NZ First’s Mark Patterson, who farms near Lawrence, commented in response to questions from the Otago Daily Times regarding the naming of Te Pou Ō Mata-Au Clutha District War Memorial and Community Centre, a $25 million public facility in Balclutha, opened in August.
During planning and construction of the Balclutha War Memorial Hall replacement, the facility was referred to by project leaders as the Clutha Community Hub.
Last week, Benhar man Phil Barrett emailed the Clutha District Council to ask whether the new facility would undergo a name change "to comply with new regulations" under the recent governing coalition agreement between NZ First and National.
Mr Barrett drew the council’s attention to a section of the agreement referring to "public service departments".
"[The parties will] ensure all public service departments have their primary name in English, except for those specifically related to Māori."
Asked whether this entailed a name change for Balclutha’s new facility, Mr Patterson said that was "not the intention" of the agreement.
"Te Pou Ō Mata-Au is a name bestowed on the facility by the local community. The policy in the coalition agreement is targeted at making sure members of the public, not cognisant with Māori language, are not confused in accessing public services. That’s the majority of the population."
Clutha Community Hub Charitable Trust chairman Dale Anderson said the final naming of the facility took place in consultation with community stakeholders and had nothing to do with "political virtue signalling".
He said the te reo name meant "central place/pillar of the Mata-Au [Clutha]", implying a welcoming place of support for the community.
"The name wasn’t selected due to legislation or political virtue signalling. It was gifted by Hokonui Rūnanga and chosen because it represented what we wanted from the facility as a community entity and in part because it brought awareness to a long-ignored Māori history in the district."
The full name of the facility also paid homage to its forebear, he said.
"The ‘war memorial’ aspect ... was one area that did get significant community feedback [after we] omitted ‘war’ from the title on the grounds of removing glorification of conflict. Given the feedback and reasoning behind the objections we added it back ... to adequately represent the facility’s lineage."
Mr Anderson said the trust had received fewer than five complaints or queries regarding the final name, and it would not be changed.
"It would also be a significant waste of the public’s money making a knee-jerk reaction based on a yet-to-be-mandated document, as it has wider impacts than a sign on the building."