May 11, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Laws bullies Tamariki Maori

1 min read

Michael Laws, Mayor of Whanganui is being accused of bullying a group of schoolchildren who wrote to him asking for the spelling of his city to be changed.

Seven children, aged between 11 and 13, from a Te Kura Kaupapa o Otaki near Whanganui, wrote to the Michael Laws.

In their letter, the children asked Mr Laws to add an “h” to Wanganui, which they argued was the original Maori spelling. What they received in return shocked and dismayed the children and the school.

Mr Laws wrote back to them telling them he would take their views seriously when the class started addressing real issues facing Maori such as child abuse and child murder.

Mr Laws warned the students to control their anger and said their teacher should be sacked for allowing “misapprehension to flourish”.

The 11-year-olds wrote their letters in te reo. The mayor had to have them interpreted, current affairs programme, Close Up, got the letters interpreted too and found the language to be more childlike than aggressive, and the mayor’s interpretation too sophisticated.

Mr Laws has not apologised, but he has invited the children to afternoon tea. The students aren’t sure yet if they will accept.

A whanau group on FaceBook was started by those concerned about his actions.

Whanau, your thoughts?

8 thoughts on “Laws bullies Tamariki Maori

  1. Narcissism least of Michael Laws’ sins
    By LINLEY BONIFACE – The Dominion Post

    OPINION: The official website of the mayor of Wanganui is a fascinating monument to a man who simply cannot get enough of himself. It is a site absolutely awash in self-love.

    Visitors to the cosily titled are treated to a level of personal detail usually seen only on websites dedicated to the hottest members of chart-topping boy bands. The site’s latest thrilling additions are magazine photos of Michael Laws’ family dating back to 2003 – just in case any of us neglected to cut them out at the time of publication – but there are also shots of his kids’ birthday parties, updates on the state of his relationship with his partner, and photos of Laws that stretch back to boyhood. Oh, and there’s some stuff about Wanganui, too.

    If there is any glimmer of a redeeming feature in this exercise in narcissism, it is that Mr Laws appears to have almost as soft a spot for children as he has for himself. Mr Laws clearly adores his own kids, and has written in the past about the evils of child abuse.

    All of which makes it a surprise to see the level of contempt with which he treated a group of Otaki children who had the temerity to write to him last month.

    The seven students of Otaki School’s kura kaupapa unit, aged from 11 to 13, wrote to Mr Laws in Maori to say what they thought about the controversy over whether Wanganui should have an “h” in its name.

    In response, he wrote the girls a letter suggesting their teacher be sacked, urging them to control their anger, and saying he wouldn’t take their views seriously unless they first looked at the rate of child abuse and murder within Maori society.

    There has since been much debate about whether the Maori word used by all seven students in their letters and translated by Mr Laws’ team as “anger” should instead have been “frustration”. But here’s the thing: whatever. It shouldn’t be news to Mr Laws, father of many, that pre-teen girls are stroppy, and that 12-year-olds have yet to learn the social bullshit that enables us to express our opinions in a detached manner.

    Mr Laws has a genius for deflecting criticism, and his response to the uproar over his letter was a masterpiece in spin doctoring.

    Firstly, this champion of direct democracy argued that “it’s wrong for kids to be angry about something inanimate”. Children of their age should, he said, care only about Harry Potter. In others words, it’s not just that their views are wrong; they shouldn’t be allowed to have views.

    AN ARGUMENT this ludicrous doesn’t fly for long, so Mr Laws then argued that their teacher had put them up to it. Who is this classroom Svengali? Again, I come back to the legendary stroppiness of pre-teen girls. As any parent knows, it’s impossible to convince a 12-year-old girl to turn her music down if she doesn’t want to. The thought of a teacher being able to persuade seven of them to write letters against their will is simply inconceivable, unless electric cattle prods were involved.

    After the stoush became public, Mr Laws invited the girls for morning tea in the mayoral office. This was not so he could apologise, but because he felt convinced they’d “go back to Otaki being preachers that the ‘h’ shouldn’t be in there” once he’d corrected their faulty understanding of the issue. This is a partial backtracking that seems to suggest the girls are, after all, allowed to have an opinion on the subject, but are sadly too dim to understand it properly.

