Don Brash’s attitudes a relic of colonialism


Don Brash and other white, male conservatives speaking in the mainstream media, dislike the sound of te reo on the radio, even during the annual Maori Language Week, celebrating a national and international treasure for just seven days a year. Just like many of the birds whose calls ring out on RNZ National’s Morning Report, (not rejected by Don Brash), Maori language is endemic to this country, found nowhere else and is being brought back from the brink of extinction.

But interviewed by Kim Hill on RNZ on Saturday 1 December, Dr Brash says the sound of te reo on Morning Report profoundly irritates him, and he’s sick of the language being rammed down his throat. People are ‘having te reo foisted upon them’, and ‘people who don’t understand it, shouldn’t have to listen to it’. Kim Hill correctly pointed out that the same could be said about the financial reports, often not understood; or for me, sports updates with obscure rules and scoring protocols that I have no idea of, but hope to learn through exposure. Instead of the dumbing down of diversity that occurs through commercial radio, the public sector broadcasting of our indigenous language offers the opportunity to learn more, and widen our horizons, to keep something precious alive, to build on national and Maori culture and identity, to add more to our personal lexicons and range of expressions. Public celebrations of te reo offer valuable links to the past and a distinctive cosmology and way of describing the world.

Mr Brash however, complained that Maori language doesn’t have economic value or utility, and displaces more important learning in schools. He bemoans the fact that it’s taught in kindergartens and schools even when there are ‘no brown faces’ for miles, as if our national language should only apply to people with brown skin.

But Dr Brash has different ideas of what it means to be a New Zealander, and what are things of value, than many other New Zealanders. Fortunately, according to successive NZ Attitude Surveys, over time there’s increasing support for te reo use in public life, and growing agreement that it can be a beautiful thing to listen to. There are indications of a growing majority of kiwis supporting the use of te reo though they may be a somewhat passive force – they don’t so much make the headlines or the airwaves as provocateurs like Don Brash, though his interview with Kim Hill makes many of us wonder why he gets any air time at all.

Don Brash and others speak with irreverence, disrespect, disregard and even ignorance of the Charter of RNZ authorising the use of te reo, the Treaty of Waitangi guaranteeing tino rangatiratanga – self determination for Maori, UN Human Rights, and rights of the Child clauses recognising the importance of expression in indigenous tongues. Brash et al show closed mindedness, bigotry, a hangover of colonial attitudes, and inconsistent logic in their intolerance of the use of our native language. Brash said he ‘doesn’t like it and can’t understand it’ so it shouldn’t be used on a public broadcasting station, but he is ok about some words where they enhance English by offering broader meanings or are already well known. He has no humility in thinking standards of language use should be determined by the existing words he already knows, as if the limits of his knowledge should be arbiter of language overall.

Don Brash also overlooked the historical and contemporary diversity, and complexity of New Zealand, saying ‘New Zealand values are British values’, and that a lot of socio-economic deprivation among Maori is because they ‘don’t speak English properly’.

It’s unfortunately true that a high number of people in prison, are illiterate, and sometimes not fluent in written and spoken English. It’s a fact of life, everywhere that power in society is partly secured through the tyranny of the articulate. Whoever controls the rules of engagement, the language and codes used, the verbal and written system of exchange, includes some sectors of society, and excludes others. Don Brash says English is ‘a passport to access and understanding around the world’. Ultimately the dominant language in society can be a tool of colonialism and oppression, an instrument of power, and that’s a prerogative that people like Don Brash seek to preserve. His is a world view that says ‘speak my language or stay silent for your words otherwise have no value’.

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But how well does English serve us, when indigenous people are marginalised and alienated from the system because it’s not their ‘first language’. How well does English serve us when ‘failure to engage’ increases the likelihood of prison. Don Brash says all New Zealanders should have equal political rights, but that idea fails at the first hurdle when access to the tools of discourse that recognise those political rights are denied to some and advantage others. English language serves those best who already speak it, and Don Brash et al, deny alternatives as legitimate medium of communication in our bi-cultural national setting.

As Kim Hill, interviewing Don Brash, observed, Maori had to listen to and learn English at the mercy of the colonising British forces, and by opposing the use of te reo by our state broadcaster, Don Brash and people like him seek to continue that linguistic imperialism, control and oppression. 328,000,000 people around the world are native English language speakers, and an estimated billion more are learning it as a second language. English spoken around the world as the linguistic currency of communication and commerce, (“Globish”), is not under threat, but indigenous languages are, and if we can’t celebrate and promote actual endangered languages in the specific countries where they are originally found, then where?

