Green leader out of line with protest

21:22, Jun 20 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.

But 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