Paulo Politico - Worth’s Egypt Antics Defy Belief!

Published: Tue 29 Oct 2002 10:04 AM
Paulo Politico - Richard Worth’s Egypt Antics Defy Belief
National MP Richard Worth was selected to represent the opposition to mark the commemoration of the Battle of El Alamein. But during a commemorative service to reflect on the feats of the 28th Maori Battalion, Worth (who happens to be National’s spokesperson on Defence and Veterans’ issues) decided to indulge in a spot of sightseeing.
As part of an official delegation, Worth’s airfares were paid for. The trip was free for him. For the average punter the equivalent trip would have cost several thousand dollars.
The purpose of the trip was to remember the feats of those people who fought in the Allied campaign against the German and Italian armies in North Africa during WWII. Thousands of young New Zealanders departed our shores and travelled half way around the world. They fought to repel the Axis forces seeking to march in the Egyptian capital and the Suez Canal to the east.
Thousands of New Zealanders fought in that campaign. Several thousand New Zealanders died. Many more were either injured or captured.
But the Allied armies did win. They broke through the Axis lines and eventually forced Rommel’s armies to retreat. Those young New Zealand soldiers were instrumental in smashing through enemy lines in North Africa. General Bernard Montgomery described those soldiers as some of the best and most determined in the Allied armies.
The 60th anniversary of that famous battle was a time to remember. The young men who went away to fight six decades ago shed blood for their country.
Today the survivors of that campaign are not young men. They are old veterans. No more blood is shed. Now those men shed tears for the horrors of war, and remember their mates who did not return.
Prime Minister Helen Clark knew the value of their contribution long before she departed to participate in the commemorative services that were held in the Egyptian desert. She travelled to Egypt and she paid respect to the fallen and remembered their feats in defence of our freedom.
Labour MP David Cunliffe too travelled to Egypt. He too participated in the commemorative services to remember the fallen. I take my hat off to him for donning that dark suit and attending those services in the middle of the hot and arid desert.
The same cannot be said for the hapless Mr Worth. During a commemorative service to reflect on the feats of the 28th Maori Battalion, Worth (who happens to be National’s spokesperson on Defence and Veterans’ issues) decided to indulge in a spot of sightseeing.
Instead of reflecting on the sacrifices of those brave young soldiers who fought and died for their country, the National MP apparently rode a camel and visited a museum. Instead of showing respect for the efforts of soldiers who helped to inflict the first land-based defeat on the Axis forces, Worth apparently visited pyramids scattered around Cairo.
When confronted about his no-show at the service Worth belatedly stated that he was speaking to people about “Egyptian extremism”. Yeah right!
Only the most insensitive and foolhardy politician could possible overlook the importance of attending a memorial service to commemorate the sacrifices of New Zealand soldiers abroad. Only the most arrogant of politicians could offer such a feeble excuse for his or her no-show.
Bill English has absolutely no credibility either. Rather than publicly reprimanding his insensitive colleague, English has instead remained silent. That sends a very clear signal to our large veteran community throughout the whole the country.
English’s message to those people: “I will defend Mr Worth’s right to forgo a service in remembrance of the soldiers of the 28th Maori Battalion in favour of a ride on the back of a camel”.
It was left of English’s deputy Roger Sowry to privately caution Worth. Upon his return to New Zealand, Worth belatedly issued a statement apologising to those veterans who took offence. Interestingly enough Worth said he had nothing further to say about the whole sorry episode.
Well I’m sorry about that’s not actually the end of the matter.
National has long regarded defence and national security as its own issues. The inference being that National is more sensitive to the expectations of the average New Zealand voter in these areas of public policy.
Over its first three years in opposition, National has worked tirelessly to demonstrate that it – not Labour – is qualified to design and implement policies affecting national security, and more aware of the needs of the New Zealand Defence Forces.
National has traversed the country and issued countless media statements, which outline its position on things like the capability of the airforce. It has tried to score numerous political points of defence issues.
But all that has been exposed as a sham, this time by it’s own defence spokesperson. What Worth (and presumably English) fail to realise is that New Zealand’s contribution to defence at home and service abroad has never been based around our superior high-tech capability. It has been, and continues to be based around the service of military personnel who risk their lives in some of the most dangerous situations. And so it was 60 years ago in the deserts of North Africa.
That lack of comprehension makes Worth’s failure to show respect for the deeds of the 28th Maori Battalion so reprehensible. Those soldiers, all those years ago, travelled thousands of miles away for little New Zealand, to fight arguably the most fearsome military machine of the time. Those New Zealand soldiers fought, and they prevailed.
Richard Worth was given the chance of a lifetime. He was given the opportunity to travel to Egypt to do what so many of us with given anything to do – pay respect to the fallen soldiers who gave their lives so that we might live in freedom. Unfortunately upon arriving in North Africa, Worth decided that going for a joy ride on the back of a camel was preferable to paying homage to the fallen soldiers who died at El Alamein.
On behalf of all self respecting and thoughtful New Zealanders, let me take this opportunity to thank the men and women who have risked their lives in defence of their country. May I note my thank those soldiers who fought in El Alamein, and remember those brave young men who did not return.
Most importantly may I take this opportunity to apologise for the antics of one Richard Worth MP, National’s insensitive, clumsy and blundering spokesperson on defence, who chose a leisurely bit of sightseeing in preference to a commemorative service to mark the deeds and sacrifices of the 28th Maori Battalion.
We are truly sorry.

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