Anti-racists should consider pulling down Parliament's Richard Seddon statue - Judith Collins

National MP Judith Collins says if Kiwi activists want to start tearing down statues of homegrown racists, they could start with Richard Seddon.

A statue of 'King Dick' stands in front of Parliament. During his 13-year reign as Prime Minister, women won the right to vote and New Zealand implemented the world's first taxpayer-funded pension scheme, available to the elderly poor as long as they were of "good moral character".

Though his achievements were significant for the time, many of Seddon's beliefs would horrify modern voters. 

The pension he implemented specifically excluded Chinese people. Before 1896, every Chinese person who entered New Zealand had to pay a £10 fee - about $1900 in modern money. Seddon upped that to £100 ($19,000). 

According to The Life and Work of Richard John Seddon, published at the end of Seddon's time in office, he compared the Chinese to monkeys and called them a "nuisance" in other places they'd been allowed to settle, such as Australia and California, which both had tightened immigration from the Middle Kingdom. 

"New Zealand, unless she wishes her shores to be deluged by Asiatic Tartars, must follow suit," Seddon said. "I would sooner address white men than these Chinese - you can't talk to them, you can't reason with them. All you can get from them is: 'No savvy.' 

"The Chinese in San Francisco are entering into competition with women as well as men. There are Chinese cooks, Chinese washerwomen, Chinese everything; they are a hard pill to swallow." 

English-born Seddon, an avid imperialist, also wanted to turn New Zealand into a colonial power in the south Pacific - hoping to bring Fiji, Samoa and the Cook Islands into the fledgling colony. He only succeeded with the Cook Islands.

Some activists inspired by the recent protests sparked by the death of African-American man George Floyd have focused their anger on statues of colonial leaders and slave owners. Statues of Confederate leaders and explorer Christopher Columbus have been toppled in the US, and Bristol's monument to slave trader Edward Coulston was thrown into the city's harbour

Collins told The AM Show it was a slippery slope to removing most statues of historical figures, whose ideas might not have aged well, even if they did some good in their time. 

"I would also say actually you know, look, Richard Seddon's statue, on that basis, should go. His racism against Chinese was just unbelievable.

"Then we'd go after all those who were sexist, which would be pretty much everybody."

Richard Seddon's statue outside of Parliament.
Richard Seddon's statue outside of Parliament. Photo credit: Getty

Her other concern was that birds would have nowhere to sit.

"I've often looked past those statues as I've walked past, and I see Richard Seddon all large as life, larger than life, and I think - where would the pigeons go?"

Seddon was a member of the Liberal Party, which would later morph into the United Party before merging with the Reform Party, forming the modern National Party. 

Labour MP Willie Jackson said Māori have long hated the colonial statues around the country.

"They always had a lot of problem with the statues that represented colonisation and a lot of Māori in those days wanted to go and chop all their heads off - some did. This is not a new kaupapa, this is not a new issue. 

He hinted many of the statues might not still be standing if older Kiwis had been taught about the country's history in school - as will be the case from 2022.

"This issue now that they're talking about, we're covering it as a Government - we're teaching New Zealand history. We've got to teach warts and all, everything. Iwi and local councils need to make those decisions with regards to statues."

Wellington City Council's heritage website notes the Seddon statue is "an icon of New Zealand’s Parliament and its grounds, and often a prop for protests". But could its next protest be its last?