University backs 'racist' Maori academic

02:55, Sep 05 2011

Auckland University is standing by the controversial head of its Maori studies department, despite calls for her sacking.

Professor Margaret Mutu said white immigration to New Zealand should be restricted because it poses a threat to race relations due to immigrants' "white supremacist" attitudes.

In a statement, Auckland University vice-chancellor Stuart McCutcheon said academics had a right to free speech.

"The vice-chancellor understands the concerns raised over Professor Margaret Mutu's reported comments but believes very strongly in the right of academics to comment on issues in which they have expertise, even when those comments may be controversial.

"The Education Act protects the right of academics, within the law, to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions. That is an important right in a free society."

Ngapuhi leader David Rankin earlier called on Auckland University to sack Mutu following a "racist" outburst at the weekend.

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Rankin said Mutu had "gone too far this time".

"She obviously thinks of herself as the Robert Mugabe of New Zealand politics, and has caused offence to hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders because of her extreme racist views."

"As a Maori, I welcome white immigrants," Rankin said. "They are the ones most likely to bring employment opportunities for our communities, and we don't see the sort of racism Margaret refers to."

Rankin said Mutu has no place working at a university.

"I think Auckland University are scared of her," he said. "And so they lack the courage to deal with her, but I think after this episode, they will be having another look at her position and the harm she is bringing to Auckland University."

Rankin said Mutu was a "champagne radical" who turned up to a foreshore and seabed hikoi in her "Armani suit".

"What she doesn't realise is she's actually pulling Maoridom apart - she's an absolute trouble maker."

Rankin said he didn't think Mutu believed a word she said and would probably "hide behind" a section in the Education Act that affords her the right to speak as the "critical consciousness of society".  

Mutu's controversial comments came in response to a Department of Labour report which found Maori are more likely to express anti-immigration sentiment than Pakeha or any other ethnic group.

The head of the university's department of Maori studies, Mutu agreed with the findings and called on the Government to restrict the number of white migrants arriving from countries such as South Africa, England and the United States as they brought attitudes destructive to Maori.

"They do bring with them, as much as they deny it, an attitude of white supremacy, and that is fostered by the country," she said.

Mutu said Maori were generally supportive of immigration from Asian countries, and she was happy to welcome white immigrants who understood issues of racism against Maori.

"They are in a minority just like Pakeha in this country. You have a minority of Pakeha who are very good, they recognise the racism, they object to it and speak out strongly against it."

She said she was concerned that relations between Maori and other minority groups had deteriorated.

"Maori feel very threatened as more groups come in and swamp them."

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres, who migrated here from the Netherlands, has also hit out at Mutu's view, saying there is no justification for anybody to discriminate on the basis of colour, race or nationality.

Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley said his research showed while other ethnic groups' attitudes toward migrants had been approving, Maori perception had become increasingly negative. Anti-immigration sentiment was fed by Maori fears that multicultural policies were diminishing policies concerning Maori, he said.

Auckland University of Technology Maori history professor Paul Moon said extremist Maori views were held only by a minority and people should be wary of reading too much into the report.

He said Mutu's comments did not equate with the reality of many Maori marrying Pakeha.

The Labour Department migrant report surveyed almost 1000 people on their perceptions of ethnic groups coming here. Maori respondents were the most likely to agree with negative statements about immigrants, such as that they threaten New Zealand culture and steal jobs from Kiwis.

They were also more likely to disagree that immigrants contribute to New Zealand's culture and economy.

The Labour and Immigration Research Centre report also found:

- Samoans were the migrant group which received the highest negative rating by all respondents, one in five viewing them negatively.

- British and Australian migrants received the highest positive ratings, just 5 per cent disliking the British and 4 per cent viewing Australians negatively.

- Pacific Islanders (91 per cent) were most likely to find New Zealand welcoming.

Auckland Now