Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Retreat from Wogistan

MP's partner says she understands the public outrage at his 'horrible' anti-Islamic rant.

MP Richard Prosser at home with his daughters and partner Mel Francis. Photo / Martin Hunter
MP Richard Prosser at home with his daughters and partner Mel Francis. Photo / Martin Hunter

Richard Prosser wipes his brow, sweating from tidying up his rural North Canterbury property in the midday heat.

He sighs and nods towards his two-storey house, where his fiancee Mel Francis and two young daughters are sheltering from the sun, and admits: "It's been a tough week."

A week ago he was a little-known NZ First list MP putting the finishing touches on his youngest daughter Gabriel's first birthday cake. Just days later he has become one of the country's most reviled figures.

His infamous "Wogistan rant", in which he suggested all young Muslim men be banned from flying on Western airlines, sparked a global outcry and calls for his head.

NZ First leader Winston Peters distanced himself from the comments but stopped short of sacking him. Now, Prosser shrugs off reports that he will be bumped off the party list at next year's election.

"Two years is a long time in politics and I think people are fair-minded enough to give you a chance at redemption," he says.

Cuddling his two girls, and doted on by Mel, his partner of five years, he speaks about how he wants his children to grow up in a safer world. When he sat down - jet-lagged, tired and grumpy - to write his inflammatory Investigate column, that's all he was trying to achieve, he says.

"It's good it stirred up a debate - I'm not wonderfully happy how it happened, but that's my fault."

Asked whether Peters knew about the Wogistan column before it blew up in the media, Prosser replies carefully: "Well, I know he reads Investigate and the issue came out about a month ago, so I guess so."

Since the fallout, Prosser has spoken with Muslim leaders including Dr Anwar Ghani, head of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, and the Council of Christians and Jews. He has vowed to visit mosques, meet critics, and begin talks about how to keep New Zealand "free from extremists".

He believes there is a perception that moderate Islam doesn't speak out when radical Islamists "do bad things". He wants to work with the Muslim community to ensure "the lunatic fringe" can be drowned out.

Despite backing from Investigate editor Ian Wishart, Prosser says he has quit his column. "I've tried to effect change through two different methods [politics and column-writing] and that can't be done."

That decision was welcomed by Mel, who says she was disgusted when she read his Wogistan article. "It's terrible, horrible, I don't like it, and I can't blame people for their reaction," says the 34-year-old. But she defends her man, saying it was written after a long-haul flight.

She says the hardest thing has been the criticism of "a Richard that I don't know". "He wants what everyone else wants - a safe place for our children to grow up."

And what of Prosser's beloved pocketknife, and its confiscation at Christchurch Airport that inspired his anti-Islam rant? He wants to sell the knife (still under lock and key at the airport) on Trade Me and give the proceeds to a worthy cause.

"One that sprung to mind was the Pakistani girl who got shot by the Taleban," he says. "Her recovery is going to need a bit of help and that might be a good thing to do."

Getting rid of the pocketknife is "symbolic of burying the hatchet", he says. "It's time to let things go. It's time to let go of the controversial shock-jock approach ... the beard's gone, it's a new me."

- APNZ

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