Greens vow to resist protest curbs

BY CLAIRE TREVETT
Last updated 05:00 23/06/2010

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The Greens are warning they will resist any moves to curb the rights of MPs to protest at Parliament after a suggestion from the prime minister that any such protest should be in silence.

Prime Minister John Key has asked the Speaker to work on a protocol to guide MPs who protest against visiting overseas dignitaries after a stoush between Green co-leader Russel Norman and Chinese security guards during last week's visit by Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping.

Mr Key returned to New Zealand last night and told Morning Report yesterday that he wanted a protocol that would allow an MP to protest "in a silent way" while maintaining the dignitary of a visitor.

Dr Norman repeatedly yelled "Freedom for Tibet" while holding up the Tibetan flag up. He said yesterday his party would not support any rules that unduly affected freedom of speech.

However, he is increasingly coming under fire for his protest. Yesterday, Labour leader Phil Goff also voiced his concern, saying that, although the Chinese had no right to snatch the flag, Dr Norman could have overstepped the mark.

"Did Russel Norman behave with the dignity you might have expected from an MP? I think he might have learnt from Rod Donald's lesson of standing back, giving a bit of space, making the point but not being confrontational."

Acting Prime Minister Bill English also described Dr Norman's behaviour as "harassing" the Chinese delegation, while Mr Key said he had "charged" at them.

Dr Norman said he had intended to protest by standing quietly until the Chinese security guards began to hinder him, pushing him forward.

Mr Key will discuss the matter with Speaker Lockwood Smith, who is already reviewing the incident after a complaint from Dr Norman. A spokesman said he expected to comment further by the week's end.

Any change to the rules would be made only after consulting other MPs.

Police have already declined to prosecute over a complaint laid by Dr Norman, saying there was not enough evidence and the Chinese officials would not co-operate.

Journalist Nick Wang laid two complaints with police yesterday about Chinese security pushing him on this trip as well as a previous visit. He said the delegation had also tried to prevent him taking photos of the vice-president at the airport but Kiwi officials stood up for him.

CHEAP SHOT OR VALIANT STAND?

Dompost.co.nz readers reacted strongly to Green Party co-leader Russel Norman's scuffle with Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping's entourage and Prime Minister John Key's apology to the delegation over the incident:

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"A very cheap shot from Mr Norman. Sure, he has a right to protest as China have an appalling human rights record but to be reduced to wrestling with the [vice-president's] security staff is disgraceful." Jock

"China's list of appalling human rights transgressions is a long and shameful one. Any decent person in a free country would bring this to their attention if they were able to, and I find it incomprehensible that the National Government has apologised for it." Rick

"Norman is a drama queen ... You don't insult a visitor to your house, no matter how much you don't like the visitor." Challenger

"Sorry for what? For being a pathetic wimp, and clearly lacking a pair of, er, values. That would be right. What has happened to Kiwi men? There's no mana (or `man') in being a boot-licker." Anna B

"Maybe human rights are an outdated, outmoded, idealistic notion? Trade rights seemingly take great precedence." Aaron Walker

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