Mike's Editorial: An awfully high price for calling someone honey

Mike Hosking,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 18 November 2014, 8:58a.m.
Roger Sutton (Getty Images)
Roger Sutton (Getty Images)

Just for the record so we can save ourselves the letters of complaint and the misconstrued outrage driven by those not hearing exactly what I am saying, I don’t for one moment condone any sort of weird, odd, unacceptable, strange, old world, dumb, inappropriate behaviour towards women in the workplace. Further, I don’t know the ins and outs of what Roger Dutton did or didn’t do at the CERA offices.

What I can say with some confidence is whatever it was, it appeared at the less serious end of the spectrum. What I know for a fact is it wasn’t serious enough to warrant a sacking. He seems to have admitted using words like honey and sweetie, which strike me as old world and tragic kind of terms in the modern workplace.

But if that’s it, can we make the argument that whoever the complainant or complainants are they have caused a great deal of harm over what I strongly suspect for many would be dismissed as misguided behaviour if not the silly musings, meanderings or mistakes of a bloke who in reality meant no real harm.

The whole problem with this debate is that we have become so sensitive to such matters, anyone second guesses themselves if not third guesses themselves before saying anything at all.

In offering up any sort of backing or defence for Roger Sutton, you lay yourself open to the charge of being a Neanderthal or luddite or a misogynist when no such intent is meant. In offering up anything but whole hearted support to women who are mistreated or allegedly mistreated in any way, you are exposed for potentially being an example of exactly the sort of pond scum that they’re trying to wipe out of the workplace.

What I suspect has happened here is that Roger has said some things he regrets, but in saying them he meant nothing by them. He is clearly one of those touchy feely, expressive, open, jokey kind of blokes. A larger than life figure that (let’s be frank) normally doesn’t prosper in the public sector.

He’s worked extremely hard in a thankless job that really is more about community contribution than it is your traditional corporate role. He was an inspired choice given he’d run the power company Orion successfully, was widely known, widely liked, and was of a very few who realistically could have taken such a huge job on and made any real progress.

It was critical they got someone good, someone trustworthy and local. The Government played the same card in appointing Gerry Brownlee to oversee the rebuild. Love or hate the guy, he’s local and he’s lived through it. Sutton fitted the same category.

Anyway, he’s slogged his guts out, taken pile of heat given the nature of his job then this comes along. My bet is he sat down and thought “who needs this, life is too short”.

He could have stuck it out. The report didn’t sack him and he’s apologised profusely. I think most people would have accepted he meant it. He could have battled through and put it behind him, but who needs all that crap?

I fully get why he’s done what he has. The great sadness is CERA and therefore Christchurch and the rebuild has lost a very good operator and that is a very large gap to fill.

Whoever the complainants are, I can only hope they feel they got what they wanted. But if they wanted a head on a plate, that’s an awfully high price to pay for calling someone honey.

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