Māori Party ejection from Parliament sparks debate over ‘racist rhetoric’ in the House

Labour MP Kelvin Davis has launched a stinging rebuke to the Māori Party, saying they don’t “represent the views of Māoridom” after a co-leader was kicked out of the House

in protest over “racist rhetoric”.

Act MP Nicole Mckee also said as an indigenous person the Māori Party did not speak for her, saying the House needed to be a place where “we are working through solutions to the issues”, and not walking away.

Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi was today ejected from the House after taking aim at what he called “racist” rhetoric from the National Party.

He led an impassioned haka on the floor as he was kicked out this afternoon, joined in solidarity by co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and by Green MP Teanau Tuiono.

Waititi told reporters outside the House he was “sick and tired of Māori being used as a political football”.

It followed two weeks of attacks on the Government from National and the Act Party over what they call a “separatist agenda”, focusing questions in the House on the proposed Māori Health Authority, the document He Puapua which advises on Māori realising self-determination, and reform at the Department of Conservation.

Speaking shortly after the MPs left the house, Act MP Nicole Mckee said as Māori they did not speak for her.

“I am one of those indigenous peoples and I sit here in this House as a representative of others as well.

“When we have politicians say they speak for my race, that I belong to, I find they are not actually speaking for me. I would like to be able to have the debate being held.

“While we know some find these things offensive, others believe we do have to have this debate. That is what this house is about.

“I do not find some of the comments that have been made racist, rather at looking at ways of working through solutions to the issues that have been put in front of us.

“The representatives for the minority walked out of this house. They did not abide by the rules of this House and therefore have walked away from the people they said they wanted to represent.

“I would like to be able to continue to have a debate on the laws that go through here, an open and honest conversation on each and every piece of legislation we debate in this house.”

Davis, Minister of Māori-Crown Relations, said he agreed “entirely” with Mckee, except one point.

“Don’t ever think that a party that gets 1.2 per cent of the vote actually represents the views of Māoridom.”

Davis then delivered a five-minute speech largely focusing on attack lines from National Party leader Judith Collins over the past two weeks, which he said was to “push the big red race button”.

“Judith Collins dove headfirst into the politics of division and in doing so tried to rewrite Te Tiriti.”

In particular, he took aim at her use of the term “apartheid” to describe tino rangatiranga, self-determination.

“It is inconceivable in 2021 a New Zealand politician can confuse rangatiratanga with apartheid.

“Apartheid is the oppression of people, rangatiratanga is the empowerment of people and a guarantee of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.”

Act Party leader David Seymour, of Ngāpuhi, said it was important when the executive promoted what he called “racially explicit” policy, they needed to be debated in the House.

“It can often be uncomfortable, I personally prefer they weren’t, but to restrict that with charges of racism has been rightly ruled out by previous speakers.”

The saga triggered a strong debate in the House after question time today.

Green’s co-leader Marama Davidson challenged Mallard on Parliament’s rules around the allegation of racism and asked him to “reflect on his rulings” as it came from 1988.

That ruling, according to Parliament’s rulebook, prohibits “any imputation of improper motives or a personal reflection against a member”.

“An allegation that a member is racist clearly imputes what most members would regard as an improper motive and is out of order.”

In other word, MPs are not allowed to flat out call other MPs “racist” in the House.

Davidson challenged Mallard to reflect on this rule, in light of the events in the House today.

“I am looking for your guidance on whether we can have genuine debate without marginalising entire groups of communities, including tangata whenua, who feel the debate in this House is not at all welcoming or inviting to actual democratic debate on the important issue of how our country comes together in the future.”

That point was debated at length by all parties in the House.

National said it was a slippery slope to change the rules around accusing someone of being a racist in the House that comes down to a question of perception.

Senior National MP Michael Woodhouse said that a rule change in this area would “deter the quality of the debate” and could lead to the unfair shutting down of “robust debate” in the House.

Leader of the House Chris Hipkins said instead of calling someone a racist in the House, the MP who is making the accusation should elaborate on their concerns.

“Debate it, rather than throw labels at each other.”

After much back-and-forth, Mallard ruled on what he called a “useful discussion”.

“There is a difference between calling an individual a racist and criticising either a policy or a view as being racist.”

“The essence of my ruling asking people to take care as they express themselves [and] to think of the wider consequences when they do.

“But I am not going to ask one part of the House to refrain from suggestions that some policies are … effectively racist.

“And I’m not going to stop another group in the House expressing the view that other members’ views are, in fact, racist.”

In other words, Mallard said it was fine to call a political parties’ policy racist – but he will not allow MPs to explicitly call each other racist.

Mallard said that get the “balance about right” between allowing freedom of speech while stopping MPs saying individuals are racist – “which I think more members would find offensive.”

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