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Oaths & Declarations (Upholding The Treaty Of Waitangi)

Wednesday, 7 November 2012 7:30 PM

Oaths And Declarations (Upholding The Treaty Of Waitangi) Amendment Bill

First Reading
Te Ururoa Flavell, MP for Waiariki

Tēnā koe, Mr Deputy Speaker. Kia ora tātou katoa. Go Obama! I am sorry.

I move, That the Oaths and Declarations (Upholding the Treaty of Waitangi) Amendment Bill be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I intend to move that the bill be considered by the Māori Affairs Committee.

I came here tonight thinking that all the stars are aligned. Earlier today we got a bill in my name to restore land to the people of Tauranga moana to Ngā Pōtiki . Yay-ya! Just not long ago I would have been out watching Barack Obama coming to the fore to talk to the people. I knew I would then come to this House to talk about Te Tiriti o Waitangi , and for members of this House to make an affirmation about Te Tiriti o Waitangi and affirm a commitment to that document, but it may not all pan out—it may not all pan out.

This bill, I think, is an extremely important bill. For the whole of the country listening in tonight—at least those ones who are not looking at Barack Obama—at least let me tell them what this important bill is all about. This bill that has come out in my name will provide the means by which any “person taking any oath set out in statute may, in addition to the words of the oath, elect to state that they will uphold the Treaty of Waitangi.” The bill will insert the optional additional words: “I will uphold the Treaty of Waitangi” or “Ka whakaūngia e au te Tiriti o Waitangi” , across a range of oaths and affirmations.

These simple statements on their own reflect a much broader principle. The principle is that Te Tiriti o Waitangi is New Zealand’s founding document and the Government is committed to fulfilling its obligations as a Treaty partner. So the question tonight that this bill might provoke is how committed are the political parties around this Chamber to a vision of this nation in which Te Tiriti o Waitangi provides us with the basis for living together and creating a positive future.

As some background, ten years ago in August 2002 Queen Elizabeth gave a Speech from the Throne. She stated: “The basis of constitutional government in this country is to be found in its founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi.” The Māori Party considers that our collective commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi as this nation’s founding document should be expressed in all oaths and declarations included within the Oaths and Declarations Act 1957 . We did think that the National Party shared the same commitment. Indeed, right up front in the opening paragraphs of the relationship accord we signed in December 2011 is the statement: “The National Party and the Māori Party will act in accordance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Treaty of Waitangi.” The Treaty is our country’s founding document. The key political question between signing the accord a year ago and this bill today is what has happened to cause the National Party to back down from what was considered to be a statement of honour, a statement of promise for our nationhood.

I could expect it from a party like New Zealand First, because it does not believe in things like New Zealand Māori teams, even though one of its family members might be the head of the New Zealand Māori Rugby Board. I could expect it. And I could expect that in a sense, reflecting on the Prime Minister’s actions at the very start of getting together, he gave the invitation to the Māori Party to join this agreement. So what I ask myself is what is going to happen.

Let us just take a look at simple things. Ultimately, our bill is to enable all New Zealanders a simple choice to express a commitment if they wish—a simple choice—to uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi. I have got to ask myself: what is the problem? What is the problem?

To express this commitment, clause 4 introduces a new clause 4B into the principal Act, which will allow for any person taking an oath under any statute to elect in addition to the words of the oath, to state that they will uphold the Treaty of Waitangi. I want to make the point quite clearly that this is an avenue for New Zealand to elect to take up. There is no compulsion. It is entirely up to each individual. If there are 121 members coming into the Parliament of this land next election, if one took it up, surely it is a matter of choice, an ability to make an affirmation to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. It is entirely up to each individual to decide whether they want to elect to take up that commitment or not.

I want to return to my opening statement about the significance of this bill. It is our view that Te Tiriti o Waitangi is the cornerstone of the constitution of Aotearoa. We believe that central to our maturing as a nation is a need to increase New Zealanders’ exposure to, and acquisition of, sound knowledge of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the history of our nation. So it is perfect timing—almost, almost a three-peat —today that this bill is going through the House at exactly the same time as a nationwide conversation is occurring about the country’s constitutional arrangements. That deal was a part of our relationship accord with the National Party.

Again, I ask the question: what is the problem? This is a conversation being spearheaded by the Constitutional Advisory Panel , which is one of the key milestones anticipated in the last term of Parliament, and is a central gain in the relationship between the Māori Party and the National Party. Again the question must be asked: what has happened over the last twelve months to cause the National Party to rethink their enthusiasm for encouraging all New Zealanders to think about our national identity, and, in particular, the crucial role that Te Tiriti o Waitangi plays in our history and our future.

As we speak right now, we know that the Constitutional Advisory Panel, chaired by Sir Tīpene O’Regan and Emeritus Professor John Burrows , is in a full-steam engagement strategy with a wide range of New Zealanders. In the conversation so far, in a document that the Constitutional Advisory Panel has been consulting on, it has concluded that the Treaty’s accepted position as the founding document in New Zealand is the result of decades of back and forth between the iwi and the Crown. It goes further and makes reference to New Zealand’s Government statement of support for the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples , which sets out a strong preference to the influence of the Treaty of Waitangi. In that statement, the Government acknowledged that Māori hold a distinct and special relationship as the indigenous people of New Zealand, reaffirming the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi as a unique feature of indigenous rights in New Zealand. So the stage has truly been set for this bill.

Indeed, we had a youth forum a couple of months ago. Therefore, I am looking forward to hearing some of the discussion. The time could never be better for exploring all the possibilities for New Zealanders to pledge allegiance to the Treaty. We see the Treaty, as I say, as a fundamental basis of our identity, not only as Māori but as a nation. People who hold public office should not, from our perspective, be deprived of recognising that.

Today in this first reading I am conscious that we in the Māori Party have finally achieved a goal that we have been pursuing for the last eight years at least. The Māori Party is also proud that we were the first party to take the Parliamentary Oath of Allegiance in te reo rangatira . On 27 July 2004 Tariana Turia was sworn as an MP for Te Tai Hauāuru and as co-leader of the Māori Party. This is now an established part of parliamentary protocol. Two years on—19 July—Dr Sharples signalled that the Māori Party would introduce a Supplementary Order Paper to include Te Tiriti o Waitangi in oaths and affirmations. That Supplementary Order Paper has now turned into a fully fledged member’s bill . What it does is create an avenue for New Zealanders to declare an allegiance to Te Tiriti o Waitangi as our founding document. I will repeat that it is about a choice to honour the Treaty, to provide people with the mechanism by which they can testify their beliefs in our constitutional framework.

The Treaty was never about division. It is about establishing a foundation for unity and diversity—hence Governor Hobson’s statement: “He iwi kotahi tātou.” We are greatly disappointed that some parties lack the courage or the commitment to come together, united in our nationhood.

We want to acknowledge all of those parties that do share a vision in which we can see the value of the Treaty and adding value to building unity in a diverse nation, helping us to acknowledge our shared past and move forward to the future. I look forward to the kōrero tonight, to see exactly where everyone sits, and the opportunity to respond at the end. It is under those conditions that I commend this bill to the House.

ENDS

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