14 Feb 2017

Councillor asked to apologise for 'racist' te reo post

9:17 am on 14 February 2017

A New Plymouth district councillor is being asked to apologise for online comments in which he describes te reo Māori as being "kept alive on a respirator".

Murray Chong

Murray Chong Photo: Glenn Jeffrey

In a Facebook post discussing compulsory te reo in schools, Murray Chong said $600 million was being spent annually on Māori language initiatives - more than $33,000 for each of the country's 18,000 fluent speakers - and asked if it was time to give the language away for lost.

"Is Maori a dead language being kept alive on a respirator?" he asks in the post.

The original post was private but was shared on Facebook by New Plymouth businessman Dinnie Moeahu, who said it was racist and based on bogus facts. It has since received hundreds of comments and dozens of shares.

Mr Chong said the comments were his personal view.

Maori Language Commission chief executive Ngahiwi Apanui said the remarks were "not a good look" for a councillor and leader of the community.

Most of the money was used by the Ministry of Education, not in the promotion of te reo, he said.

"We would have been more than happy for him to come and talk to us and check his facts before making his comments on Facebook."

Former mayor Andrew Judd, who last year described himself as a recovering racist, reflected a lack of understanding, both locally and nationally, about New Zealand's past and colonisation.

"We're dealing still with the consequences of that ignorance."

New Plymouth-based writer Stephanie Makutu said the post was both racist and inaccurate. She wanted an apology for bringing the council into disrepute.

"Now, everybody looks at the New Plymouth District Council and says 'what a bunch of racists'."

Ms Makutu said it was silly to divide the funding by the number of fluent speakers because the money was not for them.

The council said any complaints about the post would go through a formal process.