Simon Bridges hits out at Government's 'compulsive' use of 'Aotearoa', says he's not 'an Aotearoan'

Simon Bridges has hit out at what deems the "compulsive nature" of Government departments using "Aotearoa" in communications, saying he's not "an Aotearoan".

Stuart Smith, National's MP for Kaikoura, earlier this month called for a referendum on whether the country should be called New Zealand or Aotearoa. It came after he said he received "overwhelming" correspondence from Kiwis saying the Government had been "arrogant in changing it de facto without any public discussion". 

His leader, Judith Collins, backed the call, claiming Government agencies were "changing it" and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern "barely" spoke "about New Zealand these days". Government ministers called the idea "ridiculous" and the ACT Party said there were more important things to focus on

Speaking to The AM Show on Friday, Bridges, the party's former leader and current Justice spokesperson who is Māori, said departments were becoming "compulsive" about it.

"On the question of Aotearoa New Zealand, my position on that is what I don't like is the sorta the compulsive nature of it that has come from Government, that it has got to be everywhere… every Government agency must do this," he said.

"I sit there and say I grew up as a New Zealander, I am not an Aotearoan or some such."

Bridges said he didn't believe there was a secret agenda to change the country's name by stealth, but questioned whether there was a "Government department that doesn't do this in all of their communications".

Labour minister David Parker, appearing alongside Bridges on The AM Show, said: "It is not even on my letterhead and I am in charge of a lot of Government departments."

He laughed at Bridges' suggestion of a compulsive use of Aotearoa.

National's call for a referendum was back in the spotlight this week after businessman Troy Bowker shared controversial comments on a LinkedIn post from Sir Ian Taylor.

Sir Ian, well-known for his production of television and sports graphics, last week posted a cartoon suggesting New Zealand did well in ocean sports because of "our ancestral DNA". 

The entrepreneur wrote that Polynesian navigators arrived in Aotearoa long before Europeans and any debate about the country's name should be done with recognition of "the amazing feat of the Pacific Voyagers who named the whenua where they settled".

Bowker, the executive chairman of Caniwi Capital, which has a stake in the Hurricanes rugby team, replied by accusing Sir Ian of "sucking up to the left Māori​-loving agenda" and questioning "what percentage" Māori​ he was.

His comment has been widely criticised online, while Hurricanes star TJ Perenara said they had "underlying racism" and were "insulting". Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard said he wouldn't attend Hurricanes games while Bowker was on the board and Matthew Tukaki, the Chair of the National Māori​ Authority, said he should step down.

But Sir Ian told The AM Show on Thursday that people shouldn't boycott the Hurricanes.
But Sir Ian told The AM Show on Thursday that people shouldn't boycott the Hurricanes. Photo credit: Photosport / Hurricanes.

But Sir Ian told The AM Show on Thursday that people shouldn't boycott the Hurricanes and instead support the multi-cultural team. He wants the situation to spark a discussion about Polynesian voyages. 

Parker said on Friday he agreed with Sir Ian. 

"Ian Taylor is a Knight of the Realm, he has done great things for New Zealand. That is why he is knighted," he told The AM Show. "Some of the things he has done a lot of people won't know about. He has developed literacy programmes for people in prisons in addition to all of his technology stuff, America's Cup. I am with Sir Ian Taylor here on the underlying issue."

Bridges said Bowker "was obviously a bit over the top in what he was saying", but he didn't like "what we saw from Trevor Mallard", labelling it "cancel culture". 

But Parker said Mallard was "offended, quite rightly".

Newshub previously looked at how often governments have used Aotearoa in their communications. The Beehive website has an archive of press releases going back to 1993. In that term of Government, the word Aotearoa was used in press releases just seven times, rising to 72 in between 1996 and 1999. 

The John Key-led Government's first term saw it appear 307 times, falling to 237 and 167 in the following terms. The return of Labour in 2017 however saw use of the word Aotearoa spike - a search bringing up 539 results. In the 10 months since the 2020 election, it's appeared  a whopping 224 times.

Aotearoa has also been on the cover of New Zealand passports since 2009, when National was in Government. New Zealand banknotes also feature 'Aotearoa', which Sir John Key revealed in 2015. 

Collins said last week she personally doesn't care what the country's name was. 

"If there's enough support for a referendum, then obviously we'd be happy to put it to the people. It doesn't particularly worry me what the name is, but I know for a lot of New Zealanders, they're feeling they're left out of the debate."

Collins said she's "very happy with New Zealand myself", but is also "not averse to Aotea-New Zealand if that's what New Zealanders want [sic]".