Parliamentary politics is often viewed as something of a circus, and if what goes on in Wellington doesn't quite qualify yet, should it sink to that level any time soon, there's a sideshow already running to help members of the House feel at home.
The ongoing saga of ACC Minister Judith Collins and her attempts to sue Labour MPs Trevor Mallard and Andrew Little over comments she said defamed her, in relation to the recent ACC privacy breach, has become nothing short of farcical. To the point that one is forced to wonder what possible positive purpose it can now serve for either party.
Not that the right of Ms Collins to take action in response to a perceived slight on her reputation should be questioned, but it must be proving an unwelcome distraction for her party, the needs of which surely outweigh her own. It's hardly been a smooth recent ride for National.The editorial questions the wisdom of Collins' actions in suing Mallard and Little, but it also condemns the Labour pair.
Certainly Messrs Mallard and Little have contributed to the farcical nature of this process. Having undertaken to make life as difficult as possible for those charged with serving legal papers on them, they have helped to set off a game of cat and mouse that has reached ridiculous proportions.
The latest episode came yesterday when Mr Mallard said he was served papers by an elderly woman, purportedly a victim of poor hospital treatment, on whose behalf an appointment had been arranged with him.
"She pulled out the papers and told me I was served and I said `thank you very much' and took a photo of her," Mr Mallard said. He then posted the picture on his Twitter account, ensuring extensive media coverage.There's a distinction to be drawn between what is legally permissible and what is politically wise. Collins may well be entitled to sue Mallard and Little for defamation, and one can only assume someone in her legal team thinks she has a winnable case. If this is not the case, and if her case is legally as doomed as it seems to this non-expert in defamation law, then Collins' only hope may be to pressure her opponents into settling with her before the matter goes to court. The statements made by Mallard and Little to date suggest there is no realistic prospect of a settlement any time soon.
Politically this seems like a high risk venture for Collins. If she loses her credibility will be shot, and her opponents will never stop gloating.
But what of Mallard and Little? Are they wrong to have evaded the document servers for so long? Certainly not legally: they were entitled to make Collins' people work hard to serve them.
Nor am I convinced that politically it is as bad a look as the Timaru Herald seems to indicate. If you're faced with a daft lawsuit that appears to be motivated by spite, why should you co-operate with the plaintiff at all? If the actions of Mallard and Little achieve anything, they are to highlight how ludicrous Collins' suit is.
The usual suspects on the right have pinned the blame on Mallard and Little, without questioning why Collins is engaging in this behaviour. Some of the commentary on sites like Kiwiblog about Mallard and Little make what the two Labour MPs said about Collins appear very tame indeed. Those who serially defame should probably not be so eager to see politicians sue over perceived reputational slights.