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John MacDonald: Chris Bishop - the leopard who changed his spots

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Fri, 1 Dec 2023, 1:32pm
Photo / File
Photo / File

John MacDonald: Chris Bishop - the leopard who changed his spots

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Fri, 1 Dec 2023, 1:32pm

Do you think a leopard can change its spots? I think it can. The Labour Party, though, doesn’t.

Which is why it has come out with what I would rate as the second-most hysterical reaction to the new government’s plan to do away with aspects of our smokefree laws.

So Labour decided last year that anyone born after 2008 would never be able to buy cigarettes and tobacco legally. So anyone 14 and younger right now.

But the new government’s getting rid of that. And, as I’ve been saying, I think it’s shameful and unforgivable. And the headlines around the world haven’t been all that favourable, either.

But I think our left-wing politicians, in their reaction and comments, have taken things a bit too far.

The number one spot for most hysterical reaction has to go to Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, who is accusing the National/ACT/NZ First government of "deliberate, systemic genocide".

So that takes out the top spot.

Number two, though, is what Labour is saying. Specifically, it’s comments about National’s Chris Bishop.

Labour’s getting all excited saying, because he used to work for a tobacco company, he’s nothing but a sympathiser for those nasty outfits that make the cancer sticks. They reckon that he is one leopard who cannot change his spots.

A bit of background: back in the day, after qualifying as a lawyer and working in Gerry Brownlee’s office for a while, he went on the payroll at multi-national tobacco company Philip Morris, where he worked as a lobbyist.

And some of the stuff he did on behalf of Philip Morris, was lobby against plans to increase the excise tax on tobacco and lobby against plans to have cigarettes and tobacco wrapped in plain packaging.

Which, perhaps, shows he was pretty hopeless at that job and he’s better doing what he’s doing now. Because cigarettes and tobacco are taxed to the roof and the plain packaging is everywhere. So, maybe if Labour was really cruel, they’d be calling him a “failed lobbyist”.

So, when National chose him as its candidate in Hutt South in 2014, he had to go on the defensive. Saying his work for a tobacco outfit didn’t define him as a person.

At the time, he said: "Tobacco is a legal industry. It's controversial, but companies are entitled to legal and corporate representation and that's what I was doing."

He went on to say: "Two years at Philip Morris doesn't define me. I've done lots of other things in my life, both community development and working in a range of organisations and people should look at my whole CV."

The voters in his electorate obviously agreed. And, fast-forward to today, the former tobacco company lobbyist is the new Minister of Sport and Recreation - among other things.

Ayesha Verral, though - Labour’s health spokesperson - she doesn’t buy it. And she reckons there’s no way Chris Bishop is a different man from when he was on the payroll at Philip Morris trying to keep the colourful packaging and trying to protect smokers from more taxes on the ciggies.

This is what she’s saying: “When you make moral decisions as a politician, your background does influence them, and we know Chris Bishop is from a background where he has represented tobacco interests before.”

And she says he is bound to be “more sympathetic to the tobacco industry than others”.

My response to that is, “nonsense”. The only reason the Government is making these changes to the smokefree legislation, is so it can form a government with the Marlborough Man.

And I am in no doubt that, if this change wasn’t required to get a coalition deal, National wouldn’t be doing it. I’m also in no doubt that Chris Bishop’s old job as a lobbyist for the tobacco industry doesn’t make him a sympathiser for the tobacco industry.

Just like if someone’s a lawyer - it does that make them a sympathiser for criminals. And even if Chris Bishop was all in favour of smoking back in the day and if he did genuinely believe, at the time, that tobacco companies and smokers were being treated unfairly, it doesn't mean he thinks that way now.

That’s because I’m prepared not to define someone or base my perception of them on what opinions or beliefs they might have had in the past. Or what work they might have done in the past. But what about you?

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