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Te Pāti Māori promise day of protest and disruption as 54th parliament set to open
Te Pāti Māori promise day of protest and disruption as 54th parliament set to open

The BulletinDecember 5, 2023

Protest action kicks off as 54th parliament set to open

Te Pāti Māori promise day of protest and disruption as 54th parliament set to open
Te Pāti Māori promise day of protest and disruption as 54th parliament set to open

A call to protest today from Te Pāti Māori aligns with the opening of the 54th term of parliament, where MPs are required to swear an oath of allegiance to King Charles III, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

The opening of the 54th term of parliament

The business of government gets underway today with the opening of the 54th parliament. As always, RNZ’s The House provides a good summary of everything that will happen at parliament today and tomorrow. MPs will be sworn in today, and a speaker will be elected. National will nominate Gerry Brownlee. Tomorrow, there will be the “speech from the throne”. Governor General Dame Cindy Kiro will arrive, preceded by Black Rod, and all the traditional pomp and pageantry of the occasion will be on full display. Looking to contest that tradition is Te Pāti Māori, who have organised a “National Māori Action Day” today and are promising widespread disruption across the North Island this morning. Live updates and information from RNZ here. Speaking to Te Ao Māori News, Te Pāti Māori president John Tamihere said there are too many policies to be introduced by the coalition government to list as specifically inciting protest action but Tamihere cites the coalition government’s proposal to remove section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act as particularly frustrating to him. Asked about the protests yesterday, prime minister Christopher Luxon said he doesn’t believe protests will continue throughout the term, as he believes his government would “deliver for Māori”.

Oath of allegiance to the Crown a focal point

Te Pāti Māori’s caucus is also planning to give oaths of allegiance to Te Tiriti o Waitangi before taking the parliamentary oath, which must occur for them to become MPs and in which allegiance is pledged to the monarch, King Charles III. Hone Harawira was ejected from the House in 2011 for swearing an oath to the Treaty before eventually swearing allegiance to the Queen. In 2016, Marama Fox, the co-leader of the Māori party at the time, introduced a bill to allow members to state that, “in addition to the words of the oath”, “they will perform their duties in accordance with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.” It did not make it past the first reading. Te Pāti Māori have continued to push for the oath to be changed so it acknowledges the Treaty.

Protest action is no surprise

The call to protest should surprise no one. It has been signalled as a likely outcome of policy brought to light during the election campaign. Last Thursday, constitutional law professor Claire Charters told Waatea News that Māori may have no option but to protest against proposed policy changes. Former prime ministers and treaty ministers have all spoken about the potentially divisive nature of Act’s Treaty principles referendum policy. Historians and academics have also stated their case about the implications. Labour MP Willie Jackson summonsed the spectre of the Springbok protests when speaking to Q&A a month ago. Speaking to Stuff’s Joel Maxwell, Paula-Maree McKenzie says there have been two nation-defining marches spanning the country in her lifetime, citing the land march in 1975 and the Foreshore and Seabed march in 2004. She was at both and said, “I’ve got my boots ready to walk wherever and whenever, if necessary.”

How a debate over principles leads to a debate over sovereignty

The coalition deal between Act and National contains an agreement to support Act’s policy for a binding public referendum on the principles of the Treaty but only through to a first reading. As the Herald’s Audrey Young writes (paywalled), Act didn’t get what it wanted, but “what it did get is likely to trigger intense debate and open up the country to a debate it didn’t bargain on – over Māori sovereignty.” “A debate about the principles inevitably leads to a debate about what the articles of the Treaty meant and that ultimately leads to a debate about sovereignty,” writes Young. It’s a point raised by Morgan Godfery in The Post last week in a column headlined, “When it comes to the Treaty principles, David Seymour is right about one thing”. Godfrey notes that New Zealand’s “radical left” and “libertarian right” are united and “probably agree the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi are a sham”. There is an argument, as Godfrey writes, that the principles of the Treaty “were meant to disempower, not empower, Māori,” weakening commitments to allow signatories to the Māori language version of the Treaty to retain their sovereignty. Speaking at the post cabinet press conference yesterday, prime minister Christopher Luxon said he plans to go to Waitangi next year. There has been an expressed desire for “less politics” at Waitangi recently, with hosts Hoani Waititi Marae requesting politicians “dial down political talk” last year. As Young writes,  it would be safe to suggest that Waitangi Day will not be a day of celebration in 2024.

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