Alf has never thought of the English language as a cultural treasure.
Rather, it is probably the most invaluable tool in his toolkit as the member for Eketahuna North – an instrument for communicating his profound thoughts to a political audience, in much the same way as a surgeon needs a scalpel, a builder needs a hammer and a road builder needs a bulldozer.
Or a Labour politician needs a leader.
Come to think of it, Alf is putting the English language to good use right now.
A great thing about this language is that it can provide lots of words to allow us to be precise or nicely nuanced about what we say or write.
And it can allow us to say “compulsory” in many ways.
Let’s see. It is not National policy to make te reo compulsory in schools.
Nor is it mandatory, obligatory or requisite.
Labour has found other ways of saying “compulsory”.
We learn this today from the NZ Herald, which says:
All New Zealand schoolchildren would learn Maori under Labour’s long-term plan for te reo, but it appears the party is loath to give the policy a high profile.
Labour Maori affairs spokeswoman Nanaia Mahuta and education spokesman Chris Hipkins indicated Labour had an “aspirational” target for Maori to be taught in all schools after the Maori Party’s Te Tai Tokerau candidate, Te Hira Paenga, claimed Labour had endorsed his party’s policy for compulsory te reo in schools.
“We are glad to see Labour at last getting the message that our reo is something that we all, as New Zealanders, should embrace,” Mr Paenga said.
Well, maybe yes and maybe no.
It seems to depend on the ethnicity of a Labour audience.
Ms Mahuta initially suggested Mr Paenga had the wrong end of the stick, saying Labour would only promote its own policy which was “the recognition that te reo should be a working language for all New Zealanders”.
However, Ms Mahuta was far more direct in a debate held in Gisborne earlier this month when she said: “We’ve made a clear commitment that te reo Maori will be compulsory in our schools.”
She later said the comment was made in the context of the recognition “that there are some real challenges in our school system to build the capacity of our teaching workforce who are able to teach te reo Maori”.
She said te reo for all schoolchildren was “an aspirational goal within our policy platform around te reo Maori and we believe that we need to take some practical steps to be able to build up, for example, the teaching workforce to be able to teach te reo Maori in our schools as a way towards supporting that aspiration”.
So te reo will be compulsory if Mahuta is blatting to a Maori audience and it is aspirational when she is talking to the mainstream media.
This is troubling to a bloke like Alf who simply wants to know if his grandkids will be compelled to learn te reo (which is taonga if you happen to be an indigenous person) or whether they can learn something more useful for them as Kiwi kids with not a hint of indigenous blood pumping through their veins.
Let’s consult Labour’s Education spokesman, that Hipkins feller.
Education spokesman Mr Hipkins said Labour “certainly wouldn’t use the phrase compulsory” for its long-term te reo policy.
“I would certainly like to make sure all kids have the option and there is availability of te reo Maori in all schools. Whether in fact that was compulsory, that’s a discussion for another day.
“Frankly, we’re just not at the point where we could have that discussion. For a start off we don’t have enough te reo Maori teachers to be able to even contemplate that at the moment.”
Hmm. Compulsory is being ruled out for Labour’s long-term te reo policy.
What about its short-term te reo policy?
Actually, it doesn’t matter much what Labour will do in the short term because whatever it does will be done in Opposition.
Alf’s grandkids accordingly will be spared for three more years from having to learn te reo although the tossers at Radio New Zealand increasingly are subjecting their audience to a whole lot of stuff that is incomprehensible to those of us who want to stick with English.