Thursday, July 14, 2011

Protest and Parliament

Some people have objected to my last two posts about Lockwood Smith's refusal to swear Hone Harawira in as an MP today. According to them, Smith was simply enforcing the law, and it is unfair to portray him as a white supremacist for doing so.

To put it politely, fuck them.

To point out the obvious, not everyone accepts our current constitutional provisions. Some people, such as Harawira, want a greater role for Maori and the Treaty. Others (including myself) are republicans, and do not see why we should swear allegiance to a foreign monarch. We are entitled to hold those views, and express them in public, and those rights do not suddenly end if someone is elected to Parliament. In fact, an MP elected with such views would be failing their voters if they did not use the opportunity presented by being sworn in to make a symbolic statement of dissent.

As previously noted, our Parliament has long had an accepted practice for dealing with this. MPs make their statement, then they do it again "properly". This respects the diversity of MP's views, while ensuring that the law is complied with. But suddenly, out of the blue, Smith has changed that practice, and is now requiring that MPs be sworn in in the legal form from the outset. No symbolic dissent is permissible. While cloaked in petty legalism, at its heart this is about cultural supremacy, and in particular the supremacy of Smith's dead white male monarchist culture over the new New Zealand culture which has been growing here for the last 40 years.

To claim that it is somehow "disrespecting Parliament" to symbolically refuse to take the affirmation in its proper form (and then do it) is an exact reversal of the truth. It is disrespecting Parliament, disrespecting our democracy, to forbid it. And it is disrespecting the people of New Zealand to try and erase our differences and enforce a monolithic culture upon those who represent us.

These are real disagreements, and they are to be solved by argument, the way we do things in a democracy. Symbolic protests such as Harawira's are part of that process. They highlight the absurdity of the current situation, and hopefully provoke us to think about why "our" representatives are promising to obey an old lady 19,000km away rather than the people who elected them. Or why our public oaths of office and our constitution still do not reflect our founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi. Outlawing such protests, and seeking to erase them, will not make those questions go away. All it does is bring our Parliament, and its Speaker, into disrepute.