Legal action over Norman comment


Green Party co-leader Russel Norman has refused to retract his characterisation of Colin Craig's views on women and homosexuals despite the threat of legal action against him.

Craig, Conservative Party of New Zealand leader, has taken the first steps in defamation action after Norman claimed at Auckland's Big Gay Out that Craig thought a woman's place was in the kitchen and a gay man's was in the closet.

Norman made an almost identical comment in Parliament during his opening speech for the year, but attributed it to the "conservative Right", rather than Craig.

GREENS CO-LEADER: Russel Norman.
GREENS CO-LEADER: Russel Norman.

Craig has instructed his lawyers to take legal action and told Fairfax Media that the Green MP should apologise and retract his comments as "these are not things I think".

"It is a defamatory thing and I would consider that somebody who thinks those sorts of things would have a lower standing in the eyes of the public ... he's crossed the line," Craig said.

Norman's characterisation of his views were offensive and "just wrong".

"We ... see them as defamatory, sexist, derogatory and offensive, so that pretty much sums up my view of them." 

Norman today refused to resile from his comments, however, saying he found Craig's comments "offensive".

Craig had a track record of making allegations of defamation, he said.

"Colin Craig's approach to politics of using expensive lawyers to try to tell other politicians what they can and cannot say is not the best way that we should do politics in New Zealand," Norman said.

 "It has a chilling effect on free speech if you have to pass everything in front of a defamation lawyer before you can say it."

Craig's comments about the promiscuity of New Zealand women and that gay relationships were not normal "belong in 1950s New Zealand".

His characterisation of Craig's comments were a "metaphor" to illustrate Craig's views, he said.

"I was not saying Mr Craig is a bad person. I don't believe Mr Craig is a bad person, but I do strenuously disagree with his views about gay New Zealanders and about women New Zealanders." 

He refused to say whether or not he thought Craig was too sensitive for politics.

That Craig had not called him prior to launching legal action was "most unfortunate", Norman said.

Craig's lawyer, John MacKay, has written to Norman saying the comments were defamatory as it harmed Craig's reputation "to say that he holds such sexist, derogatory and offensive views about women and gay men".

"Neither the context of an election year, nor the occasion of the Big Gay Out provide you with a licence to say anything you like about Mr Craig," the letter said.

MacKay demanded an apology and retraction to an audience similar in size to the one that heard Norman's original comments, which were also broadcast on television.

Further action could be taken if no such apology and retraction was made.

It's not the first time Craig has taken the legal route over statements made about him.

Early last year he launched a defamation suit against Ben Uffindell, publisher of the satirical news site The Civilian.

The site had published a story about floods in Nelson, Waikato and Bay of Plenty being caused by the passing of the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill.

It referenced Craig, but after a receiving a letter from his lawyers, a note was published at the top of the story.

It read: "We accept, upon further review, that Mr Craig never made the statement attributed to him. We retract the statement and apologise to Mr Craig for any harm we have caused to his impeccable reputation."

No further action was sought by Craig's lawyers.

In December, Television New Zealand was required by the Broadcasting Standards Authority to issue an on-air apology for an item about him, which ran on Seven Sharp.

Prime Minister John Key said legal action in those kinds of circumstances was often a "waste of time".

"If I started taking legal action against everyone who'd said bad things about me, my lawyers would be busy too," Key said.