I have a perhaps surprising amount of time for Chris Trotter, regular columnist in, among other places, the
Press. Sometimes he is horribly off beam, but he can be very perceptive and sensible; and sometimes he is a mixture of both. Recently (as an example of the last category) he wrote a column on the subject of Hone Harawira, just re-elected as the Te Tai Tokerau M.P and leader of the Mana Party. Harawira caused a flurry a couple of weeks ago when he appears ~ it is all a little blurry by now ~ to have refused to take the oath of allegiance which the Constitution Act 1986 requires all elected Members of Parliament to take. The oath is spelt out in the Oaths and Declarations Act 1957 ~ Christchurch
I, N. , swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.
(Those who do not consider themselves able in good faith to make an oath before God, for whatever reason, may make an affirmation instead.) Instead, Harawira, as I recall, wanted to swear allegiance to the Treaty and to the people of his Te Tai Tokerau electorate. I also, however, recall a story, and I am not quite sure exactly where this fits in ~ perhaps a little later in the proceedings ~ that he was prepared to take the oath, but wanted to accompany its taking by some sort of explanatory note about what he considered it to mean and what he really wanted to say. Do not be misled into thinking that that would be a satisfactory compromise. The meaning of words depends on their context; different interpretations can be put upon many things. If Harawira were to say ‘I am going through the form of swearing allegiance to Her Majesty, but actually what I really mean and am swearing to is something else’, that would be no different, in essence, from actually swearing a completely different oath. The two situations are the same. As I think I understand the situation, the Speaker has refused to allow even this explanatory note approach, saying that Harawira must take the oath (in the official language of his choice) in the exact words in which it is prescribed, and may say no less and no more.
That is not only as it should be but as it must be. Chris is correct to say that the oath has ‘a cutting edge as keen as any mediaeval broadsword’, but quite wrong to describe it as one of the ‘feudal relics which still clutter [our] constitutional arrangements’. The oath is not some creaking bewhiskered anachronism which could and should be done away with. It is an absolutely necessary declaration of the bare minimum which any community, and the supreme assembly and lawmaker of that community, are entitled and obliged to demand of the assembly’s members ~ a declaration that, through their allegiance to their common head, they consider themselves to be brothers and sisters, members of one community with that monarch as its head, and ready therefore to work together for the good of all. The oath is not just a recognition of the authority of the Crown. The Crown is the head of the great family which is the nation. By denying the Crown Harawira denies his brotherhood with us. He will still expect us to put our hands into our pockets to provide him with the easy life to which he thinks the Treaty somehow entitles him, of course; but he does not owe us anything in return. It is all take take take. Like Metiria Turei, he wants ‘independence and more funding’. Chris is half right when he says that Harawira’s Mana Party is a ‘revolutionary nationalist political movement seeking to bring about fundamental social, economic and political change within the framework of a constitutional monarchy’. But he is only half right, because Harawira does not want to do this ‘within the framework of a constitutional monarchy’. If he were prepared to do it within that framework, the Oath could not be an objection. The Queen rules according to law, and if the Parliament of which she is the head desired to make laws bringing about ‘fundamental social, economic and political change’ then Her Majesty would assent to them. But that is still not enough for Hone.
Chris writes that Harawira ‘is committed to establishing a bicultural Aotearoan republic, with the Treaty of Waitangi enshrined at the heart of its constitution’, but then asks ‘[w]hy …should Harawira be required to solemnly swear‘ as MPs are obliged to? Why? Well, if he is committed to a constitutional monarchy he should, as I say, have no objection. If he can enter parliament and commit himself publicly, not to the people of this country and their welfare, but only to one race in his own electorate and to his own idiosyncratic self-serving interpretation of the Treaty, then no objection can be made to others entering Parliament and vowing to serve the interest of, let us say, only the white race. Would Harawira, not to mention the Race Relations Commissioner, have anything to say about that, do you think? The Race Relations Commissioner’s attitude, certainly, is that racism is all very well, indeed desirable, when coffee-coloured people do it, but there is a different rule for white folks. Or people could enter Parliament and swear to be loyal to the Bible (surely still as respectable a document as the Treaty) ~ or, for that matter, the Koran. Where might that lead us? Or they might swear to serve the interests of yoga or rugby or croquet, or of
or whales or barbershop quartets. To pluck some examples at random. If Harawira is allowed to get away with this, we may be certain that other special interests will demand the same treatment ~ loyalty not to the nation but simply to the objects and interest groups of their choice ~ and, by necessary implication, to hell with the rest of us. There goes our country. And, if Harawira were to get this special treatment, why should these other people not get it also? We believe in equality, allegedly. Heaven forbid that there should be freedom of oaths for Maori and no freedom for anyone else. Chris speaks of an ‘evolving tradition of MPs swearing…allegiance to Treaty, nation, democracy and Queen’. There is no such ‘evolving tradition’ ~ the oath is the oath ~ and if Chris thought about it, he would realise that a commitment to the Treaty and a commitment to democracy pull in precisely opposite directions ~ but he is right, at least, that once we abandon the Queen as the centre of the oath, any number of other things can pop up instead, and who would have the right to declare some more acceptable than others? Am I to swear allegiance to the wretched Treaty? You must be joking. The Treaty, as it is currently interpreted and applied, has become one of the biggest curses under which this unhappy country labours.. No law, no principle of morality or justice or constitutional propriety obliges us to give it our loyalty, and it is, as I have explained in the past, a blank cheque able to be interpreted in support of the most outrageous propositions ~ even Maori sovereignty, which, it is surely obvious, is the very opposite of the sovereignty of the Queen which the Treaty recognises. Along with most of the population of this country, I shall never be placing my hand on my heart and swearing loyalty to a document which, as currently interpreted, makes me a second class citizen in my own country. If any dimwitted lawmakers attempt to make us do so there will be trouble. Our loyalty is to the monarch and the state she heads. Once we do away with that, all bets are off. We shall swear to what we please, and Harawira and the Race Relations Commissioner and the Waitangi Tribunal and Ranginui Walker and the whole loathsome gang of blowhards and parasites will not like it. Good. Wellington
When the oath ends, so does our nation. Chris warns us that if we do not allow Harawira to enter Parliament and swear an oath as he pleases, then we will be driving him to rebellion, just as Irish nationalists were driven to rebellion after being required to, and refusing to, swear allegiance to George V. We should not worry, nor should we yield. Harawira’s refusal to take the oath now is already every bit as much an act of rebellion as the use of physical force. There is no difference. The confrontation is the same. It must come sooner or later. And it is better that it come now, and in this form. What is more, we can be pretty confident that Harawira will not stick to his guns. A man of principle? Come come. He is too astute to want to lose the opportunities and platforms ~ and salary ~ his status as a Member of Parliament bring him. He will bully and bluster, and take things to the edge, as he does, but in the end he will give in. And really, we should be glad to have him in Parliament, because he makes it very clear what we are fighting against. His agenda is the same as the Maori Party’s; he is just so stupid that he says so out loud, and alarms even the sleepiest of our suicidally sleepy nation, drawing attention to a programme that the Maori Party would rather achieve by stealth. Keep him in Parliament, to remind us of the agenda we are dealing with, in all its naked self-interest, racial discrimination, clownish stupidity and potential for