'Our leader supports the hongi': National MPs defend Judith Collins amid backlash over controversial tweet

A controversial tweet by Judith Collins, which led many to believe she endorsed a view likening a hongi to a head-butt, has been brushed off by National as a misunderstanding. 

The tweet in question was a response to a woman who advised Collins ahead of her meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to "treat him like a civilised human being and don't head-butt him". 

Collins responded: "Indeed..." 

It came after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was photographed embracing the Australian Prime Minister with a hongi - the traditional Māori greeting performed by two people pressing their noses together - upon his arrival in Queenstown on Sunday. 

It's clear by the response in the comment section of the tweet that many interpreted it as Collins endorsing a view that likened hongi to a head-butt. 

"How disgusting to respond in agreement to that racist comment while Māori are currently, once again, opening the marae to people stranded by floods. This is indeed disrespectful and vile," one person wrote. 

"I'm sorry, but this is embarrassing. Delete this tweet please. Judith Collins, this is incredibly disheartening to hear as an ex-National supporter and such an offensive, disrespectful take on the Hongi," another wrote. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was photographed embracing the Australian Prime Minister with a hongi in Queenstown.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was photographed embracing the Australian Prime Minister with a hongi in Queenstown. Photo credit: Getty Images

Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Andrew Little said he was "stunned". 

"It's just one people's way of greeting," he said on Tuesday. "It's a fairly intimate greeting but it's the way that people are welcomed onto a marae."

A spokesperson for Collins told Newshub the tweet was misinterpreted. 

"Ms Collins took the Twitter comment in question to mean that she should not be rude to the Australian Prime Minister when meeting him. She did not interpret this as a reference to hongi."

National MPs leapt to Collins' defence. 

"I don't know how one could infer a relationship to a hongi," said National Party deputy leader Dr Shane Reti. 

"I don't understand that the word hongi was actually mentioned so it's sort of quite a long thread to draw those dots together, actually."

National MP Nicola Willis said Collins supports the hongi. 

"A hongi is a wonderful part of culture and our heritage and I think it's wonderful to see it embraced," she said. 

"I understand that's a misunderstanding in terms of the tweets. I'm not across the detail of it. But I know that I support the hongi and I know that our leader supports the hongi. It's an important cultural tradition."

National leader Judith Collins.
National leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Getty Images

National MP Simeon Brown described the backlash as a "beat-up". 

"What she said was referring to the treatment that there's been in the past in conversations, I mean I think it was very clear what she was trying to say there."

Brown said he hadn't spoken to Collins about the tweet, but believed it was "very clear" what had happened. 

"I think if you just read these things it's very clear what was said at the time... she was referring to how conversations happened and it's got nothing to do with what you're trying to make it out to be. That's an absolute beat-up."

National MP Matt Doocey said he'd never thought about whether a hongi is a head-butt. 

"I haven't thought of it like that. I'd have to go away and think about that," he said. 

"You're asking a question I haven't thought about. It's not something that I would say that it reminds me of a head-butt. But I can't comment on what someone might or mightn't have said."