We now live under the provisions of the Plain Language Act which came into force on the 21st of April 2023. It’s designed to improve communication between government agencies and the general population. The intention of the act is clear and laudable. However, the implementation is clearly going to be determined by the mandarins in our bureaucracy. As we all know, to effect change in any organisation is not easy. To achieve change in the culture of the monoliths of government departments is a minor miracle. The consequence is that a lazy approach to the desired objectives of this Act will occur and is occurring.
Given the Act, under s3, has -
“The purpose of this Act is to improve the effectiveness and accountability of public service agencies and Crown agents, and to improve the accessibility of certain documents that they make available to the public, by providing for those documents to use language that is—
(a) appropriate to the intended audience; and
(b) clear, concise, and well organised”
and further, under s6 (3) –“Nothing in this Act prevents or restricts a reporting agency from including te reo Māori in any relevant document.”
- the lazy approach referred to above will continue.
By that I mean the random inclusion of Maori words in what are substantially English language texts. This seems to be a one-way phenomenon at present. If one compares the language of the empowering legislation, the Plain Language Act, it is in English throughout. The intention is clear, namely to communicate the provisions of legislation in a coherent manner complying with the grammatical requirements of the language to ensure precision and certainty. In summary the legislation is written with the integrity of the language to the fore.
Another example of this feature of legislative clarity is found in the Maori Language Act 2016. That Act is presented first in the Maori language (applying what I presume are the factors ensuring the integrity of the text in Maori) and followed by the English language version.
Our bureaucrats would be well advised to follow these examples from our legislature. When communicating to the public those communications have to be done with the integrity of the medium to the fore. Not all New Zealand citizens have English or Maori as their principal and primary language. For many, English is a second or third language. Again this is recognised by our bureaucrats as many of their missives are provided in multiple languages. The distinguishing feature of these alternative (from Maori or English texts) is that they do not include random words from a third language.
To mix Maori and English, as is becoming a common practice, is to bastardise both languages for the benefit of neither. In correspondence with the Human Rights Commission on this point I was advised that this practice was acceptable because everyone is doing it.
That argument is wrong. Not everyone is doing it as the script of the two pieces of legislation I have referred to demonstrate. Those unfamiliar with either English or Maori are not doing it. Dyslexic people are not doing it. Rather it is a current fashion with the “woke” in positions of influence that see this practice as acceptable.
The provisions of the Plain Language Act should be brought to their attention for the sake of both the English and the Maori language, namely, to benefit and improve communication between government agencies and the public, not between minority “woke” sectors and their like counterparts within the bureaucratic environment and their acolytes.
No doubt this article will be viewed scathingly by the proponents of the woke behaviour above. It will be subject to a reflex response viewing these comments as reactionary, racist, ageist, and plenty of other ‘ists'.
An appropriate application to the Human Rights forum of the United Nations would be of more interest to me as, looked at holistically, the combined effect of the two Acts mentioned is to impose, at least in part, a legislated racist system on New Zealand as a whole, with no real discernible benefit. Rather, the impact is divisive.
Such an application would provide a truly independent objective assessment of the regime we now suffer under.
Dennis Gates is a lawyer and company director. He was a sole practitioner in general practice until 2012. As well as a law degree he has a Bachelor of Social Science, is a Notary Public and has a certificate in NZ Sign Language. Recently he featured on Fair Go in its 45th birthday edition as one of the 'good guys'. At present he holds a practicing certificate as a barrister to assist folk that have left Gloriavale to challenge the community's powers that be.