26 Mar 2012

'Please explain' request from Finnish embassy

4:46 pm on 26 March 2012

The Finnish embassy in Canberra wants an explanation of derogatory remarks by the Government minister Gerry Brownlee in Parliament about Finland and its people.

Last Wednesday, Mr Brownlee attacked crime levels in Finland, its economy and the status of women.


The minister, who holds several posts including Leader of the House, accused the main opposition Labour Party of idolising the Nordic country.

Then, after listing a series of ways in which he said Finland lagged behind New Zealand, Mr Brownlee argued that Labour would struggle to make this argument work.

"You'd actually get someone to go out there and make the speech saying, 'I want New Zealand to be like Finland which has worse unemployment than us, has less growth than us, can hardly feed the people who live there, has a terrible homicide rate, hardly educates their people and has no respect for women'."

The deputy head of mission at the Embassy of Finland in Canberra has written to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade seeking an explanation, saying he wants to know if there will be any reaction from the Government. The embassy is accredited to New Zealand.

Juha Parikka says the things Mr Brownlee said were not nice to hear, and do not reflect life in Finland.

He says the comments are being covered intensively in newspapers and broadcast media in Finland.

Mr Brownlee has said his comments were humorous and satirical.

Brownlee 'ill educated' - lecturer

A Finnish academic in New Zealand called Mr Brownlee uneducated.

Lecturer Merja Myllylahti, who teaches at AUT's School of Communications in Auckland, says Mr Brownlee's remarks are wrong - especially regarding the status of women.

Ms Myllylahti says in recent years, Finland has had a female president and prime minister, almost half its Cabinet are women, and women excel in business at top levels.

"He hasn't been well educated in these things, I think."

Mr Brownlee says the debate on Finland and the Labour leadership was essentially humorous and satirical.