John Key rapped over disputed claim he said Maori language month would be 'boring'
The Maori Language Commission has taken a veiled swing at the Prime Minister, following a teenager's claim he said a Maori language month would be "boring".
John Key was alleged to have made the comment, which "upset and embarrassed" a 16-year-old girl when he visited a school assembly at Waiuku College in South Auckland, last week.
On Monday, Key denied making the comment.
But Maori Language Commissioner Wayne Ngata has sided with the students.
"[T]he commission wishes to publicly convey its sincere appreciation to the school, particularly to one student who showed awareness of the plight of Maori language and chose to speak with the Prime Minister about te reo Maori.
"The courage she displayed is a courage we would hope a Prime Minister would display in protecting the indigenous language of a country that requires ongoing support."
Ngata said te reo Maori needed to be "nurtured".
"New Zealand has shown it is ready to nurture te reo Maori and so too should the Prime Minister."
But Key said he never called the pupil's suggestion for a Maori language month "boring".
"I'm pretty perplexed by this story. It was a very straight answer, I was asked if it should be a month or a week and I said, look I think it should stay a week and gave a really detailed, quite thorough answer," he told TVNZ.
He had spoken to the principal of the school on Sunday afternoon who also stood by his comments.
"I spoke to the principal who said there had been a debate on Maori TV about this particular issue, so he had listened intently to my answer and said I was thoughtful, respectful and there was no issue."
Waiuku College Principal Tom Vanderlaan was not immediately available for comment.
Fairfax newspaper the Sunday Star Times broke the story, but Key said on Breakfast TV on Monday that another Fairfax reporter was present and backed his version of events. His office could not provide any details about the reporter's presence.
Classmate Trent Brown Marsh, 16, said the girl was in tears after the assembly and was considering taking time off school because she felt embarrassed.
He said his friend was "basically laughed at".
"She's still upset. She doesn't want to go back to school," Brown Marsh said. "John Key made the whole school laugh in a rude way."
Brown Marsh said he was angry that the year 12 girl was invited to talk to Key about Maori language week but then her question was "dismissed".
"His reply was haha no. He kind of explained (his answer) but it was insensitive."
Key said he would never give an answer with "an intention to embarrass someone or make someone upset".
"Basically I pointed to media outlets and said when it's a week there's an intensity that takes place and it would get diluted I feel if we'd had it over a month.
"Would the weather get read in Te Reo every single day for a month? It might do but I think it's less likely," he told TVNZ.
Key said he spoke to Brown Marsh on the day of the alleged incident and commended him for a mihi he gave following an opening of a school building.
"I'm at a loss to understand that one."