29 May 2023

Hipkins accuses National of dog-whistling over bilingual roadsigns

7:00 pm on 29 May 2023
PM Chris Hipkins

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins is accusing National of dog-whistling in its criticism of bilingual road signs.

Waka Kotahi announced last Monday its bilingual traffic sign programme was going to public consultation. On Friday, National's transport spokesperson Simeon Brown said the party did not support having road signs in both te reo Māori and English, saying it would be confusing for drivers.

Speaking at a public meeting, Brown said the signs needed to be clear and while it was okay for place names - "we all speak English, and they should be in English" - "when it comes to important signs saying things like 'Expressway', they should be in English, as it's going to be confusing if you add more words".

Simeon Brown

Simeon Brown Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Speaking after the weekly Cabinet meeting on Monday, Labour leader Hipkins said many other countries had bilingual road signs and he did not believe there were any public safety concerns in having both languages.

"Bilingual road signs are not new. They might be new in New Zealand but if you travel around the world so many countries have bilingual roadsigns that look much like the bilingual road signs that are being talked about now.

"I don't think it creates public safety concerns, it doesn't in other countries around the world who have bilingual signs and I don't think it needs to in New Zealand either."

Asked if the matter was becoming a political football, he suggested National was dog-whistling to racists.

"The current leader of the National Party tried to trademark 'kia ora', so I'm not entirely sure where they're going with that unless it's an outright dog whistle."

He said the bilingual road signs were only updated when replacing old and damaged ones, so there was no additional cost involved.

People might be seeing more of them partly because more were being replaced after being damaged by Cyclone Gabrielle, he said.

"These are as these signs come up for replacement, bilingual elements are being introduced to them."

He said he could not remember whether Labour had approved the decision or was simply told about the change.

"I certainly recall having seen it go through the system, and I have no issue with it."

Te Pāti Māori this weekend also criticised National over its stance, saying if Brown thought bilingual signs confusing he should go back to school.

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