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Chris Ford: Michael Laws - A Real School Bully?

Chris Ford
Chris Ford

Today, it was revealed that Michael Laws had written a rude and dismissive letter to the mainly Maori pupils of Otaki Primary School in the Whanganui district (dare I add the 'h' word here for effect).

The letter, in response to several written by members of a senior class within the school, dismissed the pupil's calls to have the Whanganui District Council (of which Laws is Mayor) recognise the Maori 'h' spelling of the region's name. This follows a populist local referendum, called by Laws, which saw voters within the district reject the suggestion of the Geographic Board to rename the region 'Whanganui' in recognition of the fact that local Maori prefer the term.

What must be remembered is that Laws is no stranger to controversy. In fact, he attracts it like a lightning magnet. Ever since his student days at the University of Otago where he was a right-wing student activist and fronted the pro-Springbok tour organisation on campus in 1981, he has always held to what could best be described as 'redneck' views on race relations. This conservative standpoint no doubt goes down well amongst the mainly Pakeha folk of his city but not so amongst his Maori constituents

On this issue, I happen to side with the school children who have made a legitimate demand of their local Mayor to defend his council's position on the matter and to also hear their views on why the letter 'h' should be included to recognise the Tangata Whenua and their contribution to the history and ongoing life of the region.

But their treatment by Laws was really inappropriate and in particular the comment that they 'should control their anger'. He also alluded to the fact that these children would be taken more seriously only if they showed more concern about the prevalance of child abuse within Maoridom.

What Laws could have done was to have said something along the lines of 'I and my council disagree with your sentiments but I am willing to meet with you to discuss them more thoroughly.' That would have been a far more acceptable approach rather than to have deployed a strategy familiar to talkback hosts (like Laws) who typically revel in either cutting off or belittling people who disagree with them.

I can only hazard a guess that Laws and his veiled racism was behind the move to ban gang patches from the streets of Whanganui as well. I can only say that the by-law will be really ineffective in terms of driving the gangs out of Whanganui, let alone any other town in New Zealand, as gang activity is more a symptom of underlying poverty and dispossession than anything else.

In the meantime, any other school kid who dares raise their head above the parapet should watch out for the new school bully in town - Michael Laws.


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