Don Brash’s Hobson’s Pledge lobby group, proposes ‘an end to Maori privilege’ though there’s little evidence of ‘Maori privilege’ in structures or outcomes for our indigenous people. They’re over-represented in negative social, economic and health indicators, though Don Brash makes out as if that’s because they can’t speak English properly, rather than from persistent, structural economic inequalities symptomatic of colonialism, as much as a personal ‘failure to learn’. Don Brash assumes the right to object to the public celebration of our country’s ‘mother tongue’ ‘because he doesn’t like it’ (he could just turn off the radio) and exposes himself as a relic of our colonial past with no place in a tolerant and diverse future that celebrates its indigenous treasures.


  1. “tyranny of the articulate”

    You kidding me? How many champagne socialists encourage their children to be more articulate because they know it will contribute to their success?

    Or perhaps we should dumb down all children so that nobody feels bad about those people who get ahead. I feel saddened that there is no position on the left for successful people any more – they pushing them into the hands of National, sadly.

  2. Colonialism in NZ is not a relic of the past kept alive in the minds of redneck racists.

    Colonialism is alive and well in the colonial control of the NZ economy by imperialist powers which is observed as foreign ownership and control.

    Those imperialists and their NZ counterparts, the political agents in all political parties that facilitate the extraction of profits from NZ assets and labour, justify today’s colonialism (TPPA-II etc) because it is in their material interests to do so. T

    To justify colonial exploitation of the land and other vital resources, and defuse the most powerful resistance to this, the wakening of Maori self-determination around the Treaty (eg Foreshore and Seabed) has to be put down as as ‘racist’ (separatist, particularist, ‘stone-age’ etc) conspiracy against western ‘civilisation’.

    Hence as the global economy struggles to overcome stagnation facing a new bust and climate collapse, the racist opinion leaders of Brash and Co, double down and turn up the volume to rally redneck support in defence of the parasitic rule of ‘civilisation’ against ‘barbarism’.

    In reality capitalism in its death spiral is the ‘barbarism’, and all resistance to this to build a new, democratic and fair society, is what we should understand by the term ‘civilisation’.

  3. Learning some of another language no matter what it is, enhances your understanding of other peoples and their culture. My only comment about some of those on RNZ using te reo is, slow down a bit so we can hear what you are saying, and that also applies when you are using English, as well. A tendency to gabble does not enhance any language.

  4. Donald Brash is trolling & exposing the agenda/priorities of mainstream media & the misinformed ideologue since the day he walked down the escalator. Misguided outrage & blatant exposure of the agenda diminishes deference & causes people to switch off causing plummeting ratings.

  5. I agree about the gabbling Dorothy.
    I often say to myself there is Guyon showing off again and reminding me of my meagre progress in learning the language .
    Your story is timely Christine, and on an issue we should review our progress in, every few years. I think we are doing better as a country but I look to the future where the young are much more competent than my generation

  6. Hmmm… The good ol’ rednecks vs goodies argument.

    Listening to Unca Don and Auntie Kim I became acutely aware this is an irreconcilable argument. The sound of one hand clapping. Unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. No real answer.

    What concerns me more than all this nonsense is the parlous state of vocabulary and grammar among you settlers.

    Past participles such as “snuck”, “dove” and “pled” which do not exist in proper English but are used frequently here.

    “Whom” is never heard anymore thus robbing us of a quality of meaning and thought.

    And when did “train station”, “train track”, and “train crossing” replace railway station, railway track, and level crossing?

    All of these assaults and abominations are regularly used on RNZ our so called model standard. Ugh!

    What you don’t seem to realise is that all of these degenaracies have come from the US. It seems that ghastly cancer neo-liberalism was not the only invasive weed to arrive from the new world.

    If I were Maori, and I clearly am not, I would not be comforted by this mass desire to use my language. The degree of bastardisation that has happened to English is likely to happen to te reo and in fact has already started because of the English “e”, but that is pronunciation not so much to do with grammar. Ugh!

    I don’t mind te reo on RNZ but I do wish they’d improve their English as well…

    • JS Bark: “Past participles such as “snuck”, “dove” and “pled” which do not exist in proper English but are used frequently here.”

      Oh, I couldn’t agree more. In particular “pled” drives me to screaming at the radio when it’s used on RNZ: it’s a bloody regular verb, you idiot: past tense: pleaded! We’re not Yankees. Thank heavens…

      And of course “sneak” and “dive” are also regular verbs: just add -ed for past tense, folks.

