16 Jan 2019

Taranaki mayor censures councillor 'ashamed' of Māori anthem

12:56 pm on 16 January 2019
Murry Chong

Murry Chong Photo: Glenn Jeffrey

Murray Chong, who has previously described te reo as a dying language, has been censured by the New Plymouth Mayor.

Michael Riley, a former member of the council's youth working party, said he started the petition after overhearing people talking about Mr Chong's comments at a cafe in Australia where he now lived.

"And it made the news here in Sydney and New South Wales and I overheard them talking about.

"I heard New Plymouth and I heard a politician was making racist remarks about the national anthem. And ironically the first name I could think of was Murray Chong."

Mr Riley said he was shocked when he looked into it.

"He's someone who is meant to be representing the voices of the New Plymouth district and in the international media representing the voices of New Zealand - and he is putting Taranaki in the media for all the wrong reasons."

Mr Riley said if similar comments were made about Aboriginal "calls to country" - indigenous welcome to Aboriginal land - in Australia, there would be outrage.

New Zealanders needed to stand against comments like Mr Chong's.

A first term councillor, Mr Chong had replied to a Facebook post asking people to "name a song they are ashamed of singing".

He answered: "the te reo version of the national anthem".

Asked if he felt threatened by it, Mr Chong said no but he only wanted sing the "original version".

He went on to say if people had to sing the national anthem in both languages then the haka should be performed in English too.

New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom turned down an interview request but via text message said he had given Mr Chong an official telling off.

"I have censured councillor Chong for once again making social media comments which spark divisive debate, serve no one in our community and reflect poorly on New Plymouth District Council."

Mr Holdom said Mr Chong's view was at odds with the council's.

"Councillor Chong's long history of comments on Social Media regarding te reo do not reflect the majority of councillors' views on this matter or those of the New Plymouth District Council, which is focused on enhancing a tolerant and inclusive culture."

The council recognised "the special role of tangata whenua" in Aotearoa.

Mr Chong has been censured twice previously for race-based comments.

Mr Holdom would not say what the censure would mean in practice or how often a councillor could be censured before further action would be taken.

Council rules allow for a censured councillor to be dumped from committees and to be dismissed from appointed positions, but not kicked off the council

Mr Holdom did not offer an opinion on whether Mr Chong should resign.

On the streets of New Plymouth it was impossible to find support for the embattled councillor.

Rukutai Watene said it was not difficult to sing in Maori.

"If he has trouble following it maybe he should leave and find another country - and first thing, he should get off the council."

Crystal Lambert was not impressed either.

"Everyone is entitled to an opinion but it's a bit racist. It's the national anthem and personally I find it a bit offensive."

Bede Laracy could not see what all the fuss was about.

"I think we are past that point aren't we, as a nation? We've had those debates and kind of decided on mass that we've accepted the te reo version as well as the English.

Michael Riley Mr Chong should be made to resign.

More than 1600 people have so far signed the petition calling for Mr Chong's resignation.

Mr Chong did not return RNZ's calls for comment.

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