'What is wrong with this?' Brown challenged over bilingual road signs

Tue, May 30

National's transport spokesperson Simeon Brown has been shown a road sign in te reo Māori and English and asked for his thoughts on it.

It comes after Brown last week said his party did not support having road signs in both te reo Māori and English, saying it would be confusing for drivers.

Waka Kotahi - the transport agency - last week launched consultation on bilingual road signs. It proposes using bilingual signs when old ones are being replaced.

It said it's done considerable research around safety.

This morning he was directly asked for his thoughts on a bilingual road sign by a reporter while making his way through the halls of Parliament.

"Hello Simeon, we are playing a game today and that is 'what is wrong with this sign?'" the journalist asked, showing him a bilingual road sign.

"Well what we've said in the National Party, is that we don't have an issue with bilingual signage when it comes to place names but when it comes to critical safety signs, even the prime minister said that this morning, that it's really important people understand that quickly and easily, especially when travelling at speed," Brown replied.

After repeating the above points a number of times, Brown was then directly challenged again on the sign in front of him and whether he found it acceptable.

"The point there is we need to make sure that people who come to New Zealand as well can understand what's being said on a sign and it's critically important we get the balance right," Brown said.

He was then asked if the sign with English and te reo Māori expressway names on it didn't have the balance right for him.

Brown didn't answer the question directly, instead pivoting away.

"What we should be focused on is fixing our roads and fixing our potholes, this Government is fixated on changing signage," Brown said before being interrupted and asked again if the balance on the sign wasn't right for him.

"I can read it, absolutely can read it, but the point here is we need to get fixing our roads and the Government wants to change signage rather than doing that," Brown stated.

Another reporter then added that road signs are being replaced as needed with bilingual ones due to weather events such as Cyclone Gabrielle.

"Well there's a whole lot of officials at NZTA spending huge amounts of taxpayers money focusing on changing signage," Brown replied.

He went on to add the consultation process around the signage is a huge waste of money.

"What they should be doing is fixing potholes on our roads".

A potential bilingual road sign

Hipkins and Luxon's latest thoughts

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins was also asked for his thoughts on the bilingual signage debate this morning.

"It's not uncommon for signs around the world to be bilingual, the safety signs will all continue to be the same, so stop signs and give way signs for example won't be affected, but in terms of using Māori place names and so on I have got no issue on it," he said.

When asked if he went too far when calling National's comments on the signs "dog whistles", Hipkins said National leader Christopher Luxon introduced lots of te reo when head of Air New Zealand into the airline's branding and practises.

"So I'm not sure why he has an issue with this."

For his part, Luxon this morning echoed Brown's words when asked about the signs.

"We have to make sure are roads are safe and this is an absolute distraction.

"I am not opposed to te reo or bilingual signs per se, but it's just the wrong priority, what is wrong is what we are discussing today rather than fixing roads."


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