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Support arrives for Act MP Garrett

Published: 8:28AM Tuesday September 14, 2010 Source: ONE News/NZPA

Revelations that an Act MP pushing for tougher punishment for criminals has a conviction for assault has dealt another blow to a party described as being in its death throes.

It has emerged that David Garrett, the Act MP wanting the three-strikes legislation, has a 2002 conviction for assaulting the head of psychiatry at Tonga Hospital.

The conviction allegedly followed a brawl with the Tongan doctor over the man's ex-wife.

The doctor was also charged with assault over the incident and paid a $100 fine.

Garrett, who owned a legal practice in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, at the time, paid a $10 fine.

The revelation of Garrett's conviction comes after Act MP Heather Roy was last month dumped as the party's deputy leader after describing Hide as an intimidating bully in a dossier leaked to the media. She also lost her two ministerial portfolios.

ONE News political editor Guyon Espiner told Breakfast today that the revelation is just another headache for the Act Party.

"They really are in a death rattle I think. Everywhere you look it's disaster and division and just a reminder of the quality of the people that Rodney Hide brought with him on the list," he said.

Espiner said Act seems to be dysfunctional and he can't see them lasting in any meaningful form beyond the next election.

Support for Garrett

But Kim Workman, from the group Rethinking Crime and Punishment, said Garrett should be left alone.

David Garretts conviction is well and truly in the past. He deserves a chance to demonstrate that he is a law abiding person, and can fully discharge his obligations  as a Member of Parliament," Workman said. 

There are thousands of New Zealanders who have been convicted of a single act of violence, who have moved on to make a valuable contribution to society.   

Garrett said that 40% of Maori men over the age of 15 years, have either been to prison, or served a community-based sentence. 

"I know a lot of those people, and today they are serving the community as pastors, social workers, business people, academics, and  tribal leaders," Workman said.

We must do away with the idea that one or two convictions should mark a  person for life. Instead of stigmatising them well into the future, we should be holding them accountable for their behaviour, and supporting their efforts to lead lawful lives. 

Past troubles

Garrett entered parliament in 2008 and was in trouble last year for making lewd comments to a woman staff member in parliament.

He said then that what was acceptable in a Tongan law firm might not be acceptable in parliament.

After the Tongan conviction revelation, Espiner said: "This would be pretty much three strikes and you're out, I would have thought.

"Why didn't he reveal this earlier? I mean it's about control of information. It always looks a lot worse if you're sprung - someone rumbles you and you have to be defending it. Why didn't he get up on his maiden speech and say 'I've been a rough diamond'... and be up front with it."

And Espiner said if Garrett had disclosed the incident to party leader Rodney Hide he should have given that advice.

Espiner also said he would have thought that the generally well-educated and well-off people Act has preached to would be deserting the party in droves.

Garrett said last night that he was appealing the conviction. In a statement, he said that in 2002 he was attacked outside a bar by the head of psychiatry at Tonga Hospital, Mapa Puloka.

"Dr Puloka hit me once from behind, breaking my jaw in two places," Garrett said.

He was treated in Middlemore Hospital and subsequently laid a complaint with Tongan police.

"(Dr Puloka) then made a complaint about me and claimed that, after he hit me, I broke loose from a bouncer and hit him in the eye, causing damage."

Garrett said that was not true.

Hide said he knew about Garrett's conviction before he stood at the 2008 election.

"He explained the circumstances, they seemed perfectly reasonable to me. David Garrett is a person that's had rough background, he worked on the oil rigs for 10 years.

"Anyone can turn their life around," Hide said.

"What I judge David Garrett on is his performance as a parliamentarian, he's been outstanding."