1 Nov 2020

New Green MPs: 'There are expectations of us'

5:01 pm on 1 November 2020

The Green Party's newest MPs are promising to use their diverse backgrounds to push not only for change in their communities but within the political system as well.

Dr Elizabeth Kerekere at Victoria University marae.

Green MP Elizabeth Kerekere is keen to make things happen for the communities she will be representing in Parliament. Photo: RNZ / Leigh Marama McLachlan

The 40 new MPs entering parliament across all parties are being lauded as the most diverse in history, with record numbers of women, those from the rainbow community and different ethnicities.

Green MP Elizabeth Kerekere said there have certainly been many women, Māori and other takatāpui in Parliament before her, but it is the combination of those and the fact she works in those areas that makes her different.

"There are expectations of us from our communities and the networks that we represent that we are going to make some things happen here," she said.

But Kerekere has accepted to make that happen there will need to be compromise on her behalf.

"[Parliament] is the bastion of colonisation in this country and it is the highest level of state control and coming into this space as a politician.

"As an MP, I have to be very aware of the whakapapa of this place, the geniality that this place comes from and the fact many people before me have worked hard to make change," she said.

Kerekere noted she will have to swear allegiance to the Queen, despite wanting to subvert the role of the monarchy in Aotearoa.

"It is certainly something we have been talking about at home and with some of the organisations I work with because that is going to be a tough thing, I understand there is no way around that."

She said despite "the pomp and the ceremony", she remains a strong Māori woman and takatāpui will get the work done.

"There are some areas where I am going to have to let some stuff go, there are other areas where I am going to have to embrace things I might not have in the past, different ways of thinking, to be able to work with my colleagues across the aisles to get the work done," she said.

Swearing allegiance to the Queen was also a sore point for fellow MPs Teanau Tuiono and Ricardo Menéndez March.

Tuiono said that it was outdated and was surprised it hadn't already been changed.

"I think we should be pledging allegiance to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, it would be good to sort that out at some time, because I find it inaccurate," he said.

Tuiono is the first Pasifika Green Party MP - also the first from Palmerston North.

"For me it is about acknowledging that we know that Pasifika people are on the frontline of climate change and having that voice among our Green Party caucus," he said.

Ricardo Menéndez March, who is the first Latin American MP, will be looking to represent migrant, rainbow and low income communities.

He said Parliament reflects a system that was built on the colonisation of New Zealand and it's reflected in its traditions and the way the building operates.

"At the same time with the make-up of Parliament changing there is also an opportunity to ensure that our political system reflects one where we are upholding the history of this land and indigenous rights and I'm actually really excited about working alongside my colleagues particularly Elizabeth and Teanau to do this," he said.

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Ricardo Menéndez March, left, and fellow MP Teanau Tuiono. Photo: Supplied

Menéndez March said he saw the challenges that immigrants faced, particularly during Covid.

"Whether it was not being able to access welfare assistance during the lockdown, or just the exploitation of people on temporary visas and those are the sort of insights having been on temporary visas I want to bring into the House."

He said he hoped with an increased representation of people from migrant communities the country can finally put an end to the exploitation of migrant workers.

'A long way to go'

All three MPs have experienced abusive comments from members of the public for their backgrounds.

Menéndez March said the abuse and xenophobia he has received were symptoms of a wider issue.

"It shows that despite the increased representation, we still have a very long way to go to ensure xenophobia and racism don't create barriers for people to speak unapologetically of who they are and feel safe," he said.

He said he felt most concerned for other members of his community who don't have the privileges that he has.

Kerekere said during the campaign she received death threats and abuse for being takatāpui.

"I had people sending really racist things into my emails and my Facebook and we would just see that it happened, hide it off the pages so no one else had to see it and decide if we were going to report it or not and just keep moving," she said.

Tuiono said he has been involved in politics and activism his whole adult life so he has become used to it.

"I will say I don't get as much hassle as my colleagues and friends who are women, in particular brown women," he said.

He said when that happens they need to support each other.

"The reason they [the abusers] do that is they want to push people out, they want to push diverse people out of positions of authority and so [we are] being mindful that that is where that pushback is coming from so we need to stand firm, he said.

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