Our leaders aren't meant to be bigots

Last updated 13:00 15/02/2013

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OPINION: Much has been made of Richard Prosser's "brain explosion" - and rightly so. The New Zealand First MP's opinion that young Muslim men should be banned from flying on Western airlines because of the threat of terrorism has attracted damaging headlines around the world.

Exploding brains are not a condition peculiar to MPs. If Mr Prosser were some ordinary Dick or Harry sounding off to mates at his working men's club on a Thursday night then little, if anything, would be made of it. Despite the best efforts of the political correctness movement, bigotry is alive and well in New Zealand, as with anywhere else in the world.

However, Mr Prosser is a political Dick, not an ordinary one; as such, well paid for his representative and leadership responsibilities. And the opinions he sprouted that have caused so much offence around the world were not off-the-cuff remarks slurred over a few too many beers at his local. He had clearly thought through what he wanted to say - phrases like "sorry pack of misogynist troglodytes from Wogistan" suggest both a degree of contemplation, and intent to offend.

Mr Prosser's disgraceful rantings have let himself, his party and his country down. The honourable thing for him to do would be to resign - but he doesn't seem to have that in him. Party leader Winston Peters, himself a regular player of the race card in order to draw attention, should sack him, but it seems that's also a step too far.

Mr Peters at least has the decency to acknowledge that Mr Prosser "wrongfully impugned millions of law-abiding, peaceful Muslims". But he won't force out his errant MP - perhaps because he has already had to move swiftly against another NZ First MP, Brendan Horan, expelling him from the party this year.

Clearly, the one-man-band political parties struggle to find half-decent candidates to fill out their lists - a point voters should consider closely at the time of the 2014 elections.

Freedom of speech is an important aspect of life in New Zealand. But the role of a member of Parliament carries great weight and responsibility. Even if Mr Prosser was too stupid to know the boundaries, those in charge of Investigate magazine do know better and confirm their own lack of judgment and extremist views by publishing his so-called column.

The opposition parties, so quick to condemn Mr Prosser, also expose their own self-interest by failing to rule out working with his party should he still be drawing an MP's salary after 2014.

Mr Peters himself made similar, if more temperate, comments in 2005 about the dangers of Muslims "infiltrating" New Zealand. Eight years on, none of his dire warnings have come to pass and, if his comments this week are to be trusted, his beliefs are more moderate now.

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Extending Mr Prosser's argument would suggest white males should be banned from the priesthood because of a predatory few, or from company directorships in case of insider trading or fraud. Perhaps they also ought to be barred from party lists. There is no place for unthinking bigotry in the House.

- Nelson

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