    All of which makes it particularly ironic that the headline on one of Mr Laws’ most recent press releases – about gang patches, rather than uppity kids – was headlined “A triumph for decency and democracy”. Neither quality has been evident in Mr Laws’ self-aggrandising attempts to justify his actions.

    In times of trouble, Mr Laws resorts to personal abuse, so print reporters who attempted to question him about the controversy have been castigated for their stupidity. Similarly, in a Close Up interview, he called Mark Sainsbury’s relatively soft questions “stupid”, “silly”, “ridiculous” and “racist”.

    It’s a struggle to find the words that best sum up the mayor of Wanganui’s actions over the past week, but here are four that seem to fit the bill: stupid, silly, ridiculous and racist.

  2. Editorial: Mayoral missive was out of line

    It is an index of how far out of touch Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws is that, when confronted with the suggestion that he was a bully, he looked the word up in the dictionary.

    The mayor, who has been a vociferous opponent of the proposal to insert an “h” in the city’s name, took exception to letters on the subject from seven pupils at the kura kaupapa unit at Otaki School.

    In his reply, which might most kindly be described as belligerent, he dismissed the writers’ entitlement to their opinions, saying that they should “[start] addressing the real issues affecting Maoridom, particularly the appalling rate of child abuse and child murder”.

    Setting aside the absurdity of the idea that kids aged between 10 and 12 can be held accountable for the actions of adults, his response is more than a little disturbing. The high-handed and arrogant talkback-host tone may be characteristic, but it was grotesquely inappropriate.

    Interestingly, he said he was “stunned” by the tone of their letters, since “almost all … recounted the personal anger” of the writer. In fact, four of the seven letters, which were all written in Maori, used the word “pukuriri” which means angry, but can also mean upset or cross. And the writers, all second-language learners of Maori, might be forgiven for not having a nuanced vocabulary to draw on.

    Laws defended his stance by saying that “there is nothing worse than a strong opinion that is ignorantly founded”. That is remarkably rich, given his pugnacious and profoundly ignorant stance on the “W[h]anganui” question and his opposition to giving official status to Maori names for the North and South Islands. On the latter subject, he said that no other country had dual place names, which suggested he knew little about Poland, Wales, Switzerland and South Africa, to name a few countries that do.

    In the end, though, Laws’ stance was most offensive because it was so undignified. A mayor of heartland New Zealand who behaves like an intellectual thug and bullies young children may like to consult the dictionary one more time and ponder the meaning of noblesse oblige.

  3. Fundamentally he’s a smart ass. He has made his living from being the class smart alec who could talk his way out of trouble into power. He’s used his skills to move from noone, to Parlt, to a Mayoralty role, to TV, to radio. I have no doubt he has good intentions. But his execution is more attuned to talk back radio than to being a Mayor. An eye line wearing, opinionated, loud mouth…who this time…spoke too much…too soon… kaitoa! Ana to kai!

  4. I always found it hard to understand why someone was so ignorant. Glad I read your thoughts Kereru, a better insight

  5. I’ve had a good sit down with Mr Laws in his office and I’d say I believe he is passionate about keeping kids safe – he’s also extremely misguided in what he thinks will work to achieve that and flounders for ideas that have any integrity. He’s also full of himself, likes to be provocative and he seems to enjoy offending people. He doesn’t seem that keen to follow through in a sustained way on any initiative to address the issues (other than the banning patches legislation) and for that reason I wonder how committed he really is to the stuff he rants on about – which are important issues – along with the related matters of white privilege, institutional racism and the effects of historical and ongoing injustice and discrimination.

    Via Facebook

  6. Fundamentally he’s a smart ass. He has made his living from being the class smart alec who could talk his way out of trouble into power. He’s used his skills to move from noone, to Parlt, to a Mayoralty role, to TV, to radio. I have no doubt he has good intentions. But his execution is more attuned to talk back radio than to being a Mayor. An eye line wearing, opinionated, loud mouth…who this time…spoke too much…too soon… kaitoa! Ana to kai!”

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