Jacinda Ardern, Wayne Brown and Michael Cullen have all entered the game of pricks (Image: Archi Banal)
Jacinda Ardern, Wayne Brown and Michael Cullen have all entered the game of pricks (Image: Archi Banal)

PoliticsDecember 15, 2022

A brief history of New Zealand politicians calling people pricks

Jacinda Ardern, Wayne Brown and Michael Cullen have all entered the game of pricks (Image: Archi Banal)
Jacinda Ardern, Wayne Brown and Michael Cullen have all entered the game of pricks (Image: Archi Banal)

Jacinda Ardern’s unparliamentary insult of David Seymour is just the latest chapter in a prickly national tradition.

“A spiteful or contemptible man often having some authority” is the definition offered by Merriam-Webster for the word prick. That’s the fifth definition, but it contains within it some of the fourth, which reads simply: “penis”.

It is unlikely that Jacinda Ardern would call David Seymour a penis, but nor did she choose “dick”, which is something more of a garden variety phallic insult. Prick, she called him, in the New Zealand house of representatives this week. In the hope of better understanding some of the etymological nuances, or if we’re honest more just in the cause of talking about politicians calling people pricks, we present a very short and almost certainly incomplete history of the word in Aotearoa political discourse.

Editorial note: we have excluded both foreign uses (such as the Victoria Liberal Party calling Dan Andrews a prick in a paid advertisement last month) and other cusses used in the New Zealand parliament (various uses of “dick”; all the times Winston Peters called David Seymour a cuck).

Muldoon on Muldoon

About a year on from losing to Jim McLay in a National leadership contest that followed the 1984 election defeat, Robert Muldoon was asked whether he would be a thorn in his successor’s side. He replied: “More like a little prick.”

Thomas on Bolger

In the 1996 election, New Zealand’s first under the MMP system, Jim Bolger in effect torpedoed his own candidate Mark Thomas’s run in Wellington Central with just a couple of days to go, giving a nod to Act’s Richard Prebble. Luckily for all of us, Tony Sutorius was there filming it all for what would become Campaign, which remains today among the very best of our political cinema. Thomas’s reaction to the news that Bolger was pretty much killing his candidacy? “Fucking prick.”

Cullen to McKinnon

At some point in the late 1990s, Michael Cullen called then minister Don McKinnon a “born to rule prick”. The details are hazy and not lodged on Hansard, but McKinnon later confronted the Labour MP in the lobby, hands in pockets to indicate a lack of any intention to punch him.

Harawira to Harawira

Hone Harawira, then of the Māori Party, in March 2006 called himself “a bit of a pious and pompous prick”. He was referring specifically to his position on smoking, as a reformed smoker. 

Smith to Cosgrove

In a May 2007 debate on the Taxation (Annual Rates, Business Taxation, KiwiSaver, and Remedial Matters) Bill, then opposition MP Lockwood Smith laughed at then associate minister Clayton Cosgrove, explaining: “I laugh because I feel sorry for the poor prick”. To be fair, Cosgrove was being a dick.  

Cullen to Key

It’s the “rich prick” line that most remember, but then deputy prime minister Michael Cullen also called National leader John Key a “scumbag” during a parliamentary debate in December 2007. And he was unrepentant, too, having taken exception to Key’s description of MP Darren Hughes as “the son Helen Clark never had”. Cullen took that to be a jibe at the fact the prime minister did not have children. Key said he was just repeating words he thought Hughes had used in a newspaper. Turned out it was the reporter who used those words. Prick.

Lees-Galloway to Bishop

A harmless, almost heartwarming deployment of the label “prick”. The transcript, from September 2018, in full:

Golriz Ghahraman: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I rise, and I will congratulate the member who’s had his bill pulled from the ballot. I’m sure it’s very exciting, but I do have to note that–

Chris Bishop: It is. It’s happened three times now – it’s great.

Ghahraman: Well, congratulations, Mr Bishop. It’s been three times. Unfortunately, this particular time–

Iain Lees-Galloway: We always thought you were a jammy prick!

Ghahraman: Ha, ha! 

Gilmore to nobody in particular

Aaron Gilmore, who would later become famous for allegedly saying to a waiter “don’t you know who I am?” had already called himself a rich prick in parliament. Kind of. From his maiden speech, in December 2008: “I have done well enough in New Zealand to be resented by some and labelled a rich prick.” It is debatable, as he faces legal action from his parents and complaints from tenants, whether the first part of that is true today. 

Brown on Wilson

For fans of “hot mic” incidents that involve politicians calling other people pricks, 2022 has been a richly enjoyable year. In the Auckland mayoral campaign, Wayne Brown, aka The Fixer, aka the leader of the Wayniacs, thought he was off the record, or not being recorded, when he told a Newshub Nation reporter of his frustrations with NZ Herald journalist Simon Wilson. Wilson was proving a bit of a thorn – which is very prick-like – in Brown’s side, mostly by asking frustrating questions based on knowledge of facts.

Wayne Brown has big plans for Auckland (Photos: Supplied, Getty Images)

“That prick Simon Wilson dug it out,” said Brown – the “it” being the fact of Brown’s age, which Wilson had presumably deduced using either research or mathematics or a combination of the two. Brown continued: “He’s been at me for all year long and the first thing I’ll do when I get to be mayor, I’ll be gluing little pics of him on all the urinals so we can pee on him.” Brown has yet to follow through on the urinal decoration, but he did apparently move quickly to install a beer fridge in his office.

Ardern on Seymour

The prime minister, in December 2022, which is to say this week, was under questioning by the Act Party leader about mistakes, and whether she had apologised for them. As she took her seat, Ardern was heard to say, sotto voce: “Such an arrogant prick.” There was no reference to urinals or any wish to piss on his face.

Seymour took it very well, scoring a political point or two while accepting the apology and resisting any temptation to feign injury. While it might not be directly out of the kindness manifesto, the prick line is unlikely to have cost Labour votes. If anything, the pressure will be on the Greens to come up with something meaner to call him.

h/t @UrbTurn for the Muldoon line.

Follow our politics podcast Gone By Lunchtime on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

Keep going!