Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: Questions about the Prosser backlash

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NZ First MP Richard Prosser during question time in Parliament this week. Photo / Mark Mitchell
NZ First MP Richard Prosser during question time in Parliament this week. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Has there ever been an MP so widely condemned? David Garrett may be the only one to have come close for managing to build a complete consensus of vilification upon himself. The backlash against Richard Prosser's bizarre statements on race and religion has been so incredibly strong that there is a sense of MPs actually revelling in their condemnation, seizing the chance to prove how progressive and anti-racist they are. This is an argument I make in my blogpost, Richard Prosser's role in making mainstream politicians look progressive. I also point out how much more muted politicians were in response to the Government's new refugee policy aligning New Zealand with Australia's reactionary asylum system - i.e. a current policy that actually has an effect.

For the opposite view, see Morgan Godfery's blogpost, Richard Prosser and white privilege, in which he argues that Prosser's statements are being excused as 'just one man's opinions'.

Godfery argues that this indicates how 'white privilege' reigns supreme in New Zealand because white men are allowed to say what Maori would be vilified for.

There seems plenty of evidence, however, that Prosser hasn't gotten away with his xenophobic and bigoted statements at all. After all, those bastions of 'white privilege' and the Establishment - the newspaper editorials - are powerfully condemning of Prosser - see, for example, the Press' Prosser not needed, the Dominion Post's Terrorists borne from intolerance, the ODT's Ignorant and prejudiced and the Southland Times' Prosser is a nasty prat. What's more, even voters in Prosser's 'own electorate' of provincial Waimakariri are appalled- such as '72-year old shopper Maureen Paterson' who is reported by Kurt Bayer as exclaiming: 'He's a w*****, and he should know better' - see: Prosser's electorate unimpressed by 'Wogistan'. As Tahu Potiki points out today: 'Note that not one person has come to his rescue. His comments are so clearly inappropriate that he has not found even one ally' - see: Prosser offensive and 'ridiculously flawed'.

So what does the strength of this backlash say about New Zealand politics and society in 2013? Perhaps it's a useful barometer of New Zealand race relations - even better than Waitangi Day - and an indication of the strength of our 'intolerance of intolerance'. The backlash might also suggest just how quickly attitudes are changing. It was only a decade ago that the Helen Clark Labour Government was locking up the Muslim refugee, Ahmed Zaoui, and treating him in a manner in which Prosser might well approve. This is an argument put very strongly by Paul Buchanan in an excellent blogpost, With stereotypes, timing is everything. He says that Zaoui's 'arrival was met with official alarm and a chorus of exactly the sort of xenophobic invective that Prosser has voiced', and that 'Back then Islamophobia ran rampant and it was fine if not fashionable to Muslim-bash, which the Clark government did adroitly and with aplomb'. Buchanan says that Prosser's biggest mistake is his timing: 'Had he made his remarks ten years ago he would have fared far better in the court of public and political opinion'.

You don't have to look too far from Prosser to find evidence of this. Russell Brown relates his experience with Winston Peters a decade ago and quotes from a speech Peters gave to Kaitaia Grey Power in 2005: 'In New Zealand the Muslim community has been quick to show us their more moderate face, but there is a militant underbelly here as well. These two groups, the moderate and militant, fit hand and glove' - see: The Wogistan form book. So, as Matthew Hooton says in a (pay-walled) NBR article today, 'you can imagine poor old Mr Prosser, he must have said "boy what have I done wrong, I'm just doing what the leader does"' - see: Rod Vaughan's Winston Peters to be kingmaker again.

And, predictably, the outrage from party leaders didn't extend to endangering any coalition deals with Prosser's party. As Jane Clifton writes in the latest Listener, 'While being all self-righteous about Prosser, they also realised that come the next election, NZ First's bigot could well become their bigot. Labour, the Greens and this time National have not ruled out going into coalition with NZ First, because the way the poll numbers are filleting up these days, the next Government probably could not be formed without it' - see: NZ Government: Theatre of the absurd [paywalled]. See also, Patrick Gower's Key open to a deal with 'Wogistan Party'.

