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Dunedin's Act New Zealand MP Hilary Calvert last night endorsed her party's controversial newspaper campaign criticising Maori rights, saying the advertisements aimed to spark debate and "it's good to have some things talked about".
This follows the publication in the Weekend Herald on Saturday of a half-page advertisement under the headline "Fed up with pandering to Maori radicals?".
It urged people to vote for Act to stop National handing over the country for Maori Party votes and said "New Zealand has been slowly morphing into a state where those who are Maori have more rights than those who are not".
Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia described the advertising campaign as "deeply offensive" but Act leader Don Brash said he was proud of it as he had been "warning of this creeping separatism for some time".
Approached for comment last night, Ms Calvert said as soon as people "stopped being offended", conversations about how New Zealand could advance could be held.
"You can expect more of us saying `let's talk about this'.
"We have lots of thoughts on how we move forward as one country; it's just a pity not to hear the other side saying why they are concerned," she said.
Dunedin-based Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said Act's campaign was a misguided attempt to win votes, and New Zealanders deserved more respect.
"It's the same old extremist irrational hysteria," she said.
Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples last night issued an open letter to Dr Brash.
"You once again bring the Maori peoples' aspirations into contempt and ridicule. Your views are not only inaccurate and ill-founded, but are totally out of tune with middle New Zealand's ideals and aspirations for our country.
"It is clear that since your exit from Parliament, you have learnt zilch about fostering an inclusive culture to take our nation forward."
Mana Party leader Hone Harawira said in a statement addressed to Dr Brash: "Your attempts to booster Act in the polls by riding on the xenophobic fears of Joe Bloggs in the street will not work this time round.
"People can see your ad for what it is - a pathetic attempt to make people believe that Maori receive privileged rights and that the boot needs to be put into the indigenous people of this country so that rich people like yourself can feel better about themselves."
Dr Brash denied the accusation.
"The racial tension is there now. There are a great number of people throughout the country who resent the fact that successive governments have created legal preference for Maori ... We are simply reciting the fact that the National Government has continued a policy which Labour began."
The Maori Party's response was "entirely predictable", he said.
"My concern is that successive governments have been willing to appease the Maori Party and other Maori radicals by adopting policies clearly contrary to what was intended in the Treaty of Waitangi."
The Dominion Post refused to publish the advertisement that appeared in the Weekend Herald but ran a different version.
There was an immediate fallout within Act. The campaign's creator John Ansell, the party's creative director, quit at the weekend because some in the party were balking at its polarising position.
Comments Mr Ansell made online indicated his resignation was because he wanted to go further than others in Act were willing.
Mr Ansell said on blogsites yesterday he had wanted to "bring the Maorification issue to a head". He also made negative comments about Maori culture and Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples' lineage.
"Don is mad as hell with me for making my public statements," he said. "I couldn't care less."
Dr Brash said he and the party's parliamentary leader, John Boscawen, were both involved in developing the advertisement. Act parliamentary staffer Lindsay Perigo also had input into the advertisement.
- Additional reporting by NZPA