26 Oct 2022

Historic gender achievement in Parliament with MP's swearing-in

From The House , 6:55 pm on 26 October 2022

As has been covered already in media this week, the swearing-in of Labour list MP Soraya Peke-Mason, to fill the gap created by the departure of long time MP Trevor Mallard, means an historic achievement of gender equity in New Zealand’s Parliament.

In fact, there are now 60 women MPs to 59 men in the house on account of the recent resignation of Gaurav Sharma reducing Parliament to 119 MPs, so females are the majority - at least until the Hamilton West by-election.

Labour MP Soraya Peke-Mason gives her maiden statement in Parliament, 25 October 2022.

Labour MP Soraya Peke-Mason gives her maiden statement in Parliament, 25 October 2022. Photo: Johnny Blades / VNP

“There are many firsts today. Firstly, my swearing in. Secondly, at the same time, we reached for the very first time in the history of Government gender equity. And, possibly, the first member of Parliament in the Commonwealth to swear allegiance to King Charles III - hopeful! It's not just a special day for me; it's a significant, historic day for Aotearoa New Zealand,” Peke-Mason said in her maiden statement.

New Zealand has one of the world’s very highest levels of women’s representation in its national Parliament - higher than Australia, which is around 40 percent across house and senate. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, because Rwanda has had around 60 percent in recent years so there’s more work to be done.

“This has been a long-game political journey, one paved by those around me, one of strategy, loyalty, hard work, sacrifices, and perseverance. Politics was not my chosen path; it was encouraged by others and circumstances - others such as my father - and mother-in-law, the late Harry and Betty Mason. It was paved by the committee O Ngā Rāhui, the Rātana Community Board, the secular division of the Rātana morehu movement.”

Like most maiden speeches, Soraya Peke-Mason’s gave us a chance to learn something about the formative experience of the MP.

“I grew up in the little coastal suburb called Kokohuia, also known as Castlecliff, Wanganui, on the west coast of the North Island. Widowed in her early 20s, my mother was left to raise six children. She worked hard to keep us together in the house my father built, knowing it was critical; we had a roof over our head, somewhere we could always return to. Life was a struggle. We had little money. My mother worked nights cleaning to supplement her widows' benefit, and would take her line and sinker to fish through the cracks of the Castlecliff Wharf railway lines to feed us when kai was limited.”

Labour MP Soraya Peke-Mason is congratulated by fellow MPs after her maiden speech in Parliament, 26 October 2022.

Labour MP Soraya Peke-Mason is congratulated by fellow MPs after her maiden speech in Parliament, 26 October 2022. Photo: Johnny Blades / VNP


Her swearing-in brings to four the number of MPs who also belong to the Rātana morehu. Rātana is primarily a church, but has also been a political force in New Zealand since the 1930s.

“In 1936, the alliance between T.W. Rātana and Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage was cemented at an historic meeting. Rātana favoured the Labour Party because it had consulted his supporters when devising Māori policy at the time. We must continue to rise up and find a way to forgive. Times are changing. We are being swallowed up by globalisation, ever-changing technology, and climate change. It is this kind of leadership the world is seeking. I think of T.W. Rātana's 1932 petition, which exudes the value of unity at a national level. By bringing two nations together, we have one great nation.”

Peke-mason acknowledged many whānau, friends and colleagues who had helped on her journey to Parliament, especially the women who guided her.

“Just as important are those who have shaped who I am today as wahine Māori: ngā iwi, including Mōkai Pātea, Ngāti Hinemanu, who were always there, quietly observing, guiding, and nurturing, and clipping my ears when I didn't listen.”

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