Military background differs to politics
Routinely, the far north produces larger-than-life political personalities, and Northland’s new National MP, Mike Sabin, seems no exception.
At 43, he’s already enjoyed careers in the armed services, police and with his own methamphetamine abuse prevention firm, Methcon.
That experience however, has all been within strongly hierarchical organisations. Does Sabin think his past careers have prepared him for the horsetrading and compromise that’s basic to MMP politics?
Fair comment, Sabin replies. The way he sees it though, his driving passion has been all about service.
‘‘That’s what being in the military and in the Police, and even Methcon, was all about. Those can be considered uncompromising environments. But that doesn’t describe my personality traits, if you like.’’
So what does – did he, for instance, vote for MMP in last year’s referendum? No, he certainly did not.
In his view, politics isn’t some utopian environment where different sorts sit around and dis- cuss things fashion.
‘‘Politics is very hierarchical and adversarial. Not that I’m suggesting that’s a good thing. But while the art of compromise is important, you can also get the tyranny of the minority, by way of MMP.
‘‘ We’ve seen many, many examples of how people who have a minimal mandate can actually have quite an extreme degree of power.’’
Sabin got his first taste of the heat in the political kitchen while chairing a recent public meeting in Kaitaia about children at risk.
It transpired that a local Maori trust board had been rapped over the knuckles for using some of its funds to feed hungry children at five schools in Kaitaia.
Sabin warned the meeting that if schools provided lunches, then mothers and fathers would never have to do it.
When it was pointed out that some parents were spending their money on pokies instead, Sabin reportedly replied: ‘‘ We have to investigate that, other-
collegial wise we’ll have 50,000 more parents who are not feeding their children.’’
Really? It seems hard to imagine the prospect of a free lunch would trigger a nationwide abdication of parental care.
Surely, I asked, you feed the hungry child first, and then address the cause?
Sabin sticks to his guns. This situation isn’t a community or government responsibility, he believes, but a parental one.
And when some parents aren’t meeting it? No problem, he claims. ‘‘If you go down to Winz, you get these food parcels. There’s any manner of ways in which you can get emergency food to assist a child.’’
Whoever is in authority then has to get on to those parents.
As a parent, Sabin has not been insulated from personal tragedy. In 2010, his teenage son Darryl suffered brain damage from a rugby field encounter.
Initially, Darryl’s prognosis was dim, but today? ‘‘Aside from some weakness in his right leg and right arm, he’s the same kid that he was before his accident.’’
The incident has led Sabin to advocate for a database of sports head injuries, one managed by the referees or by someone else independent of the coaches and players – mainly, to counter the dangerous bravado of treating a head knock and getting up again as being just a rite of manhood.
‘‘We’ve got to think about better ways to manage risk,’’ Sabin says.
In rugby, and in society at large.