There has been a growing effort in NZ to silence those who feed racial division. So where’s the clamour from the Greens and the rest on the deputy prime minister, asks Liam Hehir
Under the show, the struggle. Deep down, deeper than honour, deeper than pride, deeper than lust, and deeper than love, lies the getting of it all…
Francis Urquhart, To Play the King
Nigel Farage, former leader of Britain’s UKIP, came to this country recently. His presence was, unsurprisingly, the subject of protests. One of the protestors was Golriz Ghahraman, a Green Party MP.
According to Newstalk ZB, her reason for speaking out was that “it’s really important that we stand here and say: we are against race hate, we are against religious division, and we stand with minorities.”
It should be noted here that Ghahraman seems to suffer from unfair harassment online. It is impossible to believe that her ethnicity and sex do not factor into this targeting. The fixation that some on the right have with her is pretty embarrassing to behold.
Which is not to say that the Ghahraman is above criticism. And it certainly doesn’t mean the rookie MP is immune to hypocrisy. She is, after all, a member of parliament.
And, for some time now, it’s kind of hard to take the Green Party too seriously on matters like this. When was the last time you saw one of its MPs demonstrate against the minister of foreign affairs? If we’re serious about speaking out against the politics of division, why so much tolerance for NZ First?
The year 2002 seems like a distant memory now. If you were around back then, however, you might faintly remember the stirrings of what could have become a cordon sanitaire around NZ First. ACT, which then had some relevance, kicked it off by declaring it would not share a cabinet table with the party. Helen Clark followed swiftly thereafter, citing NZ First’s “offensive and daft policies”.
Since then, of course, Labour has shared power with New Zealand First twice. Between 2005 and 2008, the arrangements excluded the Greens and stopped short of formal coalition. Since the last election, Labour and NZ First have been in coalition (with the Greens in loyal support).
It seems that NZ First is considered respectable now. So what changed? Not NZ First. Shall we review?
In 2003, New Zealand First put out a flyer called “Whose Country Is it Anyway?” claiming that third-world immigrants were at the root of many of our problems. Don Brash called it “racist and despicable.” It was bad enough that it sparked alarm from postal workers charged with delivering it – and one actually refused to deliver it.
The following year, Peters fretted that New Zealand was “being dragged into the status of an Asian colony and it is time that New Zealanders were placed first in their own country.”
In 2005, he decried the “militant underbelly” of the New Zealand Muslim community. Peters allowed that local Muslims have “been quick to show us their more moderate face”. But, he said, the “two groups, the moderate and militant, fit hand and glove.”
The same year, in a press release entitled “New Zealand – the Last Asian Colony”, Peters warned about the “social and cultural implications” of our immigration policies. “At this rate,” he said, “it won’t take long for New Zealand to be unrecognisable.”
Shortly thereafter, he was appointed minister of foreign affairs.
Remember when that reactionary Tony Abbott announced Australia would hold a nationwide vote on gay marriage? The prevailing consensus among liberals – and many conservatives – was that this was an inappropriate treatment of an important human rights issue. Do you know who favoured a plebiscite in New Zealand in 2012? I’ll give you three but you’ll probably only need one. Also, remember this?
In 2013, Peters came under pressure when the media picked up that then colleague Richard Prosser had blamed a “sorry pack of misogynist troglodytes from Wogistan” after being told he couldn’t take a pen knife on an aeroplane. “If you are a young male, aged between say about 19 and 35, and you’re a Muslim, or look like a Muslim, or you come from a Muslim country, then you are not welcome to travel on any of the West’s airlines,” Prosser had suggested such people “ride a camel instead”.
Peters did clarify that the writings did not reflect NZ First policy. He also said that there was “an element of truth to what he is saying”. What Prosser certainly should not have done, however, was to present “a view that doesn’t have the balance in the other side of the argument.”
That’s one way of looking at it. Balance is important, I suppose. There are some very fine people on both sides, right?
In 2014, Peters launched his election campaign with an ethnic joke straight from the 70s. “As they say in Beijing, two Wongs don’t make a white,” he chuckled. Called on it after the fact, he said the gag was OK because a “Chinese guy” had told it to him.
