“That was completely out of place,” National leader Judith Collins says of the protesters who expressed criticism of te reo Māori at last week’s farmers’ demonstration.
On Friday, farmers and tradespeople turned out in force in their utes and tractors in more than 50 towns and cities across the country to protest against what they say is a lack of consultation about the Government's new environmental regulations.
Among those at the protests, one person’s vehicle sported a sign that said they lived in “New Zealand, not Aotearoa”, and claimed te reo Māori was being “rammed” down people’s throats.
A photograph of the sign, captured by an NZ Herald journalist, was widely shared on social media. Many called it racist.
“Māori grow kai, export horticulture, have our confiscated land used to provide [the] largest supplies [of] milk to Fonterra. Our trusts are some of the largest employers. No way [should] a Nats-led ute protest become an attack at Māori, the most generous benefactors to this nation,” Te Paati Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer tweeted.
On Facebook, the MP questioned whether the protest was really about the “ute tax or anti-Māori”.
When asked on Breakfast this morning if she condemned the views expressed in the sign, Collins replied: “We just thought that was completely out of place.”
Collins added: “People need to not be so worried constantly about not always understanding everything that’s being said when te reo is an official language of New Zealand. But, I’ll also say too, that’s why there needs to be debates about things so people can understand what's going on.”
She said there were “very few” people at the protests who expressed those kinds of views, and that “we don’t like that sort of thing”.
“The odd person going off about, having a rave about te reo or something. That is not the centre of it.”
Collins said she didn’t see signs like that in Blenheim, where she spent the day “listening to people”. She said protesters were telling her about the so-called “ute tax” and the “extra costs and burdens” being placed on provincial New Zealand.
“They do not like to see themselves being blamed for every ill, told to pay taxes which they were told they weren’t. They are saying they want to demand a debate on these issues, and they’re saying they’re doing their bit and they want to do better,” she said.
“They need to have respect shown to them too and people need to understand what they work with and how they have to make a living as well.”
It comes as Collins is being questioned over her “demand the debate” billboard campaign.
The billboards focus on a number of subjects, including issues relating to Māori: Māori wards, the Māori Health Authority and the leaked independent report He Puapua.
An email leaked to Stuff revealed Collins had asked Brash to raise $300,000 to help fund the billboards. In an email sent in May to potential donors, Brash said the billboards would address “Treaty of Waitangi issues”.
When asked why she enlisted the help of Brash, who fronted the infamous 2005 iwi/Kiwi billboards, Collins told Breakfast last week her party’s billboard campaign was about a wide range of topics and not just about Māori.