15 Feb 2017

Forget 'racist' Facebook post - what about a cafe at the dump?

8:40 am on 15 February 2017

New Plymouth's elected officials met for the first time last night following the fallout from councillor Murray Chong's now infamous Facebook post saying te reo Māori should be left to die.

Murray Chong

Murray Chong said on Facebook that te reo Māori should be left to die. Photo: Glenn Jeffrey

While the Mayor Neil Holdom has condemned his comments, which have been blasted as 'racist', on the council's behalf, many of his fellow councillors had other, more pressing concerns.

On the agenda at the meeting was an ambitious plan to revamp the city's dump - including installing a cafe and retail outlets no less - and a review of charges for everything from library fees to parking meters.

The majority of the councillors present - a dozen or so middle-aged men and one woman most of European descent - had not seen or formed an opinion on Mr Chong's Facebook post where he described te reo Māori as "being kept alive on a respirator".

Former mayor and Labour MP Harry Duynhoven said he had not read Mr Chong's Facebook post and he was not interested in reading it.

Incoming New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom.

Mayor Neil Holdom condemned the Facebook post. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Councillor Gordon Brown also played it by the book.

"Yeah nah, I'd refer you to the mayor as our spokesperson. It's appropriate he speaks."

Not even John "Horse" McLeod, who famously walked out on council when it initially voted for a Māori ward, would be drawn on his opinion.

"I haven't got any view on that. That's his business you know. He's on social media, they were personal comments. Yeah apologise to the people, but let's move on."

Colin Johnston was surprised to be asked.

"I've been indisposed for a while so I haven't even read it. I don't know what you're talking about."

Only councillor Richard Jordan was willing to offer his thoughts on the issue.

"I haven't read Murray's post but I've heard about it and I don't agree with it.

"I've actually been studying Māori for one full year and I'm about to commence my second year of study.

"I don't consider it a dying language. It's one of our country's national languages."

Murray Chong shares family linage with the renowed Chinese businessman Chew Chong who was involved in the refrigeration of butter in Taranaki during the 1800s.

Closely monitored by the council's communications officer, Mr Chong would not say whether he stood by his post or when an apology might be expected.

"Well due to complaints into the council I can't, I can't. There's a process we go through and I can't speak. So no comment on that."

Earlier Mr Holdom had expressed his disappointment with Mr Chong's comments.

"I met with councillor Chong today and advised him from my perspective and council's perspective this behaviour was unacceptable and I'm working with councillor Chong to ensure this doesn't happen again."

New Plymouth is still smarting from the treatment of former Mayor Andrew Judd who was spat at in the street over his support of a Māori ward which was later rejected in a citizens initiated referendum.

Mr Holdom will be hoping this latest race-relations setback will not hamper efforts to resolve issues around Māori representation.

"The New Plymouth District Council has identified that developing partnerships with Māori in our districts is one of our key focus areas. We want to build a stronger more united community over the coming years," he said.

Four formal complaints have been made about Mr Chong's Facebook post.

To complete the council's disciplinary process he will need to apologise to all of the complainants and his fellow councillors, but there's no word yet on when that might happen.

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