28 May 2024

Parliament's Speaker refuses to apologise after accusations of broken tikanga

7:09 pm on 28 May 2024
Gerry Brownlee in the Chair as Speaker.

Gerry Brownlee in the Chair as Speaker. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

A moment of unity in Parliament has been tainted by accusations of broken tikanga, with the assistant speaker facing calls to apologise from all opposition parties.

The Whakatōhea Claims Settlement Bill passed its third reading in Parliament on Tuesday with the support of all parties.

Supporters in the public gallery then rose to perform a waiata in celebration - a waiata they had permission to perform.

However, the waiata was prefaced with a karakia that was allowed to proceed for 20 seconds before being interrupted by assistant speaker Maureen Pugh, who called for order.

"Excuse me, can I call for order in the gallery please. Order in the gallery. Order in the gallery. There is permission for a waiata - the gallery is not the space for speeches," she said, as the performers continued then began singing.

After the waiata, Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi rose to his feet with a point of order and said he found it "extremely insulting that one of our rangatira was cut off, which is part of the protocol of the waiata today".

He called for an apology from the assistant speaker, saying he was insulted - with his co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer offering support.

Green MP Steve Abel also stood and offered his support, saying the purpose of the settlements was to acknowledge the wrongs of the Crown.

"To acknowledge the constant trampling and insults committed against Māori and direct losses. In this process which is a meaningful one for the iwi who have come and agreed to this settlement there is an opportunity for the Crown to actually receive the dignity offered by the iwi in the making of the apology and yet in the whole process we find we keep committing further harm and insult."

Pugh responded that she would consult with speaker Gerry Brownlee on what to do next.

Maureen Pugh

Maureen Pugh Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"It's be common practice for permission to be granted for a waiata, it is not the position for member of the gallery to make further speeches," she said.

Ngarewa-Packer bristled.

"What we allowed was to give you warning. You didn't use any of your cultural support you could have to ensure the mana of this kaupapa, the mana of our iwi, was respected. There was a very wrong here done today, and they must be apologised to before they leave - otherwise the very process which every party supported today has been takahi."

Labour's Willie Jackson also rose and voiced support for Te Pāti Māori's request for an apology.

"This is not about trying to get one up on you, madam chair, this is about tikanga and our people have been slighted. They've come from a long way away and we ask you to respect the request te pāti Māori."

National's leader of the house Chris Bishop said it would be worth the House "dialling down a touch".

"My read of the situation having watched it quite carefully was no offence was intended by you Madam Speaker, I'm sure," he said.

"My sense is that it was a misunderstanding around what was intended to happen and what members thought was likely to happen at the conclusion of the third reading speech."

When MPs interrupted again, Bishop said he was "trying to be helpful", to which Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi responded, "we've been misunderstood for the last 180 years, come on all of us deserve an apology".

Bishop acknowledged where Waititi was coming from but suggested it was "worth everyone taking a breath and dialling it down a touch".

"I don't think the speaker intended any offence and it would be a shame if we left the third reading and moved on to later items of business in a spirit where there was acrimony across the Parliament, because I actually think there's unanimous agreement for reconciliation."

When Pugh moved on to the next matter of business, after hearing all parties' points of view, MPs from Te Pāti Māori could be heard in the House calling out the assistant speaker for "being wrong" and "making a mistake". Others yelled "shame".

At this point Brownlee entered the debating chamber and told the House the argument had been heard from both sides.

"My job is to protect the tikanga of this Parliament - this Parliament," he said.

"It is the Parliament of all people in New Zealand and there is no intention to offend anybody in the upholding of its own tikanga, and tikanga does not allow for speeches from the gallery, it never has.

"On that basis we will now proceed and those who do not want to accept that, well, unfortunately no change can be made."

The performer of the karakia, Te Kahautu Maxwell, told reporters afterwards the event would not put a dampener on what had been achieved with the legislation.

"It was a misunderstanding of tikanga. The main thing is that the whakatōhea's settled," he said. "All I wanted to do on behalf of the tribe was to acknowledge the kind words that were conveyed and to thank each member of the Parliament for their support in assisting te whakatōhea to get to where we landed today after 159 years since the confiscation of our land and 184 years since the signing of the Treaty.

"I wasn't surprised, however, we as Te Whakatōhea we've been through, we've faced much larger challenges than that. So it doesn't take away from the third reading of the Whakatōhea Settlement Bill in Parliament."

But Irene Moore from Ōpōtiki said Pugh had been out of order.

"I didn't like the ending, she was out of order, she didn't understand what was going on and Te Kahautu was not doing anything wrong.

"Rawiri should have been listened to and the speaker of the House was there, he could have fixed it straight away

Former National Party Minister Tuariki Delamere, who is Whakatōhea, said it had been a wonderful kōrero with all sides of the house being supportive but it was "a bit sad it ended up on a bit of a contentious note".

"What it is, is again a misunderstanding of the marriage between tikanga and the kaupapa of the House - and for so long the kaupapa of this House has been to squash tikanga. But it's made huge progress since I was here in the '90s."

The previous speaker of the house, Labour's Adrian Rurawhe, said he would not have intervened as Pugh did.

"I would never intervene on that, because - mind you - I understood what they were saying and why they were doing it," he said.

"The speaker made a ruling against someone in the gallery speaking, so they're standing orders that she applied. If you speak to the people from Whakatōhea, they'll tell you that that was actually part of the waiata and so it's clear there is a conflict between the tikanga of the House and the tikanga of Whakatōhea, which is really unfortunate on the day that we pass a piece of legislation.

"Personally I think there's an opportunity for us to change standing orders, but we all have to participate."

Waititi said Pugh was incompetent and should be reprimanded.

"She is incompetent because she has no cultural backing, she has no cultural training, obviously.

"There are karanga that go out in that building. Karanga and whaikōrero go hand in hand, so if you allow for karanga you should allow for whaikōrero, allow for the waiata.

"This is a rangatira that they cut short, this is the spokesperson of Te Whakatōhea - and to have him belittled and ridiculed in front of the gallery, in front of his own people by the Crown - they continue to breach the partnership and the goodwill that te tiriti was supposed to be.

"All she had to do was say 'I apologise'."

Whakatōhea Claims Settlement Bill passes third reading

Meanwhile, the Whakatōhea Claims Settlement Bill passes its third reading in Parliament.

Whakatōhea is an iwi based in the Bay of Plenty and its six hapū include Ngāi Tamahaua, Ngāti Ira, Ngāti Ngahere, Ngāti Patumoana, Ngāti Ruatākenga and Te Ūpokorehe.

Whakatōhea descendants representing about 16,000 members came to Parliament on Tuesday to mark the moment.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Paul Goldsmith said the settlement included the reservation of 5000 hectares of marine space for aquaculture, $100 million in financial, cultural, and commercial redress, the transfer of 33 sites of cultural significance, natural resource and conservation arrangements, and relationship agreements with Crown agencies.

"While no settlement can fully compensate for the Crown's past injustices, this settlement will support the aspirations and prosperity of Whakatōhea for many generations to come.

"The historical grievances of Te Whakatōhea against the Crown include the unjustifiable invasion, occupation and raupatu of their tribal area, the use of scorched earth policies and the failure to act in good faith in its treatment and execution of their tipuna Mokomoko.

"The historical grievances caused the break-down of their tribal structures, their language and tikanga, it also caused the stigmatisation of the Mokomoko whānau and descendants."

Goldsmith said the bill would mark the beginning of a new chapter in the Crown's relationship with the iwi.