NZ First MP Ron Mark denies racism over 'go back to Korea' jibe
NZ First deputy leader Ron Mark has denied he is racist after telling a National MP to "go back to Korea" during a parliamentary debate.
Mark's comments have attracted criticism from MPs across the political spectrum – including a member of his own party.
His remarks came during debate on Tuesday about the Shop Trading Hours Amendment Bill, which would allow local councils to determine whether shops can trade on Easter Sunday.
Mark took offence to a speech by Korean-born Lee in support of the bill, in which she said she had been surprised by New Zealand's restricted shop hours having grown up overseas.
In response, he said: "Melissa Lee told the House in her rather condescending manner, which she is becoming renowned for, that we need to grow up in New Zealand.
"Well I have got a short message – if you do not like New Zealand, go back to Korea."
Lee said she was not in Parliament when Mark made the comments, but believed they were "totally, utterly inappropriate".
"I've never been told to go back home to Korea, considering the fact that this is my home.
"I've been here for nearly 30 years, I left Korea when I was about 10 – New Zealand is more home for me than Korea is."
Lee said she had been contacted by a range of MPs "right across Parliament" to offer their support following the remarks.
ACT leader David Seymour said Mark's comments were "absolutely disgraceful" and a breach of parliamentary rules.
"Normally we give Ron Mark a bit of a leash because he's not the brightest bulb on the tree, but this sort of racism is not acceptable.
"It's offensive to the House and it's offensive to New Zealanders who believe that it isn't the colour of your skin or your background that determines who you are."
United Future leader Peter Dunne said Mark's comments were disgraceful.
"I don't think there's any place for that sort of racism under any circumstances – I think it's disgusting."
Attorney-General Chris Finlayson described the remarks as "oafish and buffoonish", while Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox said Mark had been "absolutely diabolical".
"I was embarrassed, and I thought that he should have been sat down...people in New Zealand should have the right to speak up freely and not be worried about some sort of attack that's based on their ethnic, religious or cultural background."
'IT'S NOT RACIST, GROW UP'
Mark stood by his comments when asked whether they were appropriate.
"Some people who come here might think we're a little bit antiquated, a little bit silly, and maybe they do think we need to grow up, but ... well, they've got two choices, they can move on."
He said the remarks were not racist but part of "robust debate".
"No, it's not racist – grow up."
However, former NZ First deputy leader Tracey Martin declined to support her colleague, saying: "It's not a statement I would have made."
Another NZ First MP, Pita Paraone, said Mark's comments were "said in the heat of the moment, as part of the theatre of Parliament".
"He said it in the House, where we've become used to people talking like that to one another, and while it may not be acceptable to the general public ... I didn't think it was a racist comment."