I don’t have to tell you that this weekend sucked to be a woman.

You were there. You were enjoying Matariki. You felt the pain of millions of women thousands of kilometres away as they grappled with the very unravelling of their fundamental freedoms and right to choose what happens to their own bodies as the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade.

You no doubt thought, ‘F***, what if that was me’ at least one time as hypothetical scenarios were discussed, and old white religious men took it upon themselves to positively fizz with power and control – because that’s what this is. Power, control and fear. If this were about ‘saving lives’, we’d be talking about gun control, paid parental leave and social policy. Instead, we’re entering what could very well be the first chapter of The Handmaid’s Tale.

People kept saying, ‘Well, this doesn’t affect us in New Zealand. And we have to say, ‘well, no’ At least, not yet. But we’re women standing with women, and that should be reason enough. And the thing is, we’re actually not immune from the bullshit in New Zealand, as my Member of Parliament illustrated so strongly this weekend.

As a woman, I’m gutted. As a constituent of the Tāmaki electorate, I’m furious. And Simon O’Connor, you have a lot of explaining (or resigning?) to do.

“Today is a good day” he posted to his public (work) social media profiles, including the very boomer treatment of using one of those tacky backgrounds with red love hearts and bold fonts which honestly, in itself, is grounds for a resignation (ok not really but can we all talk to the boomers in our lives about this?!)

The Simon O’Connor public Facebook post, which has since been removed.

As a well-recognised conservative and religious member of the National Party, Simon O’Connor’s stance on abortion is no shock or surprise. He voted against decriminalising abortion along with so many of his colleagues, and when the bill passed, he made a truly horrific speech in parliament which he ended with the Latin phrase: ‘Mihi vindicta: ego retribuam, dicit Dominus’.

It means ‘Revenge is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’.

It also means, ‘When you can’t win an argument with reason, resort to striking the fear of God into any of those impressionable enough to listen’.

While you might love a bit of vengeance in your personal life, I don’t think it really goes with politics. And, the man clearly needs a refresher on New Zealand’s Bill of Rights. We are a secular country and we’ve never had an official religion. Church and state have always been separate, and as revealed in the latest census,’ the majority of us (53.3%) have no religion, with 46.7% claiming to follow a religion – of course, this is made up of dozens of different religions, not just Christianity, which sits at 34.4%.

Of course, everyone is free to believe what they want to believe and follow whatever religions and values that make up their own personal moral compass. Most of us have been influenced by religion one way or another, that’s true. My grandfather, a non-religious Freemason surrounded by the bonds of deep Christianity, always espoused liberty, equality, fraternity and solidarity. Growing up, some of my closest friends practiced Zoroastrianism – good thoughts, good words, good deeds.

All good stuff. Personally, I’ve always looked at religion with a little bemusement and a little apprehension, but it seems like most of them all share the same principle – don’t be a dick, and all will be well. Christianity especially has some deep explaining to do, and they don’t do themselves any favours with their current PR (check out David Farrier’s excellent reporting on evangelical churches here).

The issue we run into with Simon O’Connor and his actions, words and deeds is that he, rather than being a public servant as he was elected to do, served only himself with his offensive and narrow-minded post that he knew would offend many (which, although I’m no politics expert, just seems like a dumb thing to do?)

No one is arguing that people shouldn’t have an opinion on these topics – in order to be a functioning society, we need to acknowledge different thoughts and beliefs and we need to participate in conversations around them, however uncomfortable these may be.

What you don’t have the right to do, as O’Connor has clearly forgotten in a haze of personal rhapsodising, is that you don’t have the right to foster that on others. ESPECIALLY when your literal job is to be a community’s voice.

So, Simon O’Connor, you were elected to represent your community – my community – not preach from a self-indulgent pulpit to an electorate of people, the majority of whom, statistics show, don’t share your beliefs. Simple, right Simon?

We care about car break ins, fixing up the local park and for the love of God, while we’re on the subject, can someone (you) please sort out the wastewater overflows into the beaches.

That’s your job. Not speaking for me about a topic you know nothing about, or ever will know anything about because you will NEVER be in a position to have an abortion. Or, I can put it into a language you might understand a little better:

“He that hath not a uterus should shut the fucketh up” – Fallopians, 19:73.

Everyone can believe what they want. Don’t like abortions? Don’t have one. But you certainly don’t get to take that right away from anyone else, who might not (probably doesn’t) believe in the same moral compass as you. Full stop. End of discussion.

Trust and believe that reaction on the electorate’s various community Facebook pages was swift and severe, with many National voters, men and women, commenting that their future vote had been lost.

Now, while it’s no secret that I swing left when it comes to politics, this isn’t a Labour/National thing – case in point, our Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta criticising the Roe v Wade decision, despite the fact she voted against decriminalising abortion in New Zealand. A true insult to our intelligence and our memory.

In my former life as the deputy editor of New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, I often got the job of interviewing politicians when they needed a bit of ‘soft media’ (ALWAYS during an election year – they don’t want to know you at any other time, trust me).

In the space of a week I interviewed the-then Prime Minister, Bill English, as well as then Leader of the Opposition Jacinda Ardern. While it wasn’t my job to agree or disagree with anything they were pushing politically, I was interested to know their responses to the same questions. Of course being the Weekly we as a magazine weren’t exactly concerned with economic or foreign policies (could you IMAGINE), but social issues were a big on that our readers wanted to know about. While Jacinda’s answers were a no-brainer when it came to things such as LGBT+ rights, women’s issues and abortion, I was curious about what Bill, a committed Catholic, would say.

It was along the lines of ”Kelly, I have my views on matters. But I am Prime Minister of all New Zealand, and it’s my job to represent them, so my views are irrelevant when it comes to what’s best for the country.”

I went away from both chats still knowing exactly who I would be voting for, but pretty content in the fact that two decent people who genuinely cared about Aotearoa – in different ways – were keen to lead the country the best way they knew how, without trampling on anyone else’s rights or freedoms.

It’s also what National leader Christopher Luxon, who is also ‘pro-life’ tried to repeat when ordered Simon O’Connor to delete his Facebook post, as it “caused distress and does not represent the position of the National Party”. He also took the opportunity to clarify that if he becomes Prime Minister, our current abortion laws will not be revisited. However, he is still a leader that refused to answer when asked if he thought abortion was murder.

But in my reporting I did my job, and represented my readers – a huge cross section of New Zealand society who at the time numbered more than 600,000 a week – fairly, accurately and without bias. It was about the people as much as the politics, and what is politics if it’s not humanity?

I’m embarrassed to have Simon O’Connor as my MP (trust me, I didn’t vote for him) and if the collective grapevines of the community are to be believed, so is most of the electorate.

New Zealand is simply a far too pragmatic and sensible place for such nonsense and arrogance. Remember, this is about power, not people. And politicians need to remember that it’s us that give them that power, and that we can just as easily take it away. Personal views are welcome – just not on a stage where it’s your literal job to represent the people who gave you the position of power in the first place.

That is a betrayal of faith in the highest degree.

And when it comes to the next election, I ask you, Simon to remember this quote: ‘Revenge is mine, I will repay, says the Voter’.

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