David Seymour is doubling down on saying he fantasised about sending Guy Fawkes into the Ministry of Pacific Peoples - interpreted by many as wanting to blow it to pieces - as Prime Minister Chris Hipkins weighed in saying the Act Party leader “should be ashamed of himself”.
Seymour, talking to Newstalk ZB last week, referenced his commitment to dismantle the Ministry of Pacific Peoples if elected and then joked, “In my fantasy, we’d send a guy called Guy Fawkes in there and it’d be all over, but we’ll probably have to have a more formal approach than that”.
Seymour’s comment comes at a time of heightened racial tension ahead of the election with anti-co government rallies being held across the country, Māori politicians speaking of being racially abused and Māori leaders urging politicians to not use them as a “political football” and to stand up to racism on the campaign.
In the morning prior to Seymour’s comments staff at the Ministry of Pacific Peoples were abused by members of the public after significant overspending on a farewell from the CEO was reported.
So far Labour has called on Seymour to apologise - Minister of Pacific Peoples Barbara Edmonds has written to him formally requesting he retract the statement, and National Party leader Christopher Luxon said he didn’t agree with the comments.
National currently has no Pacifika MPs, but candidate Agnes Loheni - ranked 24 on the list and most-likely to become an MP next term - told Pacific Media Network this morning Seymour should apologise labelling the comments “very insensitive”.
The fiery rhetoric from the Prime Minister and Labour leader meanwhile comes after a devastating poll overnight that saw the party plummet to its lowest result in six years, and this morning Hipkins vowed to up the ante with a “vigorous” campaign.
Hipkins weighed into the conversation today in Parliament’s Question Time under probing from Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer about the use of “divisive rhetoric or hate speech from political leaders”, whether joking or not, and whether it could lead to violence.
“I believe that all political leaders have a responsibility to take care in the statements that they make about all of New Zealand’s citizens and groups, and we have a particular duty of care to ensure that the statements we make don’t inflame tensions,” said Hipkins.
Ngarewa-Packer then asked specifically about comments relating to Government ministries - a clear reference to Seymour’s comment.
“Our public servants deserve our full support,” responded Hipkins.
“They do not deserve to be demonised in the way that they have been.”
He then criticised Seymour over his comments and said he didn’t think it was “a particularly funny or responsible thing for political leaders to do”.
“I believe that political leaders all have a responsibility to be careful in the language that they use. I don’t think that making statements... even if they were, poorly, intended in humour—is the sort of thing that responsible political leaders should do.”
Seymour then asked if the Prime Minister then stood by the “factually incorrect statement he made to Newshub on Saturday” where he said: ‘The idea that you’d make a joke about blowing up an ethnic minority is something that isn’t really that funny’.
He said Hipkins had confused “Government waste and a story about a Government department with a race of people, turning a debate into something it never needed to be”.
Hipkins said he stood by the statement. “I believe that member is deliberately and wantonly playing the race card in this election, and he should be ashamed of himself.”
Earlier today, TVNZ’s Breakfast issued an apology to Seymour for misquoting him in a panel discussion during the show on Monday about the topic.
Speaking to reporters today, Seymour refused to apologise for his comments and denied he was race-baiting.
“Unfortunately, we’re in a campaign where the government has endlessly divided people by race. And unfortunately, the opposition has to talk about the government’s policies, because they’re the ones that we criticise.”
He said it was a “throwaway line” and actually referenced someone, Guy Fawkes, who was actually unsuccessful in his attempt to blow up Westminster Palace in London in 1605.
Seymour said it was also a different situation to when he called for Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi to apologise for joking he would spike Seymour with poisonous karaka berries to “re-indigenise” him.
Seymour said he took aim at the “re-indigenise” aspect, not the potential poisoning.
Asked if he would find it funny if someone joked about blowing up an Act Party conference, Seymour said “maybe” and that it would “depend on the context”.
Michael Neilson is a political reporter based at Parliament in Wellington. He joined the Herald in 2018 and has covered social issues, the environment and Māori affairs.