This is what Dr Don Brash thinks about being called racist.

"I hate it. It's almost the most abusive word you can use in New Zealand today, and perhaps anywhere, so I don't enjoy it."

It was a word flung at Brash again today, this time at Ti Tii Marae in Waitangi after the former National Party leader was invited to speak.

He barely got the chance. Almost from the moment Brash began to speak, he was finished.

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An eager and energised crowd had gathered.

There were about 200 people in the tent at the marae. "No doubt some of you regard me as an out and out racist," he told them.

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Some of them? There was a lot more noise in the tent than "some".

Dr Don Brash is escorted to lunch at Ti Tii Marae. Photo / David Fisher
Dr Don Brash is escorted to lunch at Ti Tii Marae. Photo / David Fisher

Brash, wearing linen trousers and a blue business shirt in sweltering heat, boxed on but not for long. He was asked to speak for an hour, prepared for 35 minutes (plus an anticipated Q&A session).

He was sitting down again long before the speech could be considered finished.

"They define Don Brash as racist," he said after the speech. "No matter what I say or do, the definition of racism in their minds is someone called Don Brash.

"I think to myself, what can I say to them - what is it in my policy position - that makes you think I prefer one race against another.

"I feel very strongly that every single ethnicity should have equal rights."

How times have changed - the original words replaced with te reo at Ti Tii Marae. Photo / David Fisher
How times have changed - the original words replaced with te reo at Ti Tii Marae. Photo / David Fisher

It has dogged him and has dogged Hobson's Pledge, the group which claims as a goal the removal of "race-based discrimination" in New Zealand through a lens which sees Māori as enjoying privileges others do not.

It's hurtful, he says. "I guess I've got a bit used to it."

Brash is a surprisingly thoughtful, introspective character for someone who would stand before a predominantly Māori audience and question the value of te reo. He recalls a book which posed Al Capone as a "misunderstood nice guy".

"I guess we've all got a tendency to self-deception and I'm probably no different in that regard.

He launched into the Māori language early because, he said, the people attending deserved an explanation as to why he opened with a mihi in te reo.

Dr Don Brash over lunch at the Ti Tii Marae. Photo / David Fisher
Dr Don Brash over lunch at the Ti Tii Marae. Photo / David Fisher

"I thought I needed to explain why I had done that. I was very willing to use some Māori words in that context."

Not in other circumstances. In China recently, he dialled the New Zealand embassy in Beijing to be welcomed by te reo. What's the point, he asks? Of all the people calling the embassy in China, who is actually going to have fluency?

"I just don't feel I have any animosity or prejudice against anybody of a particular race."

The encounter today was different but no less bruising than his 2004 visit during which mud was flung.

A small cluster of after-the-fact protesters at Ti Tii Marae. Photo / David Fisher
A small cluster of after-the-fact protesters at Ti Tii Marae. Photo / David Fisher

It was the anger which surprised Brash.

"I learnt quite a lot about the amount of anger that is still being felt by those particular Māori and I guess that was something I needed to learn."

It was clear, he said, Māori were suffering "severe economic pressure".

Don Brash delivers his speech at Te Tii Waitangi marae. Photo / Michael Craig
Don Brash delivers his speech at Te Tii Waitangi marae. Photo / Michael Craig

"There's a perception that pressure arises from an unjust system and in some cases, in my view of course, that is not entirely justified. But the anger is real and it's important I heard that."

Brash sees other routes to that economic abandonment. The housing crisis, he says, is at the core of much of this discontent.

Heeni Hoterene protests during Don Brash's speech. Photo /Michel Craig
Heeni Hoterene protests during Don Brash's speech. Photo /Michel Craig

"If you were able to deal with the housing affordability issue, a lot of the economic pressures will go away."

There was little hope of getting that across today.

"It got quite rowdy and it meant delivering any kind of coherent message was really not feasible."

Protesters during Don Brash's speech. Photo / Michael Craig
Protesters during Don Brash's speech. Photo / Michael Craig

And yet, he has been asked to come again and already said he would do so.

Brash will, once again, throw himself into the maelstrom of Waitangi - a maelstrom which circled only Brash and his crusade for equality.

"I would hope it is a more constructive format than it was today because I don't think anyone who disagreed with me heard me at all.

"I don't think many people heard my point of view."