6 Nov 2015

Ron Mark's 'Go back to Korea' comment condemned

10:29 am on 6 November 2015

Politicians of all stripes say it is disgraceful that deputy leader of New Zealand First Ron Mark told Korean-born National MP Melissa Lee to go back to Korea.

NZ First MP, Ron Mark.

Ron Mark told Melissa Lee to go back to Korea Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

During a political debate on Easter trading hours this week, Ron Mark objected to comments Ms Lee made and said, "I want to go on to the other comments of Melissa Lee... from Korea, as Wikipedia says."

"And Melissa Lee told the House in her rather condescending manner, which she's becoming renowned for, that we need to grow up in New Zealand - well, I've got a short message: if you don't like New Zealand, go back to Korea."

The comments angered other politicians, including Ministers Anne Tolley and Nick Smith.

"I thought they were disgusting... there's no doubt it was deliberately racist," Ms Tolley said.

Dr Smith said the "derogatory" comments were a slur on all New Zealanders who were born overseas.

Labour MP Peeni Henare said Mr Mark's comments were way out of line.

"It's just unbecoming, and it's not professional, it's got no place in the House, or anywhere in New Zealand, for that matter," he said.

"I think it's pretty disgraceful to be honest."

Green Party co-leader James Shaw was not surprised.

"I would say it's completely in character for New Zealand First, they have a long history of being hostile to immigrants and to people of other ethnicities."

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox was unimpressed.

"People in New Zealand should have the right to speak up freely and not be worried about some sort of attack that's based on their ethnic, religious or cultural background."

Mr Mark quickly tired of answering journalists' questions on the subject yesterday.

"No, it's not racist, grow up."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is defending his deputy's comments.

"She started it by saying, and talking about her Korean shopping experience, and then saying that those who think we should value public holidays and time for the workforce to spend time with their families - now, right away, she opened herself up for that sort of response," Mr Peters said.

And Mr Peters pointed out Ms Lee has previously made offensive comments of her own.

"Melissa Lee is the same person in the Mt Albert by-election who said the motorway should not stop in Mt Albert otherwise all the South Aucklanders would be coming along and thieving from Mt Albert people, do you remember that?

"And I don't recall all this horrified reaction from the National Party, so frankly, they can get off their high horse, and try to get off it gracefully."

But unlike Mr Mark, Ms Lee apologised publicly at the time for the offence her comments caused.

New Zealand First supported the Easter trading hours bill to select committee.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs