Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Swearing in

Last year, Speaker Lockwood Smith banned the longstanding practice of making an alternative affirmation (to the Treaty, to the people of New Zealand, whatever) in an effort to enforce a monolithic (and outdated) view of our constitution and culture. Anyone making an alternative affirmation would be ejected from the chamber, rather than simply asked to do it again properly. By banning this low-key form of protest, he invited more disruptive forms - and that was demonstrated today, with Hone Harawira making a loud speech about the Treaty as he was approaching the Clerk to be sworn in. Entirely within Standing Orders (or at least those enforced by the Clerk today) - but rather more disruptive to the chamber than the previous low-key protests.

And that's what happens when you ban quiet protest: it doesn't make people shut up, it doesn't make the issue go away, it simply makes them angry and invites more disruptive methods to get the message across.

The Greens, BTW, seem to have decided as a caucus not to protest individually, but to make the affirmation and call on the government to modernize it afterwards. Key's comments in that article about there being no need for change shows the futility of that approach. If the Greens want change, they need to highlight the issue. There are ways of doing that politely, while complying with Standing Orders (e.g. holding their own public swearing-in ceremony before or after the formal one, with modern oaths, and inviting everyone of like mind to come along). But they've sadly missed the opportunity for doing that this year.