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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 March, 2003, 14:43 GMT
Dame Kiri remarks strike sour note
Opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
Dame Kiri - 'mad' at welfare culture
Maori leaders have criticised comments by international opera star Dame Kiri Te Kanawa to an Australian newspaper that her fellow Maori lack a work ethic and need attitude to succeed in life.

Dame Kiri told the Melbourne-based Herald Sun newspaper in an interview that her early career had faced obstacles because she had not wanted to learn. "I think I was a bit Maori and everything was 'tomorrow, tomorrow'," she said. But she added that she was now driven by hard work.

"I see too many people living on benefits... it just drives me mad. I've known someone, a Maori, who's been on a benefit for 37 years. Now what sort of pride is that? Not good."

"I just wish we had a bit of attitude in our culture. We have slipped through the cracks of education, that's the saddest thing".


Dame Kiri's comments follow remarks by Associate Maori Affairs Minister John Tamihere who told a recent conference in Auckland that state-run welfare schemes were killing Maori with kindness.

The unemployment rate among Maori is significantly higher than that of New Zealanders of European descent.
It's all right for her to make comments like that sitting on her throne being a diva with her nose up
Dover Samuels - Labour MP - New Zealand

But National Maori Affairs spokeswoman Georgina te Heuheu told New Zealand's TV3 that the controversial comments were "unfortunate and... inaccurate".

"Kiri hasn't raised them for the first time. Maori leaders for the past five decades have been decrying the welfare state," she said.

Associate Maori Affairs Minister Tariana Turia said Dame Kiri had had a "huge amount of support to get to where she has got to today". Young Maori, she said, had great potential "and they need the kind of support that she had to get to where she is".

Absent friends

Many comments centred on the fact that Dame Kiri, who is Maori, has not lived in New Zealand for many years. She said in her interview that, despite the fact that she had "very, very few friends" in the country, there was a "big possibility" she would return there next year.

A Labour MP Dover Samuels told the Christchurch-based The Press that "it's all right for her to make comments like that sitting on her throne being a diva with her nose up.

"For her to criticise without actually being at the coalface is certainly not helpful".

Ngai Tahu chairman Mark Solomon described Dame Kiri's remarks as an unfair generalisation. "It's very easy to sit in another country and express views like that," he said. "But you don't do it by putting down a whole race".

NZ First MP Pita Paraone told the New Zealand Herald that Dame Kiri's comments were offensive and came from someone "who does not have any understanding of Maori and its culture".

A Maori teacher, Ken Mair, told TV3: "I think that this is a reflection of Dame Kiri's isolation from her own people and the best way that she could do something for her people is to come back home and be a positive role model".

But one Maori academic, Professor Ranginui Walker, backed her remarks.

"I think it's a correct call for Kiri to finger the hard-core of unemployed and that's a clarion call to politicians, to policymakers to come up with some solutions to that problem to get people off welfare dependency," he said.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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