New Zealand First MP Ron Mark's suggestion in Parliament that National's Melissa Lee should "go back to Korea" rather than criticise something in New Zealand has been called racist, which it was, but it was also oppressive of free speech, which in Parliament is even worse.
Mr Mark is denying the right of immigrants to criticise their adopted country, which is an attitude heard often enough in general conversation where it is deeply oppressive for immigrants who are sensitive to the fact that they are recent arrivals and would like to join the conversation.
It is an attitude that should never be heard in Parliament, where it is essential to democracy that representatives of all shades of opinion, interest and ethnicity are allowed to speak.
On that basis, Mr Mark may say he should be free to express the view that immigrants who do not like something about New Zealand should go back where they came from rather than criticise this country. But Parliament has numerous rules that restrict its members' rights to speak in ways that abuse their rights or oppress the rights of others to be heard. This should be one of the them.
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It is hard enough to encourage immigrants to stand for Parliament, as any political party can attest, for exactly the reason Mr Mark has stated. Naturally they wonder whether they have a right as new citizens to join in our political debates. We need to stress they most certainly do have a right. They have chosen to become citizens of this country, they are a large and growing minority contributing to its economy and we need to hear their views. It is not healthy for any country to suppress the voice of any section of its population.
For these reasons, Mr Mark ought to have apologised to Ms Lee and to Parliament as soon as he had reflected on what he had said. The fact that he still has not should be treated very seriously in view of its oppressive implications for free speech in the chamber.
It is possible Mr Mark has not reflected on his remark even yet. Act MP David Seymour has said, "Normally we give Ron Mark a bit of a leash because he is not the brightest bulb in the tree, but this sort of racism is unacceptable." Racism, properly defined, is the oppressive use of the power of an ethnic group against members of an ethnic group with less power. Deputy Speaker Lindsay Tisch was in the chair when Mr Mark made his comment on Tuesday and ought to have made a ruling.
It is not too late for the House to take some sort of action when it resumes next week. The need for a directive on oppressive speech has become stronger now that New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has echoed the offence. When the country's most experienced parliamentarian says, "If someone is complaining about the country they are in, they ... can always go back home," he is a disgrace to free and fair debate.
All of this arose because Ms Lee criticised shop trading hours in New Zealand as they used to be. Any member of Parliament who cannot acknowledge the right of another to be here, and take part in our politics, is not worth his seat.