    • Yes. Brash is a director of Chinese owned bank. He has never liked the idea of bi-biculturalism and his Hobson’s Pledge and media appearances are designed to create debate and discord in NZ, thus making it more palatable to accept the idea of multiculturalism and pave the way for greater political influence of the Chinese, starting with publicly funded media (Chinese TV/radio)

    • Brash is a AngloZionistKiwi which will become a threatened species being a mega parasitic feeder.

      Most don’t like fleas either. They can spread the plague of a different kind but with a similar result..

  7. You do realise that the righties wheel out Don Brash as a distraction don’t you and the endless articles and debate on his views, help distract from other things as well as divide.

  8. Other things to have media attention about rather than Brash’s views..

    Todd Barclay enjoys paid summer holiday through Europe

    John Key lying about mass surveillance

    $11.7billion dollar hole Joyce lied about during election is actually a $20b defence Force upgrade

    world’s biggest seismic blasting ship coming to NZ to search for oil and gas

    Air pollution, ocean pollution, water pollution, climate change all getting worse and it’s expected impacts

    The ‘cameras’ that now don’t seem to be going ahead to try to stem overfishing.

    Rising cost of fresh food we produce in this country that people increasingly can’t afford to eat and the quality of imported food and biosecurity concerns. (Pork for example).


    etc etc

      • If you poll the oldies at the rest home 1/3 will probably agree with Brash. What are they gonna do? Attack from their Zimmer frames? It’s just counter productive to give it oxygen for the left.

        It also masks the colonising that is going on NZ and the world today by corporations who have a consortium of different ethnicities and genders but essentially are taking over the resources and in some cases political power of countries.

        When apparently 8 individuals own 1/2 the planets wealth that is colonisation and it should not be allowed to happen.

        Look at the WHO, when now various groups are not invited by the Argentina government. What next?

        Or even in NZ under a left government TPPA -11 – critics need not attend the consultation. It will be sad if Labour given a chance after 9 cold years of Natz, starts to mimic Natz behaviour in their first 100 days and put through what they said they would not do which is TPPA.

        We already have litigation being won by the most wealthy for the most wealthy in their own elite court system.

        • Brash’s diatribe is transparent but still colours opinion.

          His brand of incipient racism should be gone by lunchtime.

  9. Today, I was waiting on the footpath and some mid-twenties males walked by and they were talking about “cultural mis-appropriation” in a film. If these guys can talk about it as a normal part of conversation then Brash is going to find himself running out of supporters pretty quickly. NZ has changed and he’s missed it.

  10. Don Brash,stalwart white european born to lead and proud,men like him have existed for hundreds of years,they have lead millions of subordinate iliterant semi iliterant and peasnts alike into wars to rape n pilage their way into the history books.
    Don Brash and many others like him ,are relics of those times those times have come to an end,Don grow up n grow a pair get off that white butt of yours n get real its not too late
    Give all your ilbegotten gains back to us maoris n well forgive you n call you bro n we can live together happy n cotented.oh its your shout Don

  11. “Don Brash and other white, male conservatives…”

    This is an unfortunate characterisation. It isn’t clear to me why it’s ok to use the term “white” as a pejorative. It contributes nothing to the points which you’re wanting to make. I doubt that you’d use “brown” as a pejorative.

    Brash is a conservative, to be sure. And in my view, he takes much too instrumental a view of the utility of the Maori language. He doesn’t give anywhere near enough weight to the intrinsic issues of heritage and culture which attach to any language.

    He’s fundamentally wrong about the Moriori issue, for instance; I pointed that out to him many years ago, and it’s a pity that he still cleaves to that outdated and discredited perspective.

    Being a bit of a language geek myself, over the years I’ve had a go at learning a number of different languages. I learned te reo many years ago, long before it was fashionable for pakeha to do so. And when there were still native speakers.

    Any language needs native speakers if it is to survive; the same is true of te reo. It’s difficult to find out how many native speakers there are now, or indeed if there are any left. But such stats as there are suggest that the numbers have eroded away, to the point that there may not be any at all. No matter how many second-language speakers there are, the language won’t survive long-term, unless there are native speakers in enough numbers.

    Dr Brash is right about Ireland: Irish is in trouble. Since independence, a great deal of effort has been put into its preservation and promotion; the vital importance of native speakers was recognised, hence the Gaeltacht areas. Last I read about the situation, the numbers of native speakers are falling, and it’s becoming the second language of middle-class urbanites.

    People can’t be forced to speak particular languages; and the worldwide spread of English has made problematic the preservation of indigenous languages spoken by relatively few people.

    I agree with Brash about te reo on RNZ, but for completely different reasons. To begin with, I was pretty tolerant, though I used to roll my eyes and mutter about tokenism.

