A week and a half ago, I appeared on Back Benches to talk about Winston Peters MP’s “two Wongs” joke, and confined my comments to that.
My response, ‘There are still people who enjoy watching Rolf Harris, just as there are still people out there who enjoy listening to Winston Peters.’ And, ‘We have a politician here who says he does not believe in race-based laws, and yet everything he utters is race-based … Can’t he walk the talk?’ His is a passé joke, and of course there’s no way Mr Peters would have heard it in Beijing—since the Wong surname does not exist in Mandarin.
It’s a shame he resorts to this old technique because I find myself agreeing with a number of his statements when it came to the Dirty Politics revelations. And had I more time on Back Benches, I would have explored this further.
There were three MPs on the show, Annette King (Labour), Scott Simpson (National) and Russel Norman (Greens). Ms King and Dr Norman were up front enough to call the joke racist, while Dr Norman went so far as to call it ‘unacceptable’ and ‘disgraceful’, while Mr Simpson merely passed it off as ‘Winston being Winston.’
Mr Simpson’s dismissal is in line with his Prime Minister’s, who called it ‘a stunt’. And it brought back the PM’s unflinching reaction to Paul Henry implying back in 2010 that the then-Governor-General, Sir Anand Satyanand, did not ‘look or sound like a New Zealander’.
That has been covered here before, but I read comments at the time that John Key’s predecessor, Helen Clark, would have taken Henry to task over the comment.
I plainly don’t notice someone’s colour and I suspect most people do not, but I do notice accents, and Sir Anand sounds exactly like what you would expect from an Auckland Grammar alumnus: if linguists were to pin down just where he was from, I’m fairly confident they would find it was Auckland.
Once I can forgive. The PM was in the heat of an interview in 2010, he had his points to make, and it’s very, very easy not to answer the question put before you. In the YouTube clip, I didn’t directly answer one of Damian Christie’s questions.
But twice? This is not ‘a stunt’, this is something that goes to the heart of the casual racism that occasionally gets spouted in this country. It has no place in Aotearoa, and in election year, you would think that the Prime Minister, wanting to capture votes from Kiwis of all stripes, would take a rival to task over it. Politicians in the past aimed to paint an inclusive New Zealand, not one where people are cast out by race or, as we have seen post-Dirty Politics, by whether they are on the left or on the right.
Author Nicky Hager is now, according to the PM, ‘a screaming left-wing conspiracy theorist’ for writing his book, one where the allegations have been carefully written to avoid legal action, and one where there are no emails to refute what he claims. Watching the fallout has been instructive: the ACT Party has completely defused the allegations over the Rodney Hide “blackmail” stance thanks to early, measured, and direct statements from Mr Hide and from lawyer Jordan Williams, and the burden has been lifted. It didn’t take much. David Farrar, who admittedly is not a central figure in the book, comes across as an intelligent and genuine National Party member and supporter. But National has played a divisive game once again, and that has been disappointing, especially for those quality MPs the party has outside of the Cabinet.
You can say that its poll numbers are comfortable enough for National not to attempt to get voters on “the left”, but if I were running right now, I honestly wouldn’t care what your political leanings were. I’d want your vote. I’d know there were swing voters out there, and I’d also know that most New Zealanders, who tend toward centrist politics, have policies on the left and the right that they favour. Why isolate them by insulting some of their beliefs, or pigeonholing them as belonging to one group or another?
Or, why, for that matter, associate with blogger Cameron Slater if he is a ‘force of nature unto himself’ (if I have quoted the PM correctly).
And he is. I actually have little problem about the man having an opinion and expressing it on the internet. I’ll even go so far as to defend his right to hold an opinion and to express it freely even if I do not agree with it.
I might not agree with Mr Slater’s venomous ‘I have come to the conclusion that Maori are thick. Dumber than your average bear. Stupid. Dumb and Dumber rolled in one. Dumber than a sack of hammers,’ and ‘My patience with Maori is at an end. They are venal, corrupt, lying, lazy useless fuckers,’ but he has a right to say it.
It’s like “two Wongs”.
Those who don’t like it can say so, too.
The PM’s defence so far of his and his party’s association with Mr Slater (which suddenly has become less tight than it was portrayed earlier this year) is effectively “this is OK, because Labour contacts left-wing bloggers”. Sorry, John. If there is a blog out there that spews this kind of hatred, the normal thing for any right-thinking New Zealander to do is to isolate its writer. To make sure that his brand of venom is as far away from you as possible. You just don’t risk it for the sake of votes. You do not cozy up to him, even minutely—which is now the image you wish to portray. To have your government and your party willingly associate with him is precisely the sort of divisive politics that has no place in this country.
The tactics have been compared to the Muldoon days. I disagree: if Rob Muldoon thought you were a knob, he would come out and call you a knob.
I don’t think he would recognize his party.
As Muldoon himself put it (in Muldoon):
A great deal of New Zealand’s history has in fact been recorded in detail and it as [sic] at least as interesting as that of older countries. To read it is to understand why so much damage is being done by a small group of stirrers who have fomented the hateful cry of “racism” in recent years. New Zealand does not have a colour bar, it has a behaviour bar, and throughout the length and breadth of this country we have always been prepared to accept each other on the basis of behaviour and regardless of colour, creed, origin or wealth. That is the most valuable feature of New Zealand society and the reason why I have time and again stuck my neck out to challenge those who would try to destroy this harmony and set people against people inside our country.
And I can’t see decent National Party people like Paul Foster-Bell or Simon O’Connor ever engaging in these sorts of tactics. At the local level, Kerry Prendergast never did when I ran against her in 2010.
Despite these efforts from our politicians, I still believe in inclusiveness, and that when you stand for public office, you are prepared to represent everyone in your constituency, even those you might not like or hold different beliefs to you. I said of a racist who wrote on my wall in 2013, ‘If elected, I’m happy to represent you, too.’ I don’t think that’s an idealism found in the Coca-Cola Hilltop commercial, but the reality of someone who wants the job of public office. Maybe it’s naïveté, but I can’t see what division and negative campaigning get you in New Zealand.