8 Dec 2023

Māori dissent sets the scene as Parliament returns

From Focus on Politics, 7:00 pm on 8 December 2023
Focus on Politics: Composite image of protestors for National Māori Action Day in front of the Beehive

Protesters from the "National Māori Action Day" marched in all corners of the country on Tuesday, the same day MPs were sworn in at the Commission Opening of Parliament.  Photo: RNZ

"This government has opened the floodgates of hatred toward Māori" - Rawiri Waititi

The resumption of Parliament this week has been underlined by outcry from Māori, soon matched by fury within the debating chamber.

With just two weeks before the Christmas break and Waitangi Day fast approaching on the other side, the government will have plenty to work through. 

Politicians arriving to be sworn in as MPs on Tuesday were greeted by hundreds of protesters on Parliament's forecourt objecting to the new government's policies and plans affecting Māori. The march was led by Te Pāti Māori, whose co-leaders were unapologetic, promising this was just the start.

As National's caucus prepared to meet ahead of the Commission Opening, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said the protests were unfair, and the government should be given more time to deliver better outcomes for Māori. That held little weight with the protesters, however, railing against his coalition's policies and plans laid out clearly and in detail, rather than the government's record.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

His coalition partners ACT and New Zealand First went further in their dismissal, calling the protests anti-democratic.

Having tripled in size this election, Te Pāti Māori is determined to make its presence known in the halls of power. They continued to test boundaries at the swearing-in, which requires all MPs to pledge allegiance to the King, a practice the party argues is a colonial constraint that contradicts the equal partnership promised by Te Tiriti.

One by one, all six preceded their vow with an oath of their own: to mokopuna, in accordance with tikanga Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi. 

Te Pāti Maori MP Tākuta Ferris, in ceremonial garb, has sworn allegiance to mokopuna under Te Tiriti o Waitangi before also swearing allegiance to the King. The first MP from the party to be called, he was accompanied by a karanga.

The new MP for Te Tai Tonga, Tākuta Ferris, was the first to perform Te Pāti Māori's unconventional oath.  Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

This was followed by the usual oath or affirmation but again with a twist - with some swearing to "Kīngi Harehare", an alternative translation of Charles, which can also be used to mean "scab", or "something objectionable".

Labour's Māori Development spokesperson Willie Jackson approved of their approach, but the coalition was unimpressed, describing it as "drama" and "theatrics". 

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The ceremonial pageantry and clashes between government and opposition continued into Wednesday with the State Opening of Parliament, marked by the Speech from the Throne and the Address in Reply debate.

The Speech - written by the Prime Minister's Office - lays out the incoming government's agenda, and saw New Zealand's first wahine Māori Governor-General, Dame Cindy Kiro, proclaiming a crackdown on gangs, and the disestablishment of the Māori Health Authority.

Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro about to deliver the Speech from the Throne at the State Opening of the 54th Parliament. Government MPs are seated on the left, while Opposition MPs are on the right.

Dame Cindy Kiro delivers the Speech from the Throne. Photo: Johnny Blades / VNP

It set the scene for a fierce clash between Luxon and opposition leader Chris Hipkins, who had traded seats since their last time in the House. The smaller parties brought their own fire too - not least NZ First's Winston Peters and Te Pāti Māori's Rawiri Waititi, going head to head over who better represented Māori.

As 1News Deputy Political Editor Maiki Sherman noted on Morning Report, Luxon has thus far sought to downplay the protests and their longevity, but Māori concerns are not going to just quietly go away. 

Waitangi Day in February may be an opportunity to begin to remedy that, but could also prove a flashpoint.

Luxon will need to decide soon whether he will attend and in what way - and with plenty else on the government's agenda to tackle the day will come before they know it. 

In this week's Focus on Politics, Deputy Political Editor Craig McCulloch examines the start of the 54th Parliament and the racially charged indignation that heralded it.

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