Friday, July 15, 2011

More on oaths and affirmations

Hone Harawira's ejection from the House yesterday for trying to swear allegiance to the Treaty of Waitangi before taking his formal affirmation of office has naturally sparked debate about our present oaths and their relevance to modern New Zealand. The Maori Party has announced it will try and change the affirmation to include the Treaty of Waitangi, which seems to be a good idea. After all, its our founding document, and something our government is supposed to uphold in all its actions. Reminding MPs, judges, the Governor-General and other officials of that duty when they take office would be a Good Thing, as well as a strong statement of what sort of country we are.

Meanwhile, others are asking why we even have such oaths in this day and age. Its a good question. Originally, oaths of office were part of feudalism - the king gives you a job, and you swear to obey him. They have since evolved into being more about the ceremony, and less about the personal allegiance, especially in countries where the law and the people have overthrown the monarch. But there's not really any point to them. What makes an MP an MP is not that they have spoken the magic words, but that they have been elected. Everything else is just bullshit, a relic.

That said, there's not actually any harm in reminding MPs and other office holders of the responsibilities of the job when they assume it. But this being a democracy, those responsibilities are always going to be (and should be) contested. Which is why I like Andrew Geddis' proposal of a "DIY affirmation":

that must contain certain commitments - allegiance to New Zealand and its laws, or whatever - as well as any additional commitments an MP may wish to include therein
We already do this for marriage - all you have to say is "I AB, take you CD, to be my legal wife or husband" or words to similar effect. Why not do it for MPs as well? Let them make up their own affirmations, and we can judge them on their vision for New Zealand.