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MMP at Work: Parliamentary Seminar

MMP at Work: Parliamentary Seminar Programme, NZ Business and Parliament Trust

Parliament Buildings, Wellington
Rahui Katene, MP for Te Tai Tonga
Wednesday 3 August 2011; 3pm

The topic I was asked to speak on today had a delicious irony to it.

MMP at Work conjures up an association with those old roadworks signs that are dotted around the New Zealand landscape. I’m referring to the signs – ‘Men at Work’ - also represented by the stick figures shoveling a pile of dirt.

As a member of the other 50% of the population I always wondered whether the fact that it was only men on the sign implied that women didn’t or couldn’t work on the roads or maybe instead it was meant to draw the attention of tourists to the unique phenomenon of the male species at work.

MMP at work is the counter-claim to the Men at Work. Much of the most tangible support for MMP comes from women, from Maori, from small parties, from groups of diverse cultural heritage, and a wide variety of interest groups.

Following the adoption of the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) representation system in New Zealand, our parliament has grown increasingly diverse and representative of modern New Zealand. MMP is indeed, about New Zealanders at Work in the parliamentary complex.
And so in this 49th parliament:
• women make up about a third of members (41 out of 122),
• Māori make up about 18 percent (22 out of 122)
• And the proportions of MPs identifying as Pasifika peoples or Asian in 2008 (4 percent and 5 percent respectively) were the highest ever recorded.

Just to put some sense of perspective about how this translates into real people in the debating chamber, this Parliament has boasted the distinctive history of containing within its membership,

• MPs of Tahitian, Samoan, Tongan, Tokelauan, Asian and Fijian-Indian whakapapa;
• The first Korean MP (Melissa Lee); the first Sikh member (Kanwaljit Bakshi), the first Muslim member (Ashraf Chourdray) and for a time, the first Chinese Cabinet minister (Pansy Wong).

Following the 2008 general election, 31 out of the 122 Members of Parliament (25 percent) self-identified as being of Māori, Pasifika peoples or Asian ethnicity.

This growing cultural diversity is a significant contrast to the types of parliament we experienced under the first-past-the-post electoral system, where representation of these ethnic groups in Parliament was frozen at between 6 and 8 percent.

I have to let you into a secret – the Maori Party has always thought MMP was code for More Maori in Parliament.

If we were to breakdown the numbers in a population sense, we’d find there are four Maori MPs in the Maori Party, seven in Labour, eight in National, two in the Greens and one in Mana.

On sheer numbers alone, it has to be positive that the representation of tangata whenua in the general population is being mirrored in the chambers of Parliament.

And I want to take a moment to contrast our Parliament with the parent parliament of the Westminster system. In 2008 I was privileged to represent the Maori Party on a study tour to Westminster.

While sitting in the Public Gallery of the House of Commons I was struck by how few women MPs there were, and the lack of people of colour in their House of Commons. England of course still works under the First Past the Post electoral system – and it shows starkly how unrepresentative of its citizens that system remains. I was amazed that the voters there have decided to retain that system. Hard to teach an old dog new tricks I guess.

In 2010 I was a member of the United Nations delegation to observe the elections in the Solomon Islands. I observed that no women were elected to their Parliament under their First Past the Post system. I also participated in an Interparliamentary Union/United Nations conference on Parliamentary Representation of Indigenous Peoples and Minorities. I spoke on 'Effective participation in politics: a human right, a prerequisite for democracy and a means of preventing conflict', from the perspective of the context of New Zealand about why effective political participation is important and how this has been brought about.

Interestingly, while many of the participants were envious that New Zealand has a Maori roll and Maori electorates and a kaupapa Maori Party, the MMP electoral system was not a big deal to them. They all had representative electoral systems of one form or another. So their people were represented in their Parliaments to some degree.

But I want to return to the issue of representation and in particular to the issue of numbers.

It is more than a rollcall of who’s in the House.

There’s a world of difference between being individual Maori in a mainstream party and being able to have influence as a party, from a basis of kaupapa and tikanga Maori.

There is no more startling demonstration of that than in comparing two signature bills for the 2002 and 2008 parliaments; namely the Foreshore and Seabed Act of 2004, and the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act passed earlier this year.

In the first bill, the Maori caucus of Labour were rendered redundant as their party leadership launched ahead with the plan to eliminate Maori customary ownership of the foreshore and seabed in the name of public access.

In March 2005, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination found that the 2004 legislation contained 'discriminatory aspects against the Maori, in particular in its extinguishment of the possibility of establishing Maori customary title over the foreshore and seabed’. Only history will tell what impact such a finding had on the individual members of the Labour Maori caucus – and indeed the enduring effects of this legislation being thrust upon hapu and iwi.

Fast-track to the early days of the 49th Parliament, where by virtue of the relationship and confidence and supply agreement we entered into with the National Party, the Maori Party was able to exert significant influence, albeit even though our numbers were so small in the greater scale of things.

And so with the enactment of the Takutai Moana legislation we were able to honour the promise we gave our people when we first set up the Maori Party in 2004.

We made two promises– to repeal the 2004 Foreshore and Seabed Act and to restore the right of Maori to access the court. And the 2011 Bill enables, as well as giving due recognition of customary interests (mana tuku iho) of all coastal hapu and iwi, even those who do not claim or are not awarded customary title.

