3 Aug 2021

National's call for Aotearoa referendum 'absurd' and 'ridiculous'

5:48 pm on 3 August 2021

All other parties in Parliament have rubbished National's suggestion a referendum should be held on whether New Zealand should be called Aotearoa.

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

National MP Stuart Smith made a statement yesterday saying New Zealanders should get the chance to vote on the idea, and this morning he took it a step further, saying the name Aotearoa should be banned from all official documents.

"I can't understand why the government can't have the confidence in their own position to actually go to the public, unlike John Key," he said, referencing the ill-fated referendum held on changing New Zealand's flag.

Smith said the idea of a referendum was very popular "judging by my inbox" after he penned an opinion article on Stuff last week, arguing the point. In it, he said there had been "an increasing spotlight placed on significant changes to how our government enacts the Crown responsibility to uphold the Treaty of Waitangi".

Smith was backed by his leader Judith Collins.

"I think Stuart's making a very good point and ... certainly we're hearing that around that people are saying 'we want to have a debate on this'.

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National's leader Judith Collins Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"I think it's probably something we could go to a referendum on and ask what people want. People are starting to get I think quite tetchy about it, and they're feeling like that because they're not being included in the debate."

She said her concern was the public was not being consulted.

Te Paati Māori leader Rawiri Waititi wrote an accompanying response to Smith's article, saying what Smith saw as 'change' was about the return to the intention of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and not about race or apartheid.

This afternoon he said questioning the use of the name Aotearoa was absurd.

"I find it absolutely absurd and I think he needs his head checked ... it is the name of this country, Aotearoa, and so many of us identify with Aotearoa and I encourage every government department and everybody else out there to continue to use it."

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Te Paati Māori leader Rawiri Waititi Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

He noted that the name 'New Zealand' was not taken to a referendum, and "back in 1840, where Pākehā were in the minority, I'm sure they would have lost that referendum".

He said the rhetoric was unhelpful and divisive.

Idea 'entirely ridiculous'

Government MPs also sneered at the idea. Labour's Andrew Little said it was entirely ridiculous and did not need to go to a referendum.

"Good grief. It happens to be a name that most New Zealanders commonly understand is an alternative name for New Zealand.

Minister Andrew Little

Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"I think custom and practice allows us to use it whenever we like."

Kris Faafoi was similarly dismissive.

"I try not to read anything that Stuart Smith writes ... because I don't think it's worth my time."

Green Party co-leader James Shaw was nonplussed.

"Obviously Aotearoa is increasingly popularly used by the people of Aotearoa and I'm very comfortable with it," he said.

ACT leader David Seymour was full of support for National, his party's traditional coalition partner, when it came to the results of Sunday's poll, but that support stopped short on speech regulation.

"Ultimately the Māori Language Act 1987 ... says that Māori is a language of New Zealand. If people want to call it Aotearoa then that's up to them. I prefer New Zealand but I would think New Zealand has bigger issues today than policing what people call the country."

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ACT leader David Seymour Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

He did not think a referendum was needed.

"Private organisations every day - the olympic committee, the rugby union, Vodafone, Discovery TV - they can decide what to call it, just like you and I every day. I'm not in favour of trying to force everybody to use particular language. The ACT party favours free speech."

"I just think, ultimately, Stuart Smith needs to focus on bigger issues."

Smith admitted that polling had not been done on the name 'New Zealand', but said it was "the established name".

"It's on all official documents ... If you're gonna change what is the status quo then you need to ask the people and I actually wonder why they don't have the confidence to do that. John Key did, and he had the good grace to accept what people said."

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