Todd Muller faces pointed questions over lack of engagement with Māori media in first month as Opposition leader

Todd Muller has come under fire for failing to prioritise Māori media in his first month as Opposition leader, despite granting numerous interviews with non-Māori outlets. 

During an interview with The Hui on Saturday, host Mihingarangi Forbes called out Muller for potentially suffering an "unconscious bias", noting that the Opposition leader had not actively engaged with Māori media despite being in the role for four weeks.

Muller, who has faced ridicule for his flustered, flailing responses when quizzed by the likes of John Campbell and Ryan Bridge, became defensive at the suggestion.  

"I've given this [interview] and I've had a couple of others that we attempted to do [that] we've rescheduled... I think this is an unusual sort of alignment of questions. I just totally reject that," he said to Forbes.

"I guess you and others may hold the view, but I'm very comfortable with who I am as an individual, the values that underpin me, the engagement I have with all New Zealand, including Māori.

"We have been working hard to find time to be here with you and I am here - so this view that now that I'm here, I should be criticised because I haven't been here earlier - I think is... I just reject it."

As New Zealand faces a significant economic downturn due to the impacts of COVID-19, Muller argued that people's focus will be on a Government that can support the unemployed, foster job opportunities and bolster the country's recovery. 

"With the tens of thousands of jobs that are going to be lost, it'll be Māori who will be disproportionately impacted. What they'll be wanting is a Government with the competence and plan to be able to recover the country... I'm sure they won't be sitting there reflecting on how many times in the first four weeks did I or did I not speak to this media outlet or that media outlet," he fired back.

Forbes argued that a Māori lens on current affairs is integral to Māori representation in New Zealand.

It's not the first time Muller has faced pointed questions regarding Māori affairs following a noticeable lack of diversity on the party's frontbench, with no Māori MPs present in National's recently reshuffled top 12. Former deputy leader Paula Bennett is currently the highest-ranking Māori MP at #13. 

Last month, Bennett's replacement Nikki Kaye faced ridicule after wrongly identifying MP Paul Goldsmith as Māori. Following the controversy, Labour MP Peeni Henare delivered a scathing speech in Parliament, blasting Muller and National MP Judith Collins for being "blind" to Māori concerns. 

When asked why Kaye and Muller rolled Bennett and former leader Simon Bridges - also Māori -  Kaye told Newshub Nation the party has "a moral obligation" to win the upcoming election because New Zealand "needs a National Government".