A Bill which would require coroners to consider tikanga Māori has been introduced to the House.
Last year the Māori Affairs Select Committee completed an inquiry into whānau access to and management of tūpāpaku, the body of a deceased person.
In tikanga Māori, immediate whānau stay with the tūpāpaku (body of deceased) until they are buried but problems arise when a death is referred to a coroner which delays the release of the tūpāpaku.
In its report to the House the Committee made some recommendations; one of which has been put into the Coroners (Access to Body of Dead Person) Amendment Bill.
If the Bill passes, coroners will have to consider tikanga Māori and other cultures when deciding if a whānau member can remain with a deceased person.
Getting changes made to laws can be a lengthy process.
The former chair of the Māori Affairs Select Committee, National MP Nuk Korako, said the inquiry’s beginnings date back to 2014 following issues raised by whānau - especially around communication.
“You can imagine at that particular time, when someone has passed, the state of the whānau. So the important thing here is to understand that for our whānau, there is a tikanga process that needs to be adhered to.”
“There was quite a big concern about communication amongst our own people as to the understanding of tikanga Māori particularly,” he said.
“There was also a number of submitters that said there needs to be more use of Māori liaison officers particularly with first responders around coronial services, [and] the police.”
Mr Korako said select committees appreciate hearing from a wide range of people.
“All of the services that came to the select committee from coronial, pathologists, police, funeral directors, gave us so much good, excellent information and it was very difficult sometimes for them to give us examples of a system that was failing in some aspects.”
Current chair of the Māori Affairs Select Committee, Labour MP Rino Tirikatene, said inquiries were an important role for committees.
“It may be initiated by members of the public coming to the committee or members of the committee themselves. It’s really to look in great detail into a particular matter which may be of a public interest, or of interest in our case to Maori.”
Committees look closely at issues and ultimately make recommendations on the topic to the government.
“As part of the standing orders of Parliament the government is obliged to respond to recommendations that come out of an inquiry,” Mr Tirikatene said.
The government has to respond but it does not need to do what the committee has suggested, but sometimes they take up an idea and put it into practice.
“So it’s an important function on parliament and it’s a very important role that committees can play in actually achieving a public good outcome,” Mr Tirikatene said.
The Bill is likely to pass its first reading and if it does, the public will get another chance to have a say.
“When it’s referred to, I would imagine, the Justice Committee, there will be a six-week opportunity, open to the public to submit on the bill,” he said.
“I think that’s the hallmark of a good open democracy that we do have these processes in place,” he said.