Kelvin Davis breaks from Labour, wants compulsory Te Reo in schools

Māori-Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis has gone rogue, breaking rank from Labour and the Prime Minister by saying he wants compulsory Te Reo taught in schools.

The Government's stance is to make te reo Māori universally available in schools but has steered clear of using the word "compulsory".

When asked if Māori as a core subject in schools should be a long-term goal, Davis told Newshub on Monday: "Absolutely, but we've got to bring people along on the journey."

The minister said he would like to see it become a core subject "as soon as possible".

Davis was off-script as that is not the Government's official line. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is always careful to avoid the word "compulsory" and "core subject". 

"We've set a goal of making it available in schools, trying to have universal coverage," Ardern said on Monday. 

When asked why the Government doesn't go one step further and make it compulsory, she said, "Even if you did right now, we simply couldn't even achieve that goal."

Compulsory Te Reo is a sticking point for the Government parties. New Zealand First opposes it, while the Greens are all for it - and Labour is all over the show.

"I'd like to see the Crown actually commit to core Te Reo as a subject," Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson told Newshub.

The last ministers to suggest te reo Māori should be a core subject like math, English and science, were Labour's Willie Jackson and Nanaia Mahuta.

Mahuta's statement in May last year that the Government would "integrate by 2025 te reo Māori as a core subject", as well as Jackson's slip-up, prompted a telling-off from New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

"Neither of them are speaking for the Government policy, full-stop," Peters said at the time.

Davis said if the subject is "forced down people's throats and they're not yet ready for it, it could have negative consequences".

He said two things are getting in the way of te reo Māori as a core subject: a lack of teachers and a lack of public support.

His comments followed an announcement on Monday that nearly 700 people in the education workforce will learn or progress their te reo Māori through a $12 million Government initiative launched in April.