ACT Party leader David Seymour says Kiwi kids should be able to choose if they want to learn Te Reo Māori amid debate about whether it should be compulsory in schools.
"It's about time all Kiwi kids have a choice to put their time where their passion and enthusiasm is. The Act Party is opposed to compulsion, we're in favour of choice," he told Three's The Project on Thursday night.
The comments come after incoming Education Minister Nikki Kaye said she expects a "healthy debate" about making Te Reo Māori compulsory in schools at the coming election. She says a change in policy would depend on if it could be properly resourced.
- 'Healthy debate' expected on compulsory Te Reo - Kaye
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On The Project, Mr Seymour said making the language compulsory risks making it unpopular.
"Look at the Irish, they've had compulsory Gaelic for 90 years, it's turned Gaelic into sort of the Brussels sprout of languages in Ireland," he said.
"People eat it only because they're forced to and it makes them resent it."
When challenged by host Kanoa Lloyd over whether views like Mr Seymour's would put young Māori off learning Te Reo, he said people should have a choice about how they "evolve and pursue" their own passions.
"If you're really saying that the only way that we can value Te Reo is to conscript the entire country into doing it, I think you're just wrong," he said.
"Compulsion simply doesn't work."
He said suggestions the language was dying were wrong, as he knew many people across "middle class New Zealand" signing up for free Te Reo classes.
"I myself have a Te Reo teacher, so I actually don't think it is dying. I actually think if you wanted to kill something, the most effective way to destroy people's passion for a particular pursuit is to make it compulsory."
He said people should be able to "flourish in their own self chosen ways" rather than be "forced to do things that sound trendy on the set of The Project".
Opposition parties Labour and the Greens both have policies for Te Reo to be taught in schools.