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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.
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".
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."
He said there was already unmet demand for Maori language teachers.
- By Adam Bennett of the New Zealand Herald