Super Rugby Aupiki: Opposition leader Chris Hipkins defends 'freedom of speech' over Hurricanes Poua haka protest

Opposition leader Chris Hipkins has defended sport's freedom to protest, despite outrage over the Hurricanes Poua haka referring to the 'redneck government' before their Super Rugby Aupiki season-opener.

The Wellington women tweaked the words of their pre-game challenge to Chiefs Manawa, without the knowledge of their organisation, which admits it was "blindsided" by the incident.

Hipkins insists freedom of speech is important to society, but that must come with approval from sporting codes.

Opposition leader Chris Hipkins and the Hurricanes Poua haka.
Opposition leader Chris Hipkins and the Hurricanes Poua haka. Photo credit: AM Show

"We live in a democracy, I support free speech," he told AM. "I support people being able to say things that I disagree with or the current government might disagree with.

"That includes people engaged in sport and there are plenty of sportspeople I can think of who have expressed opinions that I've disagreed with, but they're still entitled to do that.

"It's a free democracy, but whether or not they should do so as a team, that's really a decision for the sporting codes themselves."

Earlier, AM hosts Lloyd Burr and Nicky Styris clashed over the pros and cons of the protest, with Burr insisting politics and sport were inexorably inter-twined, and Styris suggesting the players should be mindful of their responsibilities as role models.

"It's pretty inflammatory, there's no question about that," Hipkins acknowledged of the tweaked wording. "We've seen plenty of people over the past few years use some pretty inflammatory rhetoric over previous government and the current government.

"That is one of the things about living in a democracy - people are entitled to say things we may disagree with."

As Health Minister in the previous Labour Government, Hipkins admits he was subjected to protests over COVID-19 policy.

"I sat in my office, while people were out front of parliament with a noose hanging from a tree and my name on it," he said. "There is some pretty inflammatory stuff that's happened in recent times, but we live in a democracy and people are entitled to express their views passionately.

"From time to time, they'll go too far - as the parliamentary protestors did - and action may be taken, but I still think we should have a reasonably high threshold on that.

"I think free speech is really important in a democractic system like ours."

The Hurricanes are still reviewing the incident and a possible apology to the Government for the protest, and are due to name their team to face champions Matatū this weekend.