TODAY |

Taranaki councillor Murray Chong unrepentant over no-show for te reo apology

A controversial New Plymouth councillor who said he was "ashamed" to sing the national anthem in Te Reo Māori is refusing to make a face-to-face apology to his council colleagues.

Murray Chong was a no-show at the first meeting of the year yesterday, after earlier promising to apologise for his comments in person. He said he has already made a formal apology that was approved by New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom.

In January, Mr Chong replied to a Facebook post asking people to "name a song they are ashamed of singing". He answered: "The te reo version of the national anthem".

Mr Chong went on to say if people have to sing the national anthem in both languages then the haka should be performed in English too.

He was censured by the council and a petition was started calling for his resignation.

Mr Chong then apologised for his comments in a statement released by the council, but was soon back on Facebook defending his right to free speech.

Mr Holdom told yesterday's meeting he had consulted with iwi and his fellow councillors before asking Mr Chong to apologise in person.

He said the consensus view was that Mr Chong's comments were an unnecessary distraction.

"And that if an apology was made on the record in person at the next council meeting and the record showed that the views espoused did not reflect the wider council view it would be preferable to close the matter and leave this whole unpleasant business behind."

Mr Holdom said Mr Chong had given an undertaking to apologise at the meeting. "He made a commitment to be here and today he is not. I have spoken to councillor Chong. Unfortunately, he has determined that he won't be here and he will not be making an apology."

Mr Chong, who said he was away on business, was sticking by his decision not to make an apology at the meeting - because he had already made one.

"And the mayor agreed to that apology because I sent the apology to him. I think it was about 11 at night I did that. And he said 'yes that'll go'. Yeah so I personally don't think I need to apologise."

'Freedom of speech' issue, says Chong

Mr Chong, who has been censured twice previously for race-based comments, said his original apology referred to his council colleagues.

He said he increasingly saw the incident as a freedom of speech issue. "To punish a councillor for saying what needs to be said from time to time. Is that the direction our country needs to be going? You know, is that democracy or is that dictatorship?"

But veteran councillor Gordon Brown had little sympathy for Mr Chong. "It takes very little courage to go onto Facebook and in your solitude make a post that's offensive to many people. It takes considerably more courage to front up to the people you've maligned, including your colleagues and the public, and say 'hey I got that wrong and I'm sorry', but this is yet another example from councillor Chong and sadly I don't think it will be the last."

First-term councillor Stacey Hitchcock said Mr Chong would have to live with the consequence of his no-show. "He's his own councillor. He's an adult. He can make his own decisions so I think at the end of the day if that's what he chooses to do that's what he chooses to do. There were very clear perimeters of what was expected and now I guess it's just about what the next steps are?"

Ms Hitchcock said she would still be prepared to work with Mr Chong who brought something unique to the council table.

Mr Holdom said an extraordinary council meeting had been scheduled for next Monday and if Mr Chong did not make an apology then he risked being stripped of his role as the chair of the council's Age and Accessibility Committee.

"I believe that it is appropriate that council puts its condemnation of this behaviour on the public record."

Robin Martin

rnz.co.nz

Councillor Murray Chong. Source: New Plymouth District Council