    But I’ve grown increasingly irritated at what’s happening, especially on Morning Report, and at Espiner’s “up-yours” response to critique. Not a good idea to alienate a segment of one’s audience in that fashion. I cringe at some presenters’ pronunciation: “key-ora”, one of them says! In this household, there is laughter at my reaction.

    Te reo’s in trouble, and its survival isn’t guaranteed. I’m sad at that, and would like to see a revival. But although no doubt well-intentioned, RNZ’s strategy is tokenism; greetings, farewells and the odd Maori word slotted into news items will do nothing to save the language. It won’t help to produce second-language speakers, let alone native speakers.

    I’d like to see RNZ return to broadcasting entire programmes, about substantive topics, in te reo, as it used to do many years ago, in the days of Henare te Ua. That would be something into which both native speakers (if there are any) and second language learners could get their linguistic teeth.

    • “Don Brash and other white, male conservatives…”

      This is an unfortunate characterisation. It isn’t clear to me why it’s ok to use the term “white” as a pejorative.

      It should be abundantly clear, D’Esterre, that a white male is probably the most privileged in society, occupying the apex of the hierarchical system we live under. As such, it has everything to do with the issue at hand.

      • Frank: “…a white male is probably the most privileged in society…”

        Heheh, such as yourself, perhaps? Blokes might be wrong about that, of course…

        In any event, in the context of this debate, it isn’t pointful. The author of this post uses it as a pejorative stick with which to beat Dr Brash. Were the post about something else entirely, and she used the term “brown” as a pejorative, people would be screaming racism at her. As I’m sure you’re well aware.

        • Heheh, such as yourself, perhaps? Blokes might be wrong about that, of course…

          Yes, you’re quite right, D’Esterre. I am indeed a white, middle-class, male. I recognise the privileges that accords me which I wouldn’t have if I were brown or female.

      • I don’t think it is used as a pejorative. It’s used as an explanation of how they are able to get airtime while proclaiming such antiquated (and some clearly discredited) views – it’s about a characteristic that explains their power in society – a shorthand.

        BTW I’m white but not WASP.

        • MPledger: “I don’t think it is used as a pejorative.”

          Yeah, it is. In the current environment here, people wouldn’t get away without accusations of racism, were they to use use “brown” in a similar context of critique.

          • Not pejorative, just a statement of fact. Colour, gender and socio-economic status matter. See my previous blog about the absence of brown women in the EziBuy catalogue. Or other blogs highlighting the disproportionate number of Maori and Pasifika men in NZ prisons. Though some white men didn’t much like me talking about that either.

  12. Even in the notoriously un-pc reddit forums Brash was derided. Who really minds a few words of Te Reo here and there?

  13. Most New Zealanders fail miserably to master a second language and, if they try very hard, speak it to an abysmally low standard where native speakers run for cover. So why are we surprised about recent comments on Te Reo by people like Brash? His comments have little, if anything, to do with racism and far more to do with the woeful inadequacy in second language skills at all levels of New Zealand society and the assumption that only English matters for those that have any language skill.
    As for RNZ, I’m happy that they take Te Reo seriously. But please don’t speak it badly.

    • The more Te Reo I hear on RNZ from announcers the more interesting I find it.

      Announcers I hear are mainly modest in their use of greetings and associated phrases but are becoming more practiced and confident.

      Their example is not a solution to acceptance but is a part of a solution to Te Reo having greater inclusion and common usage in our Kiwi language / culture.

      Kiwis of previous generations had a much higher exposure to Te Reo than today. Many Moari words were used by non Maori in everyday speech.

      Now we have Americanism proliferating because of TV and Holywood coupled with NZ’s lack of direction and assertion of autonomy.

      WE ARE NOT ENGLAND and the narrow and fearful arrogance of those who demand english exclusively may well expand their ignorance about language by considering the make up of english – a mish mash of many languages.

  14. It’s interesting to note that Don Brash delivered speeches in Osaka, Japan in 2010* and Beijing China in 2012**.

    I wonder if he criticised them for speaking their own languages, rather than solely using english. After all, he did claim that english was the sole international language…

    Having listened to Kim Hill interview Brash, I was left with three responses;

    1. She did an amazing job keeping her cool in the face of such primitive-minded ignorance

    2. Brash seems oblivious to how much he is out of date in contemporary, 21st Century Aotearoa New Zealand.

    3. Brash’s contradictory beliefs leaving one shaking their head in disbelief. He really seems comfortable holding two conflicting positions regarding “separatism”.

    In short, Brash is irrelevant.



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