At the end of the day, the numbers are intimately associated with the extent of influence one enjoys in Parliament.

The transformation that we seek through the Whanau Ora approach; the enduring conversation we seek through inviting all New Zealanders to dialogue about the role of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in providing the constitutional basis for our land; the promulgation of tangata whenua by appointments to Crown Company boards, state owned enterprises, crown entities, crown research institutes and district health boards – all of these are directly attributable to the benefits of a MMP arrangement between the Government and the Maori Party.

We prefer to think along the lines of iwi – I.W.I – Influence With Integrity.

We are here to fling the door wide open, to enable whanau, hapu and iwi to be sitting at the tables of influence, and being recognised as decision-makers and future-shapers.

Gone are the days when members of the Maori public would be perceived as haters and wreckers.

This term of Parliament has seen iwi referred instead, as the natural partner for long-term, sustainable investment in Aotearoa.

I think that alongside of access and voice, the Maori Party has been able to ensure that issues of Maori representation under a MMP arrangement are also associated with diversity and breadth.

And I want to refer to the ones of our senior stateman, Ta Tipene O’Regan, in an excellent resource edited by Dr Maria Bargh – “Maori and Parliament : Diverse Strategies and Compromises”.

In this book, Ta Tipene talks about the development of national identity, and I quote:

“I am Maori but I am also Pakeha. I am Ngai Tahu which makes me Maori. My roots are in Te Waipounamu which makes me southern. I am a citizen which makes me a New Zealander. On almost any issue, I will, at different times, call on one or more of these identities and emphasize one or more to the exclusion of the others”.

If we are thinking diverse strategies, then the Maori Party places particular value on the pursuit of kotahitanga – unity through diversity. That is why we have always maintained the mantra, every issue is a Maori issue. We can not consider taxation, education, social services, economic development or aquaculture, just as a few example, without always extending our gaze to ensure issues for whanau, hapu and iwi have been thought through.

There are some elements in New Zealand who want to pander to a philosophy of divide and rule – the Iwi vs Kiwi scenario. The Maori Party will vigilantly oppose any such attacks as an attack on our national identity – which must ensure tangata whenua are always engaged in the conversation. It can not be a case of either/or; it must always be about ‘and’.

And neither will we indulge in the type of personal attacks that are both mana-diminishing, and undignified – the Maori vs Maori approach to life.

We prefer, instead, to focus on the politics of optimism; to be inspired by what we can do together rather than to be blinded by the sting of the attack.

The Maori Party believes that New Zealanders voted in a MMP style of parliament because they want to see our nation moving forward, in a way which leaves no-one left behind or forgotten. We have neither the time nor the tolerance for the politics of division – our focus is on moving forward, all of us, together.

One of the hallmark policy responses of this 49th Parliament has been the way in which an approach to the Emissions Trading Scheme was negotiated and resolved with the Maori Party.

Our approach to this policy was to try to tackle it on all fronts.

We argued that the ETS must not disproportionately affect whanau vulnerable to increased living costs so we were pleased to have made some gains on these fronts.

We were able to cut in half the impact of power and petrol price charges and we championed a specific proposal to enhance the Government’s energy efficiency assistance (including home heating and insulation) for low income households. $24 million was ear-marked for some 6000 low income households to receive a 100 percent subsidy for home heating and insulation – a small sum to pay for a huge investment in health, in lifestyle, in security.

We were able to ensure that iwi agricultural interests are represented on an agricultural advisory group; we gained a commitment from Government to work with iwi and the Maori Party to find solutions for iwi with forests returned in Treaty settlements pre-ETS; and significantly, we were able to achieve a Treaty clause in the legislation to ensure Crown’s obligations to its Treaty partner would not be compromised by the ETS.

The ETS was a large-scale policy project that enabled diverse strategies to be employed, to ensure Maori influence was felt across a wide range of sectors. But every day, in immeasurable ways, we take up the influence of our four votes in coalition, to achieve the best we can for Maori, knowing that in doing so, that will be for the best for all New Zealand.

We are able to use our influence in a myriad of ways. We might draft an amendment which is included at the committee stage – such as when we successfully inserted the Treaty clause into the Environment Protection Act.

We might meet with Ministers and Ministries to place our issues on the table.

We might negotiate a meeting for an iwi delegation and attend the meeting both in support, but also to ensure follow-up occurs.

Or – as is so often the case – we might feed our concerns through in meetings and on paper. Sometimes our success is only evident by what we have prevented – such as when we fought to retain Section 8 of the Resource Management Act to take into account the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, including placing a duty to consult with tangata whenua. The original proposal had been to remove Section 8 from the Statute – our efforts put a stop to that.

Of course, our experience of MMP in coalition has not been one of complete and utter success – there have had to be compromises along the way and we have had many occasions when the ‘agree to disagree’ provisions have been taken up with vigour.

However, it is one thing to oppose, to challenge or to vote against a bill, a policy change, a political statement. It is quite another to treat the relationships or the individual politicians in this place with disrespect or at worst, contempt. We will maintain the absolute priority as the Maori Party, for a strong and independent Maori voice and we will do so, in a manner befitting of our kaupapa.

So what is the key to MMP? MMP at work requires respect, acceptance of difference, a commitment to working together, and most of all, the IWI approach to life – to demonstrate Influence With Integrity.

ENDS

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