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Speech: Quigley - Maori Language Debate

Hon Derek Quigley MP ACT New Zealand

Wednesday 28th Jul 1999 Derek Quigley Media Release -- Governance & Constitution

Text of Speech to Urgent Parliamentary Debate on Maori Language - Te Reo Parliament, Tuesday 27 July 1999

As the first person to participate in this debate who does not have any Maori blood, I want to start by saying that I have some reservations about some of the implications that I have heard so far during the course of this debate.

I raise that point, not because I do not think the Maori language is important, or, might I say, to my friend Tariana Turia out of any disrespect for Maori or what Maori hold dear to them. I raise it for three specific reasons. Let me deal with those.

The first issue that I raise is that I think this debate has the potential to deal with what I term 'the feel-good factor', or political correctness. Before today's debate I took the trouble to get out the original Maori Language Legislation of 1987. I noticed that one of the crucial clauses was amended in 1991. It is worth quoting from the first part of that before I lead on to the particular point that I want to make on this particular area. The title of the Maori Language Act states: "Än Act to declare the Maori language to be an official language of New Zealand, to confer the right to speak Maori in certain legal proceedings, and to establish" - and I use the European word; the Maori Language Commission-"and define its functions and powers."

I cannot help but recall the debate that we had a few days ago in this very chamber on a piece of legislation where we considered a number of recommendations by illustrious bodies. One of those illustrious bodies was the Maori Language Commission, which had comments to make on whether the word "whanau" could be used with the English language. The Maori Language Commission said, no. It was appropriate to use all English words or to use all Maori words. In its wisdom, this House voted to take the word "whanau" out of the title to that particular piece of legislation. I said that I thought the approach that was being adopted at that particular time was precious. Why did I say that? I said it for, I think, very good reason.

We continually use in our language Maori words on their own. We continually use English words on their own. And we continually use a combination of both Maori and English words. What I said was that I was speaking last week in the place of Donna Awatere Huata. There is an illustration of what I think is the preciousness of the Maori Language Commission in so far as its recommendation was concerned. "Donna" is not a Maori word and it is used with the two surnames, " Awatere Huata". I was searching around the House for another illustration of the use by some other Member of Parliament, or a potential Member of Parliament, of an English name and a Maori name together. I thought, after I had sat down: "Why didn't I use the words John Tamihere?" We are all perfectly comfortable, are we not, to use those two words together, just as we are perfectly comfortable to use the words " Donna Awatere Huata'' together, and a whole host of other words, which other members, I am sure, can bring to mind. That is the first point I want to make.

The feel-good factor, if it is carried through to its logical conclusion, can get us carried away by political correctness. I want to lead on to some other points from that. The second point, which I think raises some concern, certainly, as far as I am concerned, is what I deem as the ''slippery slope context''. I think there may well be some who are pushing things like an exclusive bicultural society in New Zealand. When I say that I do not think that New Zealand is a bicultural society, I do not believe that is a denigration of wither Maori or non-Maori. I think it is a recognition that New Zealand is comprised of a whole host of races. The signature of the Treaty of Waitangi, and the treaty of Waitangi itself, is a very, very important part of New Zealand's culture and New Zealand's history. But it does not mean to say that we have got in this country an exclusive bicultural society, or that the Treaty of Waitangi, as some would have us believe, set up a status called Maori sovereignty. So I think we need to question these things in a constructive sort of way. That really leads me on to the third point that I want to make. I do not know that this debating chamber -- because of the word ''debate'' that is centred on it - is necessarily the best sort of forum for us to discuss these sorts of issues. A debate, as we all know, is about people taking sides. One side puts forward its argument and another puts forward the counter-argument. Because we have seen it here so many times, we know that in the course of debate, people very rarely change their points of view.

So what we should be doing, instead of debating these sorts of issues, is talking about them so that we can develop the best points of view that we can use to the advantage of all New Zealanders. Let me raise some of the issues that I think we should be talking about instead of focusing on the narrow issues that we have heard so far during the course of this debate. How do we as a country develop equality between all the races in this country? How do we establish a situation where we have one law that all New Zealanders are comfortable with? If we are to establish something like that, we have to recognise people's differences, we have to set up a structure so that people can enjoy their own culture, so that they can profess and practice their own religion. I think that we have to go beyond that. We have to look at things we do not normally talk about, like the contemporary status of the Treaty of Waitangi - the document that was signed in 1840. What does that document mean to New Zealanders today? How can we take the best from that document and use it to the advantage of all New Zealanders. Finally, what I really worry about is that we spend our time talking about these issues without focusing on the real cause of disadvantage in New Zealand. How do we get access to good education? How do we get access to good health? How do we get jobs for all New Zealanders? The worry I have is that we may well save the Maori language but destroy the Maori people and, at the same time, destroy a crucial part of New Zealand's history. So let us look at the wider issues and how we can advance them instead of the narrow issues.

ENDS


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