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.
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”.
This doesn’t reflect well on either man. Russel Norman is the co-leader of the Green Party that claims a core value is “Engage respectfully, without personal attacks“. Norman tramples over that Green value all the time.
However Craig looks thin skinned for again threatening defamation. It may appeal to his support base which don’t like the Greens, but will make the media more hostile towards him as they don’t like politicians who threaten defamation. Also the comments Norman made, while false (as far as I know), are not worse than a lot of political rhetoric.
However there is one aspect to this, which the media have not picked up on. If you look at the letter Craig sent Norman, he is not threatening to sue Norman for damages. He refers to getting a declaration that what Norman said was false and defamatory. That means it is not about trying to financially penalise your opponent – just having a court say that your opponent lied. It would be interesting to see how a court would rule, if it does proceed. Could Norman remain Green Party co-leader if the court ruled he had defamed Craig?
John Armstrong writes that Craig needs to “harden up and quickly”. It is good advice, but he also overlooks that Craig is apparently not seeking damages, just a declaration that the statements were defamatory.