The Speaker was reprimanded by the PM yesterday, in the aftermath of the furore generated when he accused a former parliamentary staffer – to whom he had previously apologised for claiming he was a rapist – of sexual assault.
Then he was chided by Maori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer for failing to stop “racist” questions being asked in Parliament.
Other than Hansard, the only account of this attempt to curb MPs’ right to speak freely in Parliament was a Newshub report headed Rawiri Waititi lashes out at ‘Māori bashing’ in Parliament as Jacinda Ardern challenges Judith Collins to say ‘partnership’
But to whom – we wonder – is the Speaker accountable?
To Members of Parliament, we would have thought, because they vote to elect the Speaker at the start of each new Parliament (after every general election).
This is the first task of every new Parliament once members have been sworn in.
Candidates are nominated by another member and, after the election vote, the Speaker-Elect visits the Governor-General to be confirmed in office.
But everyone expects the PM to step in, when the Speaker is under fire, and she did.
She said she had “spoken with The Speaker” and …
“He retains my overall confidence, however I have expressed serious concerns to him about the manner in which he conducted himself in the House last night. It did not meet the standards I expect. Nor do I consider it to have met the needs of the victim in this situation. The Speaker acknowledges he did not meet his own standards either.”
She would be writing to The Speaker and Deputy and Assistant Speakers asking them to reconvene a cross-party working group to consider how the Behavioural Standards can be given practical effect when Members of Parliament are dealing with sensitive staff conduct matters such as sexual assault.
The conduct of Parliament became an issue again when questions were raised yesterday about Maori privilege and Maori separatism.
ACT leader David Seymour asked about the Government’s policy of giving preference to Māori businesses through procurement.
National MP Todd McClay asked about the He Puapua report (which champions Maori separatism) and a draft Cabinet paper being prepared on the implementation plan for a declaration on the rights of indigenous people.
Questions were raised, too, about the nature of the power(s) of veto the Maori Health Authority will exercise over Health New Zealand.
Hon Judith Collins: Was her health Minister correct when he said yesterday that there are two vetoes in the proposed health restructuring; if so, what are those two vetoes?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I don’t believe that I would agree with the characterisation of—
Chris Bishop: He said it.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I do not agree with the characterisation the member has continuously put to this House. As we have said in answers yesterday, of course the intention is that a Government would set health priorities; that Health New Zealand, alongside the Māori Health Authority, would then establish national health plans to ensure the delivery of those priorities. Without having that equal footing in approving the way those health plans would work, you essentially just maintain the status quo, which is the idea of consultation, and we are trying to move beyond that.
Hon Judith Collins: So is there a veto power or not?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I’ve said, yes, there is a requirement that we reach agreement between Health New Zealand and the Māori Health Authority on the delivery of those health priorities. Again, just in the same way that Kōhanga Reo determines how they deliver their services and Whānau Ora determines how they deliver theirs. This is a response to the fact that our system as it stands has not worked well. It does not remove the ability of the Government of the day to set health priorities, but this will, we hope, enhance the way that we deliver those services on behalf of all New Zealanders, including our Treaty partner.
During the cut and thrust around this issue, Collins asked:
So if she’s so concerned about using the term “veto”, then why is it in the health Cabinet paper that her Minister took to Cabinet, and why did he say yesterday there are two vetoes?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: My question is why can the member not say the word “partnership”?
That response begs a critical constitutional question of the Prime Minister: what does she mean when she invokes “the Treaty partnership” to justify policies with separatist (and democracy-eroding) governance implications?
The eradication of citizens’ rights to challenge through referendums the establishment of local government Maori wards, for example.
She gave hint of what she means when she answered another question from Collins:
Hon Judith Collins: So when national and regional plans have to first be approved by the Māori Health Authority, how is that not a power of veto over all of the Government health policy and implementation?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because that is the difference between partnership and consultation—you have to have that equal say—and this isn’t something we should be afraid of. We have tried the process of having a consultation style of approach. It hasn’t worked.
The final question of the day came from Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi, who asked if the Minister for Maori Development believed the government and government departments were included in his statement that “in every area of New Zealand society, we have institutional racism”.
Willie Jackson said there was no doubt there was institutional racism right across New Zealand society.
As far as Government and Government departments go, we have responded positively to the challenge over the last three and a half years. I’m proud of the way this Government is not afraid to roll out programmes that advance the interest of Māori, and in doing so, we are addressing the huge inequities …
Waititi asked what programmes or initiatives the Government was actively pursuing to stop racism “against tangata whenua”, unconscious or otherwise, in the Government and in Government departments.
This suggests he was not interested in any other form of racism.
In reply, Jackson cited work in prisons and the Māori Health Authority (he said the authority is a statement about tino rangatiratanga and by Māori, for Māori).
“Right across the spectrum, we are seeing examples of this, and, as we all know, it’s irritating the National Party very much.”
Waititi mentioned the He Puapua report:
How are these programmes being measured and by whom, and what recommendations from the He Puapua report, that this Government commissioned, have been agreed to?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Taking the second part of the question—nothing from the He Puapua report has been agreed to. The He Puapua report is an introduction in terms of a kōrero—it’s a starting kōrero. I thank that group very much for the mahi that they have done, but we’ve got a lot of work to do that is not Government policy but we will be developing that later on.
During the exchange Debbie Ngarewa-Packer raised a point of order:
Why is the Speaker allowing the racism that is coming into this House in the treatment of tangata whenua that we’ve been experiencing and listening to solidly for the last two days?
Mallard said applying the rules of the House to all members was not something he regarded as racist.
Debbie Ngarewa-Packer: Point of order, please. I do want to clarify: is Te Tiriti respected in the basis of this Government and this House or not?
SPEAKER: Well, that is certainly the subject of a PhD dissertation and not an off-the-cuff Speaker’s ruling…
Then Waititi raised a point of order.
You were saying that the answers are for the betterment of the whole of New Zealand. Over the last two days, all I have heard is Māori, Māori, Māori bashing in this House. [Interruption] We don’t hear Pākehā—we only hear Māori, Māori, Māori bashing. So we want an explanation of why that is happening.
Mallard responded that the questions, the answers, and the debate were the responsibility of the members who took part, and the question of racism was something he looked out for very carefully.
“I think it’s fair to say, though, that people have different standards, and balancing racism against the ability of members to express their views and the right to free speech in this House is something that requires a balance.
“Certainly, it’s something which I would take a lot of care on intervening on.”
He suggested Waititi seek appointments with other MPs, to talk issues through with them, if he was unhappy with the actions of particular members.
The He Puapua report has generated talk of a Maori Parliament being established.
The Maori Party has given us a good idea of what may and may not be discussed under the rules in that forum if they have any say in the matter.
Bob Edlin is a veteran journalist and editor for the Point of Order blog HERE.