Auckland University Māori and Pasifika area: Deputy PM Winston Peters, ACT face criticism over segregation comments

The Deputy Prime Minister and ACT Party are facing increasing criticism over their comments about a Māori and Pasifika area at the University of Auckland.   

Newshub was supplied an image of a sign at the university that said an area was a safe area for "Māori and Pasifika students".   

It comes as the university refuses to confirm earlier reports the sign was removed in response to the politicians' comments.  

Earlier in the week, ACT MP Parmjeet Parmar released a statement likening the designated areas to segregation.   

ACT leader David Seymour praised Parmar's comments while Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters also hit out at the area comparing it to apartheid and the KKK.   

"Some of our Universities have become a haven of 'woke cultural brainwashing' - where they teach, and clearly actively participate in, dangerous rhetoric and demonstrable race-based practices," Peters said.   

"They try to justify their actions by attributing it to some sort of 'moral cultural crusade' and willfully ignore the direct comparisons to the KKK and the apartheid way of thinking where we are divided by race."  

But on Thursday Peters is facing disagreement from his coalition partner National with Education Minister Erica Stanford telling AM she doesn't believe it is segregation.  

"Those spaces have always been there, they were there when I was there, and I am not sure that is racial segregation because I have been in those spaces myself back in the day. They were there 30 years ago.    

Meanwhile, Opposition MP Willie Jackson lashed out at the comments and called Peters and Seymour "idiots".  

"The reality is you've got a couple of idiots here. You've got [David] Seymour and Winston [Peters] who are trying to sidetrack...segregation...what a load of nonsense.  

"Universities have an obligation to look after minorities, to look after women, to look after rainbow, to look after Pasifika, to look after Māori.   

"Tell Seymour and Winston let's get rid of the rooms here [Parliament] then because we've got a rainbow room here, we've got a Māori room here, we've got a women's room here, we've got a Pasifika room here. Absolute rubbish," the Labour MP said.   

Te Pāti Māori meanwhile lashed out at ACT and called for the university to stand by its marginalised tauira (students).   

"What we are seeing from the Act Party is only another attempt to misrepresent tangata whenua and perpetuate a false narrative that Māori get preferential treatment. That is nothing but rubbish," said Te Pāti Māori Education spokesperson and former Pou Tikanga at Massey University, Tākuta Ferris.  

"The assertion is damaging and inflammatory to this government's divide and conquer rhetoric that they have built the foundation of their fragility on.  

"Safe spaces for minority groups in university aren't new. They have long existed for tauira with rural backgrounds, migrant students, Māori, Pacific and our disabilities whānau."  

Ferris said this is another example of a "targeted attack on those who whakapapa Māori and Pasifika".   

The MP said Te Pāti Māori is demanding universities support marginalised groups.  

"Universities are supposed to be the critic and conscience of society. So what's the message being sent across the nation when they are coerced to remove the spaces of our minorities.  

"Creating safe spaces to empower minority communities to thrive and achieve whilst creating a sense of interconnectedness should be celebrated.  

"We are demanding that the universities stand-up for their marginalised groups and particularly Māori tauira. To take any action to demean these groups is irresponsible. It's weak, lacks vision and shows no commitment.  

"Our message to our tauira Māori who may be feeling particularly vulnerable at university today is to stay the course. Be proud of who you are and your whakapapa. Because you belong," said Ferris.  

Ferris' comments come after Chris Lynch Media reported the university removed the sign after the criticism. Newshub has attempted to verify whether the sign was removed however the university has refused to comment, despite confirming they spoke to Chris Lynch Media.

Instead on Thursday, a spokesperson said the university works hard to meet the needs of its 45,000-strong student body.  

"This large group of students has diverse interests and needs. The University responds to these social, health and wellbeing, exercise, study, and religious interests and needs with dedicated facilities, spaces and support," they said.   

"We have designated rooms across the University for multiple teaching, research, study and extra-curricular purposes, some of which are for Māori and Pacific students. We are proud of the community we have created for students and the support we provide for their success.   

"The University community is open and welcomes students, their friends and whānau."  

Newshub has again asked whether the sign was removed and a spokesperson replied saying the sign was in the process of being updated to include te reo.

"We are looking to have this in place shortly after the Easter break," the spokesperson said.

The Tertiary Education Union is also lashing out at the "rhetoric coming out of Parliament".   

Tumu Whakarae, National President, Dr Julie Douglas said politicians' responses are really what is causing division, not safe spaces.    

"Campus spaces where people can freely express their lived experiences in a safe and supportive environment with those of a similar world view contributes to wellbeing and academic achievement," Dr Douglas said.   

"Far from being divisive, these spaces allow students to feel more at home in academic life in what are Anglocentric colonial institutions.  

"Some of the people making inflammatory comments and bandying around terms like 'apartheid' and the 'KKK' on this for political gain might look in the mirror to see the types of accusations they are making."