29 Aug 2023

Rawiri Waititi suspended from Parliament over comments

3:00 pm on 29 August 2023
Rawiri Waititi

Rawiri Waititi Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi has been named and suspended from the House for 24 hours over comments that may have breached court suppression orders.

Speaker of the House Adrian Rurawhe has also referred a general question of breaching court suppressions to the Privileges Committee.

Rurawhe said Waititi's conduct was grossly disorderly, as Parliament's relationship with the courts is of utmost importance and Waititi's actions damaged the relationship.

The matter centres on Waititi last week in which he speculated in the House on a person having name suppression.

While MPs are covered by the Parliamentary Privilege allowing freedom of speech and debate - protecting them from legal repercussions for their speech while they are in the House - it appeared to be a breach of two Standing Orders, which are rules for Parliament and its committees.

As Parliament began sitting on Tuesday, Rurawhe said he had been considering the matter.

"Standing Order 116 gives the speaker responsibility for balancing these important interests. To allow the speaker to exercise discretion it requires a member who intends to refer to a matter that is subject to a suppression order to give written notice to the speaker ... Mr Waititi did not give notice but then referred to a matter that apparently is suppressed by a court," he said.

Several matters covering breaches of Parliament's rules - the Standing Orders and the Cabinet Manual - have recently been referred to the Privileges Committee, a group of MPs from all parties who make judgements on such breaches and can recommend punishments to Parliament.

However, Rurawhe said further inquiries into the specific matter of Waititi's potential breach of suppression, and any court case or suppression he may have identified, could themselves be a breach of the relationship between Parliament and the courts.

"Parliament's relationship with the courts is of utmost constitutional importance. Reckless use of the freedom of speech enjoyed by the House damages that relationship and undermines the standing of this Parliament and the Privileges on which it depends."

The Clerk of the House David Wilson and the Speaker Adrian Rurawhe keep an eye on the MPs during Question Time.

Speaker of the House Adrian Rurawhe Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

He said he had decided to deal with the matter in two ways: "First, I will refer a general question of privilege to the Privileges Committee asking to consider how the House will deal with cases such as this where a member may have made reference to a matter in breach of a suppression order, but investigating it could be inconsistent with the order if one exists.

"Second, I intend to deal with Mr Waititi's comments as a matter of order. The words Mr Waititi used in the House indicate that he believed that the matter concerned was subject to a suppression order and yet he raised it without first notifying the speaker.

"I consider that in his comments Mr Waititi's conduct was grossly disorderly, therefore I name Rawiri Waititi, and call on the House to judge his conduct. The question is that Rawiri Waititi be suspended from the service of the House."

MPs then voted to confirm Waititi had been named and suspended. No party vote was taken.

Being named and suspended is one of the most severe punishments a speaker can hand out to MPs. It means the MP is barred from having a vote cast, from sitting on a committee, or entering the debating chamber, and will have the day's pay deducted from their salary.