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Maori language in Parliament

Hon Tuariki Delamere MP for Te Tai Rawhiti

Media statement For immediate release Friday, 23 July 1999

Te Tai Rawhiti MP, Hon Tuariki Delamere, today released an open letter he has sent to the Speaker of the House concerning the use of the Maori language in Parliament.

In a related comment, Mr Delamere said he totally rejects the remarks of Government MP's Gerry Brownlee and Ian Revell, who oppose the translation of Maori into English in the House.

"Regrettably, this is another example of the marginalisation of the Maori language, an official language of New Zealand."


23 July 1999

Hon Doug Kidd


House of Representatives

Parliament Buildings

An Open Letter concerning the use of Maori Language in Parliament

Tena koe e te Kaiwawao

As you are aware the issue of using Maori language in the House needs to be clarified.

Standing Order 107 states that both English and Maori are the official languages of the House.

Standing Orders 1 and 82 to 94 set down the rules for maintaining order in the House and they confirm that it is the responsibility of the Speaker to ensure order is maintained in the House.

This can only be achieved if the Speaker is able to understand what is being said, as it is being said. While not expressly stated in the Standing Orders it is, I believe, the right of every member to understand what is being said, as it is being said.

It is also the right of every member to address the House, and raise points of order, in the Maori language without having to notify either yourself or the Clerk of the House that they intend to do so.

This week I raised a point of order in the Maori language and when Mr Assistant Speaker asked if I "would care to translate?" I declined to do so. I took this position as that is my right under Standing Orders. While I understand the reasoning for Mr Assistant Speaker's ruling on my point of order, it is, I believe, unacceptable that a ruling on a point of order is delayed for several sitting days in order to get a translation.

The system set up for the Honourable member Alamein Kopu where she notifies the Clerk of the House when she wishes to ask a question in the Maori language is patronising.

In both these cases the Maori language is actually being reduced to the status of a second class official language. While I accept that this was not the intended outcome it is, I believe, the reality of the situation.

In my reading of the Standing Orders I believe there are only two possible solutions.

1. Delete the words "and Maori" from Standing Order 107 so that English is the only language permitted in the House, or

2. Provide simultaneous translations of both languages over head phones, as used in other jurisdictions where there is more than one official language, for example Canada and the United Nations. I also believe that both languages should be broadcast live to the nation and that there should be an English as well as a Maori version of Hansard.

The first of these solutions is, I believe, unacceptable and that the second solution must be implemented immediately. Only in this way can the Maori language be as official as English in terms of the Standing Orders.

I look forward to your earliest response.

I have made this an open letter as I believe it is also an important constitutional matter which is being misrepresented to the public by the media and some of our colleagues.

Yours sincerely

Hon Tuariki Delamere MP for Te Tairawhiti

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