Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 2. 7th March 1973
Rupert Bear — The Right Man for Wellington Central?
The Right Man for Wellington Central?
Ken Comber, Wellington Central's new National Member of Parliament, has something in common with university students. On the wall of his parliamentary office he has hung a copy of "Desiderata", a document found in St Paul's Church, Baltimore, in 1692."It reads in part: "Be on good terms with all persons, speak your truth quietly and clearly. Listen to others".
Last session, like many other new candidates, he could be seen quietly around parliament buildings doing just this; speaking to his father-in-law, Sir Keith Holyoake, or wedged in the public gallery among parties of inky-fingered fourth form schoolgirls.
Since being sworn in on February 14, he has remained almost as unobtrusive. Few words have passed his lips in the house, but he is planning to give notice of motion on the Aboriginal league team. He has also submitted one written question to the order paper. Ken Comber has been placed on two parliamentary select committees (petitions, and commerce and mining) and two caucus committees (community services and social affairs). He delivered his maiden speech last Thursday. But this is all understandable for a member who holds his seat by a precarious 27 votes and while it is still a matter of legal dispute as to who will finally hold Wellington Central.
"I Won Fair And Square"
Ken Comber's entry into politics wasn't as many suppose, a whim conceived with the hope of cashing in on being the son-in-law of Sir Keith Holyoake. "I've been interested in politics for 12 years. Since 1961 when I joined the staff of the Counties Association I started getting involved in political life. Being Sir Keith's son-in-law has made it harder for me in politics. People are saying 'you'll never measure up to Sir Keith', he says. Asked if people had actually expressed dislike of him because of his relationship to Sir Keith, Ken Comber says "I had a sense of this quietly bubbling, but it was not obvious. There was a feeling amongst some people that I was just cashing in. But I know in my own mind I won the Wellington Central national candidacy fair and square".
"Much As I Like And Want My Rugby.."
Although Ken Comber says he can imagine crossing the floor on some issues "that's our right" he's almost certain not to exercise this right on the Springbok Tour issue, in the most unlikely event of this ever coming to a vote in parliament. "I support our party's stance on the tour", he says. Questioned on the possibility of the armed forces being called in, he says, "No-one would enjoy the tour under these conditions, much as I like and want my rugby. But I sincerely regret that this situations has arisen. The Springboks should be seen as a representative team from the while South African Rugby Board. The only thing wrong is that they are seen as representing all groups".
Ken Comber denies a rumour that he resigned in January 1972 from the Wellington Rugby Football Union management committee because of the committee's refusal to state its policy on the tour. "Nothing could be further from the truth", he says. "I told the Chairman, Jack Taylor, I would like to opt out of further nomination. This was for personal reasons, mainly because I was contemplating a change of occupation, and this was not becoming an M.P."
Available To Students
There are stones that Comber won much of his support at the selection meeting for the stand he dook on demonstrators, a stand he still holds today. He comes out with the "demonstrator formula" which has proved [unclear: popular] with members on both sides of the house. "While it is important for people to have their say — they have to be careful that they are not denying the democratic rights of others. I wouldn't bow to a situation if I didn't believe in it. The people of Wellington Central should know that even though I represent the interests of students, I'm not going to pander to their whims if I don't believe in them.
However, I am as available to university students as I am to anyone else in the constituency"
Would Smoke A Reefer
On other policy issues Ken Comber's attitude reflects the party line, although he says "I have not once been told or directed by any officer or party leader that I should adopt any set line". he accepts the party policy but within that framework stresses "I've had no direction since I became a candidate".
Ken Comber says he has no objection to women's liberation but he would not support abortion law reform. "I would, however, support more extensive family planning within the framework of religious views. "Family planning is essential, more so than ever before. I am a great believer in the family unit, but it is coming under increasing pressure". He does not favour capital punishment and believes that to cope with crime problems "you've got to start back in the family".
More money should be spent on drug research and rehabilitation. "You can't turn your back and close your eyes". admitting he is confused by conflicting medical opinion, "Everything I read concludes something different", he says he is now trying to look at it from the point of view of the harm drugs cause in the community. "I've got an open mind on this. If I could be convinced by the medical profession that there is no harm then I would like to see further investigation. If I was put onto a committee to investigate this, I suppose it would be the natural thing for members of that committee to smoke a reefer to find out for themselves."
For a candidate standing in a major metropolitan area with housing and transport problems, Ken Comber's pre-election publicity certainly didn't highlight these matters. In this respect Comber's publicity men may have done him a disservice. They sent out tangerine pamphlets with photos of him looking more like a rather grim Rupert Bear than a man you'd want to vote for. There he was discussing "matters of mutual interest" with Prime Minister Marshall and the M.P. for Miramar, Bill Young. And there he was again posed in a most uncomfortable position on a chair reading to his three children. But the words on the pamphlet held out a little more hope - Comber's approach to politics would "I inject new blood into the heart of Wellington". Well, here's hoping....
Several people who attended an election meeting addressed by Ken Comber in October were rather surprised at his confusion over the 1955 Tenancy Act. "In the heat of the meeting I was confused on the matter. I am certainly going to acquaint myself more with this field", he says. "I shall press for more and cheaper finance for the city council urban renewal programme and pensioner flats". Labour's plan to buy old houses and rent them as state houses would "not add one unit to the housing stock of Wellington. But I will reserve judgement on this until I see the plan in action". Ken Comber believes that having gone this far, the motorway should go right through to Mt Vic. Tunnel. However he doubts that Wellington could ever afford the personal hardship, or finance, for another one. He sees public transport as a service which should not have to be profit-making. He supports the principle behind a Regional Transport Authority which would spread costs of Wellington City transport throughout the region. Comber does not like the idea of private motorists being encouraged too strongly to use publice transport. He says he forsees a time when motorists could start to use public transport by choice. But he does not say when this will be, or how bad our transport problems will have to be before this happens.
Comber On Shand
It has never been considered good form for rival political candidates to speak out against each other, particularly on a personal level. But Ken Comber goes further than this and speaks very highly of his rival. "David Shand was a very capable opponent. He was more active than any other Labour candidate in Wellington Central within my memory. He had a good organisation and he's a capable man. It's a pity such an active capable fellow should now be reduced to considering housie evenings to help finance his petition to the supreme court to decide who is the rightful representative of Wellington Central." No date has yet been set for the hearing of the petition, and in the meantime Ken Comber, 34, chartered accountant and Member of Parliament, is sitting quietly in the house following the "Desiderata's" advice; keeping on good terms with people, talking quietly and listening to others' advice.
Perhaps he's also pondering another part of the "Desiderata' which says: "Keep interested in your own career however humble. it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time"
Photos from election campaign material,
Aged 33, married with 3 children, lives in Harbour View Road, Northland—an associated chartered accountant educated at St Josephs Convent, New Plymouth Boys High School and Victoria University—one time general manager at a machinery importer, chief accountant in an electrical firm, eight years with N.Z. Counties Assn—played senior rugby for Vic. and North Island Universities, past WRFU management committee member and rugby coach—member of the National Anti-litter Council and Health Camps Board, and member of the Special Committee on Local Authority Finance 1968-69.