Green leader out of line with protest

Last updated 09:22 21/06/2010

I know it's fashionable to hate the Chinese, and everyone wants a free Tibet.

So much so you'd think they were handing them out in Weetbix packets.

Norman's flag protestBut while I'll probably get into trouble with the Left for saying this, I'm sorry, but Green Party co-leader Russel Norman was an embarrassment to himself, Parliament, and New Zealand with his protest against the Chinese vice-president's visit last week.

From the minute I heard about Norman getting "attacked'' by Chinese security men I have to admit I was suspicious.

The Greens love protesting against visiting Chinese leaders, and they'll do anything to get a headline out of it.

When I heard that Norman's flag had been "trampled'' I thought that was a bit on the nose, too, so I took a look at the video.

Strange how none of the many cameras there - both still and TV - managed to capture the so-called attack, or the flag trampling.

What they did capture, though, was an MP behaving in a way that no self-respecting member of Parliament with any dignity should behave.

Don't get me wrong. I fully support Russel Norman's right to have his say. This is a free country, unlike China.

But sometimes, I think the RIGHT to free speech and EXERCISING it are confused.

For example, I can walk down the street and tell someone I don't know that they're fat. I have that right. But to do so would be impolite and irresponsible.

One of the deals of having freedom is the responsibility that comes with it over how you use it.

If Russel Norman was a private citizen he'd be banned from the steps of Parliament as a protester. He'd be behind the gates further down, where he could yell and scream to his heart's content.

But he's not a private citizen. He's a member of Parliament. An employee and a representative of the people.

That meant Norman got to go right up to the Chinese VP, yell in his face, and wave a flag at him.
Unless the video I saw has been doctored, I saw Norman lunging at the VP and then yelling "give me my flag back'' after one of his security guards grabbed it.

I also saw our own diplomatic protection people placed in the invidious position of trying to protect a very important man (the VP, not Norman) while at the same time trying not to touch the MP.

Norman should never have placed the DPS in that position. It wasn't acceptable. It embarrassed himself and New Zealand, and caused us to lose face with one of the most powerful countries in the world. Good one, Russel.

And for what? Free Tibet? Yes, we know. It should be.

But the Chinese VP is hardly going to listen to an agitated man waving a flag in his face.

New Zealand's government always raises human rights in its meetings with Chinese officials and members of the ruling party. Always. Diplomacy has a far better chance of shifting China's mindset than screaming at them.

So, ironically, has our Free Trade Agreement, which has also helped drag us out of recession, according to the PM.

As I say, protest is legitimate. It's an essential part of our democracy. I've been on plenty of them myself.

But when I became a journalist I stopped marching. Not because I stopped believing in things, but because I don't think it's appropriate for a journalist to man the barricades he's reporting on.

And it's not appropriate for a politician to be a protester, either.

Russel needs to choose, just as his colleagues have done. Sue Bradford was a veteran activist and protester, but she put down the megaphone during her years in Parliament.

The late Rod Donald maintained a silent but dignified protest against the Chinese when he held a Tibetan flag aloft at Parliament. He didn't make a scene.

In Parliament, MPs need to find other ways to harness their energies and their opposition to things. That's part of the job.

If Russel Norman can't work that out, he needs to try some other line of work.

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Picture: Phil Reid

Post a comment
Marion   #1   09:40 am Jun 21 2010

I agree Russel Norman was definitely out of line in protesting in this manner. As a man with Dr as his title should have used his God-given brain to use a better way to protest. Being a politician certainly must have other avenues to make his point and one suspects this was a political move of the wrong kind.

Mark   #2   09:53 am Jun 21 2010

I agree, Russel Norman is an embarrassment and I'm glad the police told him where to go.

silverslipperdebbie   #3   09:55 am Jun 21 2010

I don't think you reconcile the statements that Russell was an embarassment with that saying he has the right to protest. We should never be embarrassed by somebody exercising their right to protest, yet be embarassed and ashamed of denying that right. Under the current government more and more rights are gradually being eroded, as I predict may be seen again when the Speaker is manipulated into curtailing the activities of parliamentarians.

He had every right to protest. The NZ police should have protected him. The Chinese were in charge. Parliament grounds may as well have been Teaminin Square at the time. Worrying.

Jo Papanui   #4   10:00 am Jun 21 2010

If we live in a democracy(????) it is fundamental that all people, parliamentarians / endangered cultures / anybody, has a right to protest outside the legislature, and if that right does not exist or ceases to exist we may as well be living in a police state.

D is for democracy   #5   10:00 am Jun 21 2010

Colin. You're saying we should stay silent when dictators visit. And you're condoning the actions of security gurds for dictators when they lay hands on one of our MPs (as your collegues like Soper saw).

So, you're a Tory and you don't agree with Norman's cause. Well, I dont' remember you saying Shane Ardern shouldn leave Parliament when he drove a tractor up its steps.

It's sad. I thought you believed in democracy. It seems you don't

millymolly   #6   10:02 am Jun 21 2010

I agree to some of your blog and perhaps Mr Norman would have been better to stand quietly and protest; however for Mr photo opportunity Key to apologise to the Chinese is beyond the pall. What exactly was he apologising for? that one man dared to voice his opinion on the Chinese invasion of another country? I could be wrong but I heard that Mr Norman did have the Speakers permission to protest. I have just seen a grinning Mr Key with the All Whites Ca[tain and it made me sick . When is the Prime Minister ever in this country?

Mbossa   #7   10:06 am Jun 21 2010

Absolutely disagree. As you say, Russel is a representative of the people. In particular, he is representing the segment of society who want a free Tibet. You're right that it wouldn't be appropriate for a journalist to participate in a protest that he's covering, but to expect a politician not to push for the very policies he was voted in for is pretty ridiculous.

Tamara   #8   10:07 am Jun 21 2010

A rather insightful commentary on the Norman protest issue, in light of John Key's apology to the visiting Chinese official.

Jacob   #9   10:09 am Jun 21 2010

Its possibly some good publicity for the Greens. Norman has some rather large shoes to fill as co-leader, and needs to get his face into the public eye. Whether this was a suitable or responsible way is arguable though. However, I think there are probably a lot of people who feel uneasy about China’s internal human right (not just Tibet), and the fact that we try our best to ignore such things for the benefit of trade. Although, if human rights dictated trade we certainly wouldn’t be in bed with the USA, so at least we’re consistent.

eddie   #10   10:15 am Jun 21 2010

All true Colin, but The Green Party need headlines, (Sue always guaranteed some form of news headlines) they are suffering from a news/media headline/political traction vacuum, this was always going to be targetted as a 'headline' grabbing act by the 'Aussie Invader' Dr Norman, I'm surprised you are surprised at what Dr Norman did, you have been on the political scene for a while Colin, you must have known that The Greens would pull a stunt, and they did....hell, even got a blog topic out of you!...mission accomplished.

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