4 Dec 2020

Māori Party leaders aspire to transform Aotearoa for the better in maiden speeches

7:24 am on 4 December 2020

Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer has pulled no punches in her maiden speech, describing early New Zealand governments as "monsters, murderers and rapists".

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Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said parliament must not forget the impact of racist legislation. Photo: NZ Parliament screenshot

The party has returned to Parliament after dropping out in 2017, with hundreds of supporters travelling to Wellington for the speeches of Ngarewa-Packer and her fellow co-leader, Rawiri Waititi.

Waititi paid tribute to party founder Dame Tariana Turia, and called for the Crown to apologise for the wrongs of the past.

"Her courage has inspired a whole generation and her bravery continues to inspire me today."

Ngarewa-Packer accused former MPs of being responsible for the murder and rape of women and children, the imprisonment of Māori without trial and the confiscation of their land.

"I stand here as a descendant of a people who survived a Holocaust, a genocide, sponsored by this House and members of Parliament whose portraits still hang from the walls. Members of Parliament who sought our extermination and created legislation to achieve it."

The trauma of those days still stayed with her Taranaki whakapapa despite the resolve they had shown to survive, she said.

Her great grandfather was the only survivor of the whānau to return home after being sentenced to life imprisonment in 1869 for fighting to stop the confiscation of land. He was just 16 at the time. Later, after his release from Dunedin Prison he helped build three churches on sites of huge significance to mark where their land had been taken.

Now 150 years later, she said it was important for her to be elected to Parliament to represent her tīpuna and ensure "this place never ever forgets the impact of racist legislation" and she also wanted to help ensure a future for her mokopuna.

Ngarewa-Packer said both her parents instilled the value of education in all the whānau with her mum going from cleaner at the Pātea Primary School to being its principal. She also praised her husband, Neil, who had always encouraged her to further her education overseas and supported her involvement in issues such as the uptake of Māori babies and the foreshore and seabed.

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Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer at her swearing in to Parliament last week. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

She said she wanted to repay the support of her whānau and to ensure their voice is heard.

"Too many of our whānau are struggling, out of work and unable to survive on benefits set deliberately below the poverty line or working two or three jobs on low wages and still not being able to pay their bills..."

She said they were still suffering from institutional racism and the failure to undertake constitutional reforms, including in the education sector.

Ngarewa-Packer said she had embarked on many David and Goliath battles during her lifetime and was committed to continuing the fight for her people.

"In this House we have the power not to repeat the mistakes of the past that caused so much suffering for our people ... and to transform Aotearoa for the better."

As other MPs congratulated Ngarewa-Packer, many of her whānau who sang on the original Pātea Māori club hit Poi E broke into a rousing version of the classic song from the gallery.

Crown should admit its failings - Waititi

Waititi said 180 years after the signing of the Te Tiriti o Waitangi Māori were still struggling to keep their identity and language alive in the face of land theft, denial of their tangata whenua status, monocultural institutions and many other slights.

He praised media outlet Stuff for its wide-ranging admissions of racism this week and asked when the Crown would own up to its many failings and commit to doing better.

"It is time to transform how we do politics in Aotearoa; it is time for Māori to look after Māori as we know what is best for us."

The Covid-19 pandemic had shown that Māori could do this successfully without government intervention, he said.

He promised to be a change agent for his people "like a pebble in a shoe" and would be "a constant annoyance" to those hanging on to colonial ways.

He said he wanted a Māori Parliament, the right for Māori to switch between the Māori and general rolls at any time, a Māori-run replacement for Oranga Tamariki, better funding for Whānau Ora, more water rights and an end to deep sea oil drilling.

"Māori have had enough of being assimilated, and forced to do and look like everyone else. We are not like everyone else, we are unique ... there's noone else in the world like us and we need to maintain who we are."

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Rawiri Waititi at the swearing in ceremony last week, wearing his distinctive hat. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

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