Thursday, December 08, 2011

A challenge to our new MPs

Parliament will sit on 20 December for the swearing in of new MPs and the election of a Speaker. Last time this happened, a number of MPs (including Te Ururoa Flavell and Hone Harawira) did not make their affirmations in the prescribed form, instead swearing allegiance to the Treaty of Waitangi. Over the course of the term, they were joined by others, including (IIRC) Gareth Hughes, Kevin Hague and Catherine Delahunty. This was a long-standing tradition in our Parliament; opinions on our constitution differ, and those of such views were allowed to represent their constituents and express them before mouthing the words required by law. But earlier this year, Lockwood Smith overturned that tradition, ejecting Hone Harawira from the House in an effort to erase those differences and enforce his preferred cultural and political values. Since then, he has forced through a change in Standing Orders to continue to enforce those norms.

Of course, that doesn't make those differences go away. And this election, we've had more MPs than ever elected representing the new New Zealand, whose loyalties lie not with an old woman 19,000km away, but with our founding document and their fellow citizens.

Pretty obviously, the state opening presents an opportunity for these MPs. And so I challenge them: stand up for what you believe in. Make your oath or affirmation to the Treaty, to the people, first, then do it "properly". And if the Clerk throws you out of the House for the day, so much the better! When Lockwood Smith changed the rules to enforce his values, he invited the state opening to be turned into a farce. And that is exactly what our MPs who believe in a new New Zealand and a new constitution should do.

Update: Added Kevin Hague to the list. He has some thoughts on the affirmation here:

In the past several MPs - including the Maori Party's and some in the Greens - have altered the oath to include the Treaty of Waitangi before being stopped and told to deliver the correct wording stipulated by law.

Green MP Kevin Hague said if he was re-elected he had every intention of doing so again, but would have an "ethical dilemma" if the Speaker laid down the hard word beforehand.

"For an oath to be meaningful it needs to be meaningful to the person giving the oath. What MPs in New Zealand should be swearing allegiance to is to New Zealand, and it is appropriate to include allegiance to the Treaty in that."

I'm hoping he'll stand by this on December 20.