When Omar Mateen murdered 49 people and wounded 53 others in an Orlando nightclub in 2016, Peters warned us against blaming America’s loose gun laws. People who did that, he said, were “seeking to divert blame from where it should lie.” The real culprit: “loose security and border controls”. He then called on “moderate Muslims” in New Zealand to be vigilant in reporting suspicious activities.
Let’s move into 2017, an election year.
In March, the New Zealand First leader addressed the controversy around the Auckland University European Students Association. “Isn’t it amazing,” Peters said, “you have got the Māori club, you’ve got the Chinese club, you’ve got every sort of club.” It was just another case of the media suppressing dissent, apparently.
But while he may not have meant anything by it, the local alt-right seemed to take comfort. An investigative report by Herald reporter Kirsty Johnston into the “Western Guard”, a white supremacist group, revealed that members were elated with Peters’ performance at Victoria University. “Guess who just got my vote!!” one of them declared.
In May, he said that the party’s policy was to revisit the smacking ban with another referendum. As to the substance of the matter, he made his views pretty clear: “I said very clearly that we’ve got young people running amok up here and around the country. They can’t be touched. There are a hundred reasons given by sociologists and apologists for what’s happening, but these people know what’s wrong, know what they’re doing is wrong, know they can’t be touched, know there’s no consequences.”
Following terror attacks in Manchester and London in June, Peters took to the floor of parliament to criticise “political correctness” on the issue. Muslims had to “clean house,” he said.
In July, Metiria Turei said Peters had “a very racist approach to immigration“. When NZ First MP Tracey Martin reacted, she called out the party’s “persistent persecution of migrants”. At the same time, of course, Turei made clear that this behaviour was not a deal breaker for the Greens.
Which is pretty odd, if you think about it.
Also that month, NZ First earned the praise of Don Brash, of the Hobson’s Pledge group. Following the party conference, the Herald reported Brash noting that NZ First “has had a position on the Treaty and the way it should be interpreted, which is very close to ours for a considerable period.” In September, Brash went further and all but endorsed voting for the party.
Which is not really surprising if you recall that Peters once condemned National for copying his “one law for all” platform during the 2005 cycle. The vision outlined in Brash’s infamous Orewa speech was, Peters claimed, “based so closely on New Zealand First policy that if it were academic work he would probably have been found guilty of plagiarism”.
Hobson’s Pledge and NZ First share the same disdain for reserved Maori wards in local government too, of course.
Closing in on the election date, NZ First put out a press release attacking “New Zealand Herald propaganda” that had contradicted the party’s immigration narrative and which was written by “two Asian immigrant reporters”.
Soon after that, Peters became deputy prime minister and, once more, minister of foreign affairs. He recently completed a long stint covering for Jacinda Ardern while she took leave. In the closing days of his acting premiership, he gave an interview to Corin Dann on Q+A.
I was on the panel that night, sitting just metres away. As I watched Peters defend his criticism of multiculturalism as “a multitude of cultures and a plethora rising up like mushrooms in this country”, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the woke-set were expressing anger online (they were not) and if Green MPs had anything to say about it (they did not).
But the big difference between the two is that Farage has a lot less influence over New Zealand than Peters. If you want to ensure migrants and other vulnerable groups feel welcomed and safe, the views of the second most powerful man in the country weigh more heavily than do those of the member of the European Parliament for South East England. Or they should, at least.
So something has changed in our politics. It’s not NZ First, though. The party has been pretty consistent. So has its leader.
The interests of NZ First’s former critics have changed, however. When the foreshore and seabed issue looked troublesome for Helen Clark, Peters came to her rescue. The contested lands were vested in the Crown without compensation and a new era of friendliness between NZ First and the progressive left dawned on the political landscape.
And this accommodation now includes the Greens, apparently. For years, we have suffered a default presumption of Green superiority in ethics, principles and values. Whether that was ever really true, it’s certainly not true now.
For Green MPs, protesting Nigel Farage achieves little but costs nothing. Protesting Winston Peters, on the other hand, might achieve something – but only at the risk of losing political power. It doesn’t take Niccolò Machiavelli to work out who gets protested.
The Greens may be no worse than other parties in parliament. But they’re certainly no better. And we’re long overdue for everyone to recognise that.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.
The Spinoff politics section is made possible by Flick, the electricity retailer giving New Zealanders power over their power. With both spot price and fixed price plans available, you can be sure you’re getting true cost and real choice when you join Flick. Support us by making the switch today.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.