Peters needs to know he's not funny: Devoy

18:56, Aug 11 2014
susand devoy
SUSAN DEVOY: "Human rights begin at home."

The Race Relations Commissioner says it's "disappointing and shameful" that politicians were still making fun of an entire race of people in 2014.

"We're better than this and our political leaders need to realise that," Dame Susan Devoy said today.

Her comments come after NZ First leader Winston Peters made a joke relating to Chinese during his campaign launch speech in West Auckland yesterday.

winston peters
KICK OFF: Winston Peters speaks at the New Zealand First campaign launch in West Auckland.

Criticising both Labour and National governments that he said had sold large amounts of land to foreigners, he said the sales did not make the actions of either acceptable.

"As they say in Beijing, two wongs don't make a white," he told the audience.

He later dismissed criticism of the speech, saying some journalists were acting as "Nazi politically correct police".


But Devoy said today that Peters needed to know he was not funny.

"His outdated rhetoric belongs in New Zealand's past - it has no place in New Zealand's future," she said.
New Zealand still had "a lot of work to do" in terms of people treating each other with respect, Devoy said.

"All New Zealanders, including and especially those charged with the responsibility and honour of representing us in our Parliament, need to treat one another with dignity, and respect - the foundations upon which human rights are found," she said.

"Human rights begin at home."

Peters earlier dismissed questions about the joke saying reporters needed a sense of humour if they couldn't understand it.

This morning he told Radio New Zealand that in China the joke was considered funny, because the joke had been told to him while on a trip to Beijing.

"What we don't need is juvenile PC people deciding what's right and what's wrong," Peters said.

"The reality is a Chinese guy thought it was a joke. He told me that, so did my colleague, and there's nothing racist about it, so it would be a good idea if you focused on the issue rather than tell us what is politically correct and not politically correct.

"Some Chinese have a sense of humour. So have I.

"What we don't need is a few journalists who decide that they're going to be the Nazi politically correct police of this country. No one cares about that.

"The fact is the Chinese have got a great sense of humour."

Prime Minister John Key dismissed the joke as "just Winston" but said it was not an expression he had heard on his visits to China.

"That's not what they say in Beijing, but that's Winston, isn't it," he said today.

"We are 40 days to an election [and] that's what Winston says."

Asked if it was offensive, funny, or just inappropriate, Key responded: "It's just Winston.

"It's like all of those stunts isn't it, he's doing that because he wants you to be outraged, because he wants to get you playing it on breakfast TV because he wants to get his message through."

ACT leader Jamie Whyte said Peters' joke was "shameful and xenophobic".

Whyte said the joke used by Peters was originally made by the Australian politician, Arthur Calwell whom he described as "a keen defender of the White Australia immigration policy".

"Mr Peters is an experienced Australasian politician," Whyte said.

"He must be aware of Calwell and his xenophobic policies. Repeating an even less amusing version of his joke is shameful." 

Two Chinese New Zealanders believed Peters' speech was out of touch and out of place in New Zealand.

Henry Wong's family migrated to New Zealand from Hong Kong in 1979.

He had faced racism and discrimination for his heritage, but the 29-year-old believed Peters' comments are not reflective of New Zealand society or their impressions of Chinese people.

"I think Winston was trying to be funny and light-hearted but missed the mark. I didn't find his comments racist or funny. I just laughed at him.

"I don't think, especially in a democratic country like New Zealand, one person's comments, whoever they are, can marginalise a whole group of society," Wong said.

Melissa Wong's ancestors settled in New Zealand in the 1860s to mine gold in Otago.

She thought the speech was racist and not funny, but given Peters' history the comments were impotent.

"It's a jibe by Winston Peters, he's famous for making these sorts of statements. Personally I'm not offended by this statement," she said.

In spite of Peters' speech she believed things had improved drastically since the gold rush and New Zealand recognised the important contribution of Chinese people to the country.

She had faced discrimination for her race and was pleased to see people come out against the comments.

"Life was far more difficult for my forefathers than it is for me today. People are more culturally aware and worldly these days. It was common 20 years ago, but is rare now Life is much better now," she said.

Henry Wong put racism down to ignorance and believed New Zealand was one of the most progressive multicultural countries in the world.

"Having lived in Australia and further abroad the racism in New Zealand is at a very low level.

"New Zealand is a multicultral society which is well educated about all cultures and taught to listen to take into account everyone's views. I am very happy I was bought up in that environment," he said.