30 Oct 2015

Writing may be on the wall for Te Taura Whiri

9:14 am on 30 October 2015

Te Taura Whiri (the Māori Language Commission), known affectionately to many as the "language police", has dutifully promoted the use of Te Reo Māori for nearly 30 years.

But, after an announcement this week that it is expected to lose nearly two thirds of its budget, opposition MPs say the writing is on the wall: Te Taura Whiri is gone.

Te Wiki o te Reo Māori 2015 runs from 27 July to 2 August.

A photo from promotional material developed by the Māori Language Commission for Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori 2015. Photo: Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori / Māori Language Commission

Jobs could be on the line as a result of the proposed funding cut at the organisation, which developed catch phrases such as "it's cool to kōrero" and "arohatia te reo".

Māori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell plans to reallocate $7 million of its funding as part of the Māori Party's new Māori Language Bill, which is before Parliament.

The bill will set up a new body, Te Mātawai, which will lead and direct the Māori Language Commission and Te Māngai Pāho, and will absorb the role of Te Pūtahi Paoho.

It passed its first reading in Parliament in July 2014 but has been delayed so it can be translated into Māori.

Mr Flavell would not say if the proposed cuts would mean job losses.

"I can't tell you whether there will be or won't be but that's not the focus. The focus is to be able to distribute that money and get to the communities," he said.

When asked whether he accepted that it may well be a focus for the commission's staff, he said: "Yeah, sure, but that's the nature of employment."

Leader of the Maori Party, Te Ururoa Flavell.

Māori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell would not say whether there would be job losses at the Māori Language Commission. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Opposition MP and Te Reo speaker Peeni Henare said the writing was on the wall.

"I think it's pretty clear, when you take that chunk out, a budget that Te Taura Whiri has been operating on, then that's just the nature of the beast and I think it's a sad thing given the work that Te Taura Whiri has been doing."

The money which will be left in the commission's operational budget is the funding allocated to communities for Te Reo-based initiatives such as community play groups or language lessons.

The Te Mātāwai members had not yet been selected but Mr Henare said he was concerned that, whoever they were, they would not be able to fairly represent all Māori.

"How can a disproportionate amount of money be allocated to the likes of Tāmaki where the majority of the population live?"

Labour MP Peeni Henare during caucas run April 2015.

Labour MP Peeni Henare opposes the government's plan for the Māori Language Commission. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

One of the central roles of Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori is to monitor te reo and report back to the government.

Asked if proposed funding cuts meant the organisation was being downsized, Mr Flavell said:

"No, I disagree that it's going to be downsized. That's still a decision to be considered into the future - the bill hasn't gone through the processes yet [and] there are still discussions to be had with Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori, and no decisions have been made."

But Mr Henare said he was not buying the line "that Te Taura Whiri will essentially be gone, and the mana will be given back to the people to revitalise Te Reo Māori".

"I consider the argument of Timoti Kāretu, who says 'why would you give it back to the people who are responsible for it falling into the state that it already has'?"

If the bill to set up Te Mātāwai is passed by Parliament, the new body will eventually have seven iwi and hapū representatives - four from the community and two appointed by the Minister of Māori Development.

The public submissions period for the bill has closed and a report is due in December.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs