Winston Peters must show leadership on setting tone on immigration, race relations - expert

A leading academic has said Winston Peters needs to show leadership and set an appropriate tone for discussions about immigration and race relations going forward.

In wake of the Christchurch terror attacks, the Deputy Prime Minister's previous comments on immigration have been drawn into the spotlight.

In 2005, Peters said: "We have now reached a point where you can wander down Queen St in Auckland and wonder if you are still in New Zealand or some other country" and "New Zealand has never been a nation of Islamic immigrants."

He has since defended those comments and others, saying they must be taken in their context, and noted he has called out other examples of extremism, including misinformation being spread last year when the United Nations Compact on Migration was being debated.

But Peters has also admitted not being blameless.

"If you want to look at someone who's had the longest political career of anybody in this parliament, and you think that I would claim that I'm blameless over that long career. Well, you might but I don't assume such a thing, and I never will."

Paul Spoonley, a Massey University professor, said the climate and "tone" had changed since the attacks and hopes politicians like Peters help lead the way.

"We've all said things that we regret, but on this occasion... you have got to say 'Winston, man, you are categorising immigrants, Muslims, very unfairly' and it has taken this tragic event to put these into context," he told The Project.

"I would invite Winston to show leadership on this point."

Spoonley said Peters' comments were not hate speech, but believes there needed to be a greater conversation in New Zealand about what defines extreme speech.

"I think we've got to talk about the extremes of speech where people vilify and promote violence towards minorities, whether they are transphobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic or racist," he said.

"We have got to act on it, we have got to say what are we going to do about hate speech.

"It is undermining us as a democracy in this country and I think what this event has done has sensitised us to the fact that you can easily access Islamophobic content on New Zealand websites as of tonight."


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