Election 2023: Whānau Ora chair Merepeka Raukawa-Tait questions if National 'trying to pitch Māori as being public enemy no.1'

  • 03/06/2023

The chair of the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency is questioning if the National Party is "trying to pitch Māori as being public enemy no.1" after the furore that erupted over whether Te Reo should be added to traffic signs.

"I think there's something else at play here," Merepeka Raukawa-Tait told Newshub Nation.

She made the comments during a panel discussion with Stuff senior reporter Andrea Vance about the saga around te reo Māori on traffic signs, which led to politicians trading barbs this week.

National's transport spokesperson Simeon Brown sparked backlash after he was reported as saying, "we are all English" and road signs "should be in English". 

National's campaign chair Chris Bishop clarified the party's stance on Monday, saying it had no issue with the bilingual signs but they should be in the "nice-to-have category" with the focus instead on "fixing potholes and upgradings our roads".

"I'm not saying there's a problem with having te reo on signs. I'm simply saying you've got to have English prominently displayed so that people can follow the road code and follow the law."

But National's stance has been called into question by Raukawa-Tait, who thinks it could be a wider issue.

"They've ruled out working with the Māori Party, they will disestablish the Māori Health Authority, they've got an issue with… bilingual road signage," Raukawa-Tait told Newshub Nation host Rebecca Wright.

"I don't know whether they're trying to pitch Māori as being public enemy no.1 but it doesn't feel right, and it feels as if they're taking us back to a time of 30 years ago and we're way past that now - so I'm sad to see it, really."

She said adding te reo Māori to traffic signs was a "no-brainer".

"I think they're looking backwards," she said of National. "I think they're looking back to a time of 30 years ago - when perhaps their core constituency would've bought into that."

She said times had changed.

"Today, young people… they're so familiar with Māori words, they're so familiar with Tikanga even. They go on to maraes… they're preparing their little projects for Matariki - all of that sort of thing."

Vance said she didn't "see the problem" with bilingual traffic signs.

"I am Northern Irish, I've lived in Wales and Scotland… we had bilingual signs there and I had no issue. I don't speak Welsh… we had no problem; I never got lost, I never got run over."

The NZ Trasport Agency Waka Kotahi has said it's "undertaken research to identify international precedents and to examine the safety implications of bilingual signage". 

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