Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shrugs off concerns about teaching 'white privilege'

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has shrugged off concerns raised by National and ACT about 'white privilege' being taught in schools and Government agencies. 

"It's not part of our Government agenda. You can see that our focus from the Budget is our response to COVID, our recovery from COVID and dealing with New Zealand's long-term challenges," she told reporters on Wednesday. 

"We are concerned with disadvantage but you can see how we are working on that issue through the likes of our Budget."

It came after National leader Judith Collins told The AM Show on Wednesday  some schools and Government officials were being taught "how to feel guilty" about being white. 

"I've also come across, just in the last few days, it being taught by outside consultants into some of our Government agencies, including people being workshopped for two days full of things like working out their white privilege and of their partners," Collins said. 

"We're just finding out how widespread it is. But it's pretty clear that the Government in Wellington is undertaking this and this is the sort of nonsense that I think most New Zealanders are going to say 'what the hell is going on here?'"

Ardern didn't have a lot to say in response. 

"The leader of the Opposition is obviously focused on other things. It's not something that we're teaching, and so my push back would be to say that because it's not core to what we are doing right now as a Government, it's not something that I've dwelt on."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

ACT leader David Seymour has disputed this, because a blueprint for the Ministry of Education initiative Te Hurihanganui, mentions the need to build "critical consciousness", which it says means "recognising white privilege". 

Seymour accused Ardern of being "in la la land" after she told The AM Show earlier this week the words 'white privilege' aren't used anywhere in the education curriculum.

Ardern acknowledged it may have been used "in a particular classroom", referring to a Whangārei primary school pupil who reportedly had to talk to their fellow students about what they had done to recognise their white privilege. 

"We absolutely need to debate and discuss issues around race and inequality in this country," Seymour said. "But covertly adding 'white privilege' to the curriculum is not the way to do it."

ACT leader David Seymour.
ACT leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Collins last week called for those behind the Te Hurihanganui initiative to be sacked

"They are teaching children - little kids - that they should feel either angry at the kids sitting next door to them, because apparently that kid's got white privilege, or else the child itself - the white child or Pākehā child - should be feeling guilty because of this white privilege."

Seymour gave more details on Wednesday of what appeared to be related to Collins' claims about Government officials being taught about white privilege.

Staff at the Ministry of Education and the Education Review Office have attended workshops called Beyond Diversity - Courageous Conversations About Race, which includes a chapter specifically on 'white privilege'.     

"This is the kind of attitude we've been trying to get away from for centuries, but it's now pervasive in everything this Government does," Seymour says. 

"ACT will never accept that New Zealanders should be pushed around on a chessboard by Government social engineering."

National leader Judith Collins.
National leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Collins said last year she was "sick of being demonised" for her ethnicity. 

She told a group of Te Awamutu locals in the lead-up to the election that "people have felt very segregated" because of "this chopping up of society into hating each other". 

In the last few months Collins has sparked debate by calling for a "national conversation" about Māori co-governance, after being leaked a copy of He Puapua, a Government report commissioned in 2019 that outlines how the Crown and Māori can work in partnership. 

Paradoxically, the report was commissioned as a response to former Prime Minister John Key - Collins' old boss - signing New Zealand up in 2010 to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. 

Collins has opposed plans for a Māori Health Authority and Māori wards in local councils, and raised concerns about a document she was leaked proposing the transfer of Department of Conservation land to Māori. 

The Māori Party and the Green Party have accused the National leader of stirring up racism, but Collins has insisted she is asking reasonable questions.