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Glenn McConnell is a Stuff political reporter. Based in Auckland, he specialises in coverage of te ao Māori and follows politics from outside the Wellington bubble.
OPINION: There’s an easy trope that politicians on the campaign trail fall into, saying whichever meeting they’re at is them engaging with “real” and “every day” Kiwis – as compared to “the bubble of Wellington”.
It’s true that there’s a Wellington political bubble. And it’s true that the people who attend daytime political rallies are real humans residing in New Zealand.
But these politicians are seriously delusional if they think people who attend weekday meetings at bowling clubs and community halls somehow represent the true New Zealand. These campaign rallies represent the views of a select bubble, which I call the “Bowls Club Bubble”.
The Bowls Club Bubble has Christopher Luxon’s ear.
On Wednesday, the National Party leader embarked on a new campaign tour called “Get NZ Back on Track”. It started at the Birkenhead Bowling Club, on the north shore of Auckland.
The Bowls Club Bubble is made up of pensioners, almost entirely. Politicians like meeting this crowd during the working week. The meetings are pretty dry, so the crowd is almost always stacked with party supporters or people with a grievance to vent.
With crowds like this, you’re mostly preaching to the converted or the unconvertible.
On Wednesday, a familiar topic arose – bilingualism. It’s an ongoing concern for the Bowls Club Bubble, and one which they’ve spent a lot of time talking about during Winston Peters’ rallies over the past few months.
When I went to a similar meeting, with Peters at the Howick Presbyterian Church in East Auckland, the NZ First leader took aim at bilingualism and “woke social engineering” to laughter and cheers from the Grey Power congregation.
Essentially, this crowd is frustrated about hearing te reo greetings and sign-offs spoken on radio and television. It also finds Air NZ’s Tiaki safety video annoying. And it gets really riled up about government departments adopting bilingual names, and te reo Māori branding.
So on day one of his “Back on Track” tour, Luxon was asked to discuss bilingualism at the Birkenhead Bowling Club.
He concluded that there was “a problem” with the level of te reo Māori used in government departments.
“When I have older people in particular, who can’t tell the difference between Te Whatu Ora, Waka Kotahi or Te Pūkenga, that’s a problem,” he said.
I’m sceptical about the sincerity of these complaints about navigating government departments due to te reo confusion. The Bowls Club Bubble often complains about Māori names, but doesn’t seem worried about jargonistic mega ministries MBIE, MPI or DIA.
These three ministries control vast swathes of core public services and regulations, ranging from local democracy to border patrol. Yet they’re known almost exclusively by their acronyms.
And even when MBIE is spelt out as the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, it’s difficult to tell what that actually means. Without Googling, could anyone actually say what services are housed in the Department of Internal Affairs?
So we should call these concerns what they really are, which is racist.
These are concerns about the progress of te reo Māori, and the acceptance of Māori culture beyond the bubble of the bowling clubs.
Luxon is learning te reo Māori. And on Wednesday he tried to distance himself from the racist undertones, by saying he enjoyed living in multilingual Canada and other countries.
He knows countries across the world have functioned, and even thrived, by embracing multilingualism and bilingual signage. Which makes it even more perplexing that he seemed to indulge these Bowls Bubble fears.
It’s concerning that politicians like him have been captured by the echo chambers that are community halls on a Wednesday afternoon.
The vast majority of New Zealand wants to see more te reo Māori in everyday life. A poll from July found three in five people think it should be a core subject in primary schools.
It’s important for the country’s leaders to get out and see the country, but that doesn’t mean they need to start pandering to the crowds who have the time (and patience) to come to their weekday rallies.