If you are looking for any sympathisers for Prosser's views, you could look at the comments section of Kiwiblog, but you should also read David Farrar's very strong reaction to such comments: The nature of bigotry.

David Shearer's initial reaction was interesting and revealing. As No Right Turn points out, it was initially hesitant, as had been his response to the refugee deal - see: As useless as a proverbial useless thing II. The most telling comment on this was a sarcastic tweet from Danyl Mclauchlan (@danylmc): 'If only Labour had a leader who had experience working with terrorism/refugees and could speak on those subjects with authority'. On the issues that Shearer should be most comfortable and knowledgeable with, he still appears afraid of his own shadow.

For a lighter take on the Prosser controversy - but equally political - see Scott Yorke's satirical Richard Prosser's top tips for flying and RadioLive's Where is Wogistan? A guide by MP Richard Prosser.

But, in the end, it is all 'so 2000s' for most politicians. Just as it is hard these days to find someone who supported the Vietnam war and the Springbok Tour, the 'War on Terror' has become very passé. Not so easy are the current issues for which there's clearly no consensus, such as West Papua. Gordon Campbell skewers Murray McCully for describing New Zealand's approach to Indonesia's human rights record as one of 'constructive engagement' - the phrase coined by Ronald Reagan to describe his opposition to boycotts and dis-investment against apartheid South Africa: 'Could someone please tell our Foreign Affairs Minister about the discredited history of a term he seems so happy to use? Before he starts talking happily about the "final solution" for West Papua' - see: On Richard Prosser, and West Papua On Richard Prosser, and West Papua.

Other interesting articles include:
* Shane Jones is positioning himself for a return to Labour's frontbench, based on apparent good news being leaked about the Auditor-General's upcoming report on his involvement in the Bill Liu immigration controversy. But David Farrar says Beware the spin. Another useful news items says: Jones immigration report conclusions 'complex'.

* What's happening in the manufacturing sector? Jobs appear to be disappearing fast, but the industry itself seems to be expanding - see James Weir's Gloom lifts for manufacturing.

* The living wage campaign is really getting some traction at the moment. Colin Espiner thinks a radical approach to unemployment is the best solution - see: How to earn a living wage. Tim Watkin quotes Obama in nailing the core idea behind the Living Wage: 'if you work full-time, you shouldn't be in poverty' - see: A living wage: There are no reasons not to, and the Dominion Post editorial criticises employers who offer hollow excuses for low pay - see: Tough choices in quest for a living wage. The campaign could signal the start of an alliance that could seriously challenge the government says Colin James - see: Coalition-building from the bottom up.

* With the focus on the 'working poor' questions are increasingly being asked about how taxpayers effectively subsidise wages for many large profitable companies - see Deborah Russell's Why businesses should reject subsidies and embrace the living wage campaign and No Right Turn's A living wage and the sin of cheapness.

* But is it all just talk? The Greens are criticising the Government for paying some workers less than $19/hour, labelling it 'unethical'. Logically if the Greens were involved in governing they will ensure that all those employed directly or indirectly by the Government would be paid at least $19 - see: Lloyd Burr's English: 'Some employers are greedy'. That could be a challenge for the new 'fiscally responsible' image that Russel Norman has fostered.

* Poverty-related illnesses and 'Third World diseases' among children are worrying Christchurch health professionals and community workers - see: Olivia Carville's Poverty strikes at home, children first victims. This reinforces another report criticising the Government's record: Government gets a 'D' for child poverty.

* We can, and should, do better argues Brian Rudman in NZ can afford to care more about refugees. We are just trying to frighten off 'boat people' before they even try reaching us thinks Andrew Geddes in Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines. But, why all the fuss when John Key is just doing what Helen Clark did with the Tampa refugees? See David Farrar's Thoughts on the asylum seekers deal with Australia.

* For the latest on how politicians are spending our money, see Claire Trevett's Gifts reflect ministers' generosity and Hamish Rutherford's Maori Party leaders, Prosser big spenders.

* Regrets? He's had a few and mentioned them in his final speech to Parliament, namely voting against the Homosexual Law Reform bill and means testing student allowances - see: Claire Trevett's Lockwood Smith delivers final speech to Parliament.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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