Chong sings ‘original’ only
A New Plymouth councillor previously censured for making offensive and divisive comments has posted on Facebook about his ‘‘shame’’ in singing the Ma¯ori version of the national anthem.
Under a post made on Steve West’s Facebook page, which asked people to ‘‘name a song you are ashamed of singing’’ Murray Chong replied with: ‘‘The te reo version of the NZ national anthem.’’
West, who alerted Stuff to the Facebook exchange, then asked Chong if he was threatened by it.
‘‘Not at all but I only need to sing the original version,’’ Chong replied. When questioned further by West, Chong said it was ‘‘because that’s the original. If we all have to be made to sing the anthem in 2 languages, then the haka should be sung in 2 languages too.’’
Elected as a New Plymouth district councillor in 2013, Chong is no stranger to controversy.
Last month Chong was censured by New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom after proclaiming on radio he had no issue flying a Confederate flag during Taranaki’s Americarna car festival.
For some the flag represents the heritage of the American south but for others, it is a symbol of slavery and white supremacy.
At the time, Holdom described Chong’s actions as disappointing and divisive.
It follows similar form in February 2017 when Chong was sanctioned after he asked whether te reo Ma¯ ori was a dead language.
Public criticism of the Facebook post, as well as four formal complaints, led to an apology by Chong, who was found to have breached the council’s code of conduct.
When contacted about his view on the te reo Ma¯ ori version of the national anthem, Chong – who declined to speak directly but responded via text message – was unapologetic.
‘‘Firstly, why would anyone have to sing the national anthem again when they have just sung the original version that they are accustomed to,’’ he said.
‘‘And secondly since being a councillor (I) have also noticed on many occasions other councillors that don’t sing it twice and only sing the English version.’’
He said he felt he was not the only councillor to hold these views but seemed ‘‘to be the only councillor to state their true opinion on how they actually think on this issue’’.
When approached, Holdom declined to comment about his councillor’s view on the anthem.
Dennis Ngawhare, manager of Te Wa¯nanga o Aotearoa’s Rangia¯ tea campus, said comments such as Chong’s were ‘‘unhelpful’’.
‘‘It’s a simple fact that te reo Ma¯ ori is an official language in this country.’’
Ngawhare said despite this, it was ‘‘always a struggle to reinforce the importance of te reo Ma¯ ori in national and civic life.’’
He said no-one was being forced to sing the Ma¯ ori language version of the anthem, but suspected comments like Chong’s represented the ‘‘tip of the iceberg’’ regarding a wider feeling some had that te reo was being imposed on them.
‘‘But for many Ma¯ori, they think English is being imposed on them. It kind of goes both ways.’’
As a teacher, Ngawhare wanted to share his love of the language and was always heartened by the steady, and increasing, numbers of people enrolling to learn Ma¯ ori.
But he had also noticed an increasing anti-Ma¯ ori sentiment on social media, some of which was factually inaccurate but also coming from a place of bias and prejudice.
‘‘There is very little we can do except stand up and put our own feelings across.’’