The Herald reports:
Prime Minister John Key telephoned the most senior minister in the visiting Chinese delegation to apologise for the scuffle during the arrival of Vice-President Xi Jingping at Parliament.
I can understand why the PM felt it was necessary – because the screaming yelling protester was not just a member of the public, but a leader of a parliamentary party.
But having said that, I don’t think it was appropriate for the PM to apologise. He is not responsible for Norman, and by doing so may confuse the difference between the Government and the Parliament.
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully has also called for a full report on the incident from his ministry and he would like to see a protocol developed between the Speaker and protesting MPs for future visits.
This I think is a very good idea. The right to protest must be protected, but this doesn’t mean you allow protesters to get within a couple of metres of visiting VIPs – even if an MP.
If Norman had not been advancing on the Vice-President, this incident probably would not have happened. As a contrast Chris Trotter remembers Rod Donald:
My abiding memory of this remarkable man – my friend – Rod Donald, will be of him standing alone at the foot of the parliamentary steps, his face a mixture of sadness and defiance, holding up the forbidden Tibetan flag. It was a noble protest – and all the more effective for being conducted not by some raggle-taggle band of New Age anarchists, but by a senior Member of Parliament and party leader, dressed proudly and patriotically in his best, New Zealand-made, suit.
No advancing on the Vice-President, no shouting, no scruffling. That is the way to do it if you want to be an MP making a protest.
I am no fan of China’s repression. I think there should be protests when their VIPs visit. If the Greens had organised a Free Tibet protest outside Parliament, I might have even gone along to it.
Now having said that, it is clear that engagement with China is the only sane course of action. Refusing to trade or talk to them would be stupid. The trick is getting the balance of engagement and protest right. And broadly you expect the Government to engage and civil society to protest. There is a time when Governments also protest – but that tends to be in response to specific events.
UPDATE: Colin Espiner blogs:
I know it’s fashionable to hate the Chinese, and everyone wants a free Tibet.
So much so you’d think they were handing them out in Weetbix packets.
But while I’ll probably get into trouble with the Left for saying this, I’m sorry, but Green Party co-leader Russel Norman was an embarrassment to himself, Parliament, and New Zealand with his protest against the Chinese vice-president’s visit last week. …
When I heard that Norman’s flag had been “trampled” I thought that was a bit on the nose, too, so I took a look at the video.
Strange how none of the many cameras there – both still and TV – managed to capture the so-called attack, or the flag trampling.
What they did capture, though, was an MP behaving in a way that no self-respecting member of Parliament with any dignity should behave.
Don’t get me wrong. I fully support Russel Norman’s right to have his say. This is a free country, unlike China.
But sometimes, I think the RIGHT to free speech and EXERCISING it are confused.
For example, I can walk down the street and tell someone I don’t know that they’re fat. I have that right. But to do so would be impolite and irresponsible.
One of the deals of having freedom is the responsibility that comes with it over how you use it.
A point well made.
If Russel Norman was a private citizen he’d be banned from the steps of Parliament as a protester. He’d be behind the gates further down, where he could yell and scream to his heart’s content.
But he’s not a private citizen. He’s a member of Parliament. An employee and a representative of the people.
That meant Norman got to go right up to the Chinese VP, yell in his face, and wave a flag at him.
Unless the video I saw has been doctored, I saw Norman lunging at the VP and then yelling “give me my flag back” after one of his security guards grabbed it.
Colin makes the same point I have made – it was a long way removed from what Rod Donald did.