What’s in an Oath?
MP Tai Tokerau
19 December 2011
Tomorrow parliament gets started with the swearing in of all MPs, which raises an issue that has quite some significance for me personally, and I think, for us as a nation the oath of allegiance.
When I came back to parliament after winning the Tai Tokerau by-election as the new MANA MP, the Speaker booted me out of the house for swearing allegiance to the Treaty of Waitangi and the people of Tai Tokerau before the Queen of England.
I copped some flak from the Tories and their Maori Party colleagues, but the positive side was the wide-ranging debate in the media about the oath itself and whether the Queen was even relevant to our parliament.
Apparently the law says you have to swear or affirm, but there’s nothing in the law that says you can’t say something else first, and in fact recent practice has been to grant MPs the licence to make statements that reflect their views on life as part of the oath. The important bit being that as long as you end with the formal oath, you should be OK.
And of course the oath itself has changed over time, so it’s not like what we say in 2011 is exactly what people were swearing in England back in 1711, so there’s nothing historically mandated about the content of the oath.
In fact, a few years ago they even allowed the oath to be delivered in Maori and now you can swear on the Koran if you so wish!!
But it seems that the Speaker, Lockwood Smith just doesn’t like the idea of MPs bringing a bit of ‘Aotearoa’ into the proceedings; mind you, he’s the guy that has the whole place come to a halt so he can have his own little parade into the house every day.
But recent history would suggest that its Lockwood’s commitment to pomp and monarchy that is more out of step than my oath to the people of Aotearoa.
Back in 1999 Margaret Wilson, who would go on to become a Speaker herself, called for the oath to the Queen to be replaced by a pledge of loyalty to the people of New Zealand.
In 2004, MP Mat Robson called the oath of allegiance to the Queen ridiculous and said that ‘nobody pays attention to it.’
That same year, Phil Goff tried to get a bill through the house to modernise the oath, and a 2004 discussion paper noted the absence of any commitment to New Zealand or democratic values in the existing oath.
When I first came into the house in 2005 I tabled an amendment to allow MPs to honour the Treaty as part of their oath, and Green MPs and other Maori MPs have sworn allegiance to the Treaty as well. The bill is yet to come back to parliament for the final stages.
So I think it’s time we revisited the oath to bring it up to date and to make it more relevant to who we are and where we sit in the world.
I mean what’s wrong with what I said - that ‘I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, that I will be honest and forthright in my efforts to advance the rights of the people of Tai Tokerau, that I will do my utmost to help all Maori people become full and proud citizens of this land, and that I will do whatever I can to reduce inequalities in this country, so that all may one day be proud to call Aotearoa home."
Isn’t that what voters want to hear from their elected representatives? Isn’t that what MPs should be pledging when they come into parliament’
I’m not sure how I will respond when called upon to give the oath tomorrow, but rest assured, I will pledge allegiance to the things that matter.