New Plymouth councillor labels Māori version of national anthem a tune he is

New Plymouth district councillor Murray Chong has posted on Facebook about his "shame" about singing the Māori language version of the national anthem.
GLENN JEFFREY/STUFFNew Plymouth district councillor Murray Chong has posted on Facebook about his “shame” about singing the Māori language version of the national anthem.

Under a post made on Steve West’s Facebook page, which asked people to “name a song you are ashamed of singing” Murray Chong replied with: “The te reo version of the NZ national anthem”.

West, who alerted Stuff to the Facebook exchange, then asked Chong if he was threatened by it.

“Not at all but I only need to sing the original version,” Chong replied. When questioned further by West, Chong said it was “because that’s the original. If we all have to be made to sing the anthem in 2 languages, then the haka should be sung in 2 languages too.”

Elected as a New Plymouth district councillor in 2013, Chong is no stranger to controversy.

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New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom has censured councillor Murray Chong in the past for comments he called divisive.
STUFFNew Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom has censured councillor Murray Chong in the past for comments he called divisive.

Last month Chong was censured by New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom after proclaiming on radio he had no issue flying a Confederate flag during Taranaki’s Americarna car festival.

For some the flag represents the heritage of the American south but for others, it is a symbol of slavery and white supremacy.

At the time, Holdom described Chong’s actions as disappointing and divisive.

It follows similar form in February 2017 when Chong was sanctioned after he asked whether te reo Māori was a dead language.

Public criticism of the Facebook post, as well as four formal complaints, led to an apology by Chong, who was found to have breached the council’s code of conduct.

When contacted about his view on the te reo Māori version of the national anthem, Chong – who declined to speak directly but responded via text message- was unapologetic.

“Firstly why would anyone have to sing the national anthem again when they have just sung the original version that they are accustomed to. And secondly since being a councillor (I) have also noticed on many occasions other councillors that don’t sing it twice and only sing the English version,” he said.

He said he felt he was not the only councillor to hold these views but seemed “to be the only councillor to state their true opinion on how they actually think on this issue.”

When approached, Holdom declined to make any comment about his councillor’s view on the anthem.

Te Wānanga o Aotearoa's Dennis Ngawhare says it was a struggle to have te reo Māori recognised in national and civic life.
SIMON O’CONNOR/STUFFTe Wānanga o Aotearoa’s Dennis Ngawhare says it was a struggle to have te reo Māori recognised in national and civic life.

Dennis Ngawhare, manager of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa’s Rangiātea campus, said comments like Chong’s were “unhelpful”.

“It’s a simple fact that te reo Māori is an official language in this country.”

Ngawhare said despite this, it was “always a struggle to reinforce the importance of te reo Māori in national and civic life.”

He said no-one was being forced to sing the Māori language version of the anthem but suspected comments like Chong’s represented the “tip of the iceberg” regarding a wider feeling some had that te reo was being imposed on them.

“But for many Māori, they think English is being imposed on them. It kind of goes both ways.”

As a teacher, Ngawhare wanted to share his love of the language and was always heartened by the steady, and increasing numbers, of people enrolling to learn Māori.

But he had also noticed an increasing anti-Māori sentiment on social media, some of which was factually inaccurate but also coming from a place of bias and prejudice.

“There is very little we can do except stand up and put our own feelings across.”

Councillor Murray Chong’s controversies:

2015:
Reprimanded by then-mayor Andrew Judd for making fun of Asian accents on social media. In the same year, he also faced public backlash after he posted a distasteful “joke” in the wake of the Paris terrorist bombings.

February 2017:
Chong apologised after he questioned on Facebook whether te reo was a dead language and if the country was getting value for money in terms of the millions spent to promote it.

New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom censured him for breaching the council’s code of conduct, in particular “making public comments likely to cause offence” and “bringing the council into disrepute”.

April 2017:
Six formal complaints were made about Chong following a Facebook post where he asked who else was sick of “Natori and Labori” giving into “so called” Māori rights.

December 2018:
Chong was censured after he told a radio show he had no issue flying a Confederate flag on his car during Taranaki’s Americarna festival.

His comments were described as disappointing and divisive.

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