Colin Craig sets deadline for Russel Norman's apology

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 15:57 18/02/2014
Colin Craig
Fairfax NZ

READY TO CALL IN THE LAWYERS: Colin Craig.

Fairfax NZ
NOT BUDGING: Russel Norman.

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The Green Party has responded to a letter from the lawyer of Conservative Party leader Colin Craig with a letter of its own, saying any defamation action would be "vigorously defended".

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman has been given until Friday to apologise for statements he made suggesting Craig was sexist and homophobic.

Craig has confirmed that if he does not receive an apology by 5pm on Friday, he will launch a defamation suit against Norman.

Craig is demanding a retraction and apology from Norman over comments he made at Auckland's Big Gay Out.

Norman said at the event that Craig thought a woman's place was in the kitchen and a gay man's was in the closet.

The Greens have today responded with a letter from Wellington lawyer Steven Price.

In a letter to Craig's lawyer, John McKay, Price said any legal action would be vigorously defended.

"I note that Dr Norman's comments were obviously not intended to be taken literally, and you do not claim that they were received that way."

Price described the comments as "colourful political rhetoric," made in reference to the implications of voting for a National government under MMP.

If Craig wanted to pursue the matter further, he should preserve any "evidence of comments that he has made in relation to gay people and women, including emails and other correspondence that may be relevant in the discovery phase of any such litigation," Price wrote.

Norman has already refused to resile from his comments, calling Craig's views "offensive".

"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," he said yesterday.

"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.

"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."

Craig's past comments about the promiscuity of New Zealand women and gay relationships not being not normal "belong in 1950s New Zealand," Norman said.

He would not be backing down, because it was a matter of principle, Norman said.

In MacKay's letter delivered to Norman yesterday, he said Norman's comments were defamatory as they 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.

He 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 TV.

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

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Labour deputy leader David Parker, a lawyer and former attorney-general, defended Norman's claim as "absolutely fair comment".

"The idea politicians can't make value judgments is wrong and if Colin Craig is so silly as to think he can repress public criticisms of his extreme positions he is both wrong in law and principle, and I will be one of many lawyers to offer to represent him for free in court. It's a nonsense," he said.

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 referencing fictitious comments made by Craig about floods in Nelson, Waikato and Bay of Plenty being caused by the passing of the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill.

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

- Stuff

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