PM defends 'racist' TVNZ survey

2:56 pm on 15 March 2016

Prime Minister John Key says he does not have a problem with a question in a TVNZ survey which has been labelled racist by Maori MPs.

Prime Minister John Key talks to reporters at Parliament

Prime Minister John Key talks to reporters at Parliament Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

Māori MPs are calling for the state broadcaster to apologise and retract "racist" questions from a survey which seeks to find out how "Kiwi" we all are.

The KiwiMeter survey asked New Zealanders questions about nationhood and, in a Māori section, touched on Māori culture and asked whether Māori should not have special treatment.

Mr Key says the question is a legitimate one to ask.

"I mean we're partners together.

"The point of which we signed the treaty - it was the foundation stone of modern New Zealand, but it was the foundation stone of where we were equal and treated equally, and I think my own view is that the government should fund on the basis of need not on the basis of race."

Labour leader Andrew Little said the question did not need to be included in the survey, as it presupposed something that smacked of prejudice.

Caucus run 21/07/15

Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis said the question was designed to incite racial intolerance and he wanted it withdrawn.

"I was left thinking, what's special about having our land stolen from us, higher Māori incarceration rate, worst health outcomes, lower educational outcomes - just what exactly is the special treatment we're getting?"

The survey also asked whether discrimination was stifling Māori success.

TVNZ head of news and current affairs John Gillespie said he would not apologise for the question.

"We think that in the survey it is important to be robust and to have questions in it that reflect all parts of society so we won't be taking out questions where we thought long and hard about why they're in there," he said.

Clifton van der Linden, the chief executive of Canadian company Vox Pop Labs, was in charge of the survey and said Mr Davis' claims were "categorically false".

His company was reflecting the views that already existed in what he called "the discourse", he said.

"Asking the question doesn't imply Māori received special treatment. If I were asking the question 'John shouldn't paint his house yellow', it doesn't imply John is painting his house yellow."

Metiria Turei

Metiria Turei Photo: RNZ / Demelza Leslie

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei disagreed and said the questions were a disgraceful approach to serious issues facing Māori in Aotearoa.

"What exactly are they asking people about? Are they asking people about having Treaty rights recognised and reparation for land stolen by the Crown, are they talking about the special treatment of not getting access to housing or our parents being kicked out of bars for being Māori?

"The questions are fundamentally misleading and racist."

TVNZ's Mr Gillespie did not see it that way, and said 120,000 people had already participated in the survey, including Māori.

Mr van der Linden was also in favour of keeping the survey as it was.

"We can learn more about the mechanisms through which racism and prejudices operate and find ways to combat these prejudices," he said.

"If you don't ask the question, how do you hope to find the answer?"

The Human Rights Commission was also looking into the issue, and said the question about Māori receiving special treatment assumed that was the case.

Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox said she wanted to know more about how the survey was undertaken.

The whole survey "is trying to gauge what New Zealanders think about New Zealanders", she said.

"But when you look at questions over religion, immigration and Māori, why do we need a Canadian company on behalf to TVNZ to write a survey about ourselves?"

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

One of the four political academics consulted on the final questions, Danny Osborne, said the group recognised that the issues were sensitive, and accepted that when a question was drawn out in isolation it could appear to be biased.

"However, the questions used in KiwiMeter are mutually dependent, and so removing one question would destroy its balance," he said.