17 Feb 2019

New Plymouth councillor quits as chair after remarks on te reo

7:46 pm on 17 February 2019

A New Plymouth councillor is stepping down from his role as a chairperson before the Mayor tries to force him from it.

Murry Chong

New Plymouth councillor Murray Chong says he was ashamed to sing the national anthem in te reo Māori, because he could not pronounce the words. Photo: Glenn Jeffrey

Murray Chong recently said on Facebook that he was ashamed to sing the national anthem in te reo Māori and implied a number of fellow councillors felt the same way.

The city's Mayor, Neil Holdom, publicly condemned the comments.

He said he had intended to file a motion at a council meeting on Monday to remove Mr Chong as chairperson of the Aged and Accessibility Issues Working Party. However, that meeting was no longer needed now that he had censured Mr Chong and he had apologised publicly and stepped down as chairperson of the working party.

In a memorandum, Mr Holdom said Mr Chong's comments had damaged New Plymouth's reputation and he had not apologised.

"The comments have hurt and upset many in our community," Mr Holdom said.

"They have incensed his fellow councillors, who have worked tirelessly for the past two years to build a more tolerant and inclusive culture in the district."

Mr Holdom said Mr Chong had previously agreed to apologise but had since reneged on that promise, so removing him from the role was an appropriate course of action.

"I consulted with councillors and leaders representing New Plymouth district iwi, who formed a consensus view that the apology in a public meeting would be sufficient to bring the matter to a close.

"Councillor Chong's refusal to honour his commitments requires an appropriate response reflecting the collective view of the council."

Neither Mr Holdom nor Mr Chong have responded to RNZ's request for interviews.

In a video posted to Facebook on Friday, Mr Chong said he was stepping down from his role as chairperson to avoid further media scrutiny. He will remain as a councillor and working party member.

"This article has all got out of hand. So to put an end to this, I will be standing down as a chair of one of our council working party committees and the reason I do this is so we do not got through another round of front-page media news about this."

Mr Chong said he did not renege on an agreement to make a public apology and there were a number of reasons he could not attend the meeting.

"The first reason [was] I had a very important meeting in Wellington, the second reason - I'd already apologised to the majority of people, including councillors in a standard apology to the media. The third reason [was] yes I did handshake a deal that I would turn up, however the conditions over the way I had to apologise had changed from the original handshake."

He was not ashamed of te reo Māori and did not want to see it banned, he said.

"What I shouldn't have said is. 'I'm not ashamed to sing it, but I don't sing... and the reason why is because I don't know how to pronounce it properly. I don't know the words and I don't know the language and because it's written in English and 20 seconds later we sing that, I prefer to sing it in the language I'm accustomed to.

"I do apologise for those who I've upset but it's very important that we say things how we see it. I'm straight up and I'm honest."

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