Māori Party, Speaker of the House accuse each other of grandstanding after walkout

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, Trevor Mallard and Rawiri Waititi.
Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, Trevor Mallard and Rawiri Waititi. Photo credit: File

Jo Moir for RNZ

In a highly unusual move, the Speaker has released correspondence between himself, the Clerk's office and Māori Party MPs over the row that blew up in Parliament.

Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard and the Māori Party are accusing each other of grandstanding after the Māori Party's two MPs walked out of the first session of the new Parliament yesterday.

Co-leader Rawiri Waititi raised a point of order in te reo Māori when seeking to participate in a debate but was overruled by Mallard.

He was given a brief opportunity to convince the Speaker to hear him out, telling the House "Kei te mōtini te pāti Māori kia riro i a mātou, 15 miniti ki ngā kaiarahi o te pāti Māori i roto i tēnei wāhanga whakautu kōrero", roughly translated as "to pass a motion so that the Māori Party leaders can have 15 minutes to speak in the Address in Reply".

But the Speaker cut him off, which prompted Waititi and co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer to leave the chamber, in a dramatic start to the Māori Party's return to the halls of power.

Under the rules, party leaders with more than six MPs get 30 minutes to speak and smaller parties would only get the chance if time allowed before the House rises at 5pm.

However, because Waititi and Ngarewa-Packer are new MPs, if they spoke in the Address in Reply debate that would constitute their maiden speech and these were not scheduled until at least next week.

Waititi tried to secure a speaking slot based on a standing order that such decisions do not discriminate against a minority party.

Correspondence behind the walk-out

The correspondence began last week when the Clerk of the Office emailed with details of the plan for yesterday's speeches, explaining why they would not get a guaranteed spot in yesterday's debate.

Waititi replied: "The only Party being banned from the Address in Reply debate is Te Paati Māori...all other 4 Party's are Pākeha led and dominated. These Party's get 30 minutes speaking time, Māori get nothing".

He went on to say the exclusion of his party was "disturbing and absolutely contradictory to our understanding of our participation at Parliament''.

"Our Māori people clearly expressed a view that their liberated, unapologetic voice should be heard not suppressed. You would appreciate then how these rulings are offensive to us because they pursue an agenda of oppression of tangata whenua.''

He went further, saying the decisions were being made before the Speaker had been elected and were "decisions based, not on the will of the electors, but on the prejudice and racism of a previous order".

The email was signed off with an instruction that the Māori Party co-leaders could not "participate in any Parliamentary proceedings unless we are treated equally''.

That led Mallard to weigh in, although at this point he was still not officially elected as Speaker.

He warned the Māori Party that if he was successful and the co-leaders planned not to participate in any Parliamentary proceedings, there would be consequences for that.

Specifically, Mallard pointed out: "If you chose not to participate and be sworn in then you will not be eligible to speak in Parliament or attend committees as a member.

"You would not be able to attend the Business Committee meeting that I propose to call on Wednesday afternoon and which will deal with matters such as question and debate allocations," he wrote.

"You will be aware that at the moment the Māori Party does not have a high enough proportion of the House to be entitled to calls on legislation. I hope we can convince another party or parties to give some of their entitlement."

The business committee met on Wednesday this week, a few days after these email exchanges.

At that meeting Labour offered the Māori Party a permanent speaking slot so it can participate in debates at Parliament.

MPs from across the House give 12 10-minute speeches when legislation is debated.

The calls are divvied up based on the size of each party - Labour is given the most, while Act and the Greens are each given one slot.

Because of its size, the Māori Party does not meet the threshold to be given a speaking slot.

But, Labour has offered the minor party half of one of its calls - which would allow one of its MPs to speak for five minutes on any legislation at any stage.

It made the same offer to Act leader David Seymour at the start of the 2017 Parliamentary term, and the Māori Party has accepted the offer.

Following the walkout by the Māori Party from the House yesterday the Clerk of the House wrote to the co-leaders explaining why they were unsuccessful in their efforts to move a motion during the debate.

He offered to provide them with advice and the correct wording to help with any future motions.

But that drew a reply from Waititi that the Speaker was not accepting of their wish to speak in the Māori language and should have requested a translation before making a ruling.

Neither the Māori Party nor the Speaker seem prepared to make any more compromises and Ngarewa-Packer has warned that the party simply started in the House yesterday as it means to carry on, challenging the way Parliament operates.

'There's a very clear set of rules'

Mallard told Morning Report the Māori Party co-leaders were originally down to speak next Thursday, but he had rescheduled that to allow them to speak at 4.30pm yesterday.

"I made some special arrangements for them to speak yesterday and they said they would only accept those special arrangements if they got to speak twice and that doesn't happen.

"Lots of precedents for maiden speeches early, like every person leads the Address of Reply only has one speech, David Seymour when he was a party leader and a maiden speaker he got his 15 minutes after the other party leaders."

Mallard said if Waititi had chosen to speak yesterday it would have been considered a maiden speech.

"They would have had it right up the front, it would've been prime viewing for all the leaders."

However, Ngarewa-Packer said the Māori Party differs from other small parties since it has co-leaders and they had been hoping Waititi would be allowed to speak yesterday, while she was planning to speak when the bulk of the maiden speeches took place next week.

Mallard said he feels a certain level of frustration at the situation.

"Some of us spent hours replying to emails explaining to people what the situation was, I frankly didn't help my relationship with the Leader of the House in that I changed the schedule to have the ability for the Māori Party to speak yesterday - and then we had that performance in the House."

Mallard said he had given the call to National leader Judith Collins when Waititi rose to his feet to seek a point of order.

"You cannot move a motion in the Parliament by way of point of order in the middle of someone else's speech or while someone else has the floor - it's against the rules," Mallard said.

Mallard said he did not provide an opportunity for Waititi's words to be translated from te reo Māori into English because it was to clear to him that Waititi was moving a motion.

"Imagine the chaos if every time someone was having a speech it was interrupted by out of order points of order.

"From my point of view there's a very clear set of rules that were very carefully explained to the Māori Party and they chose to ignore them."

However, Ngarewa-Packer said she thinks Mallard discriminated against the Maori Party MPs by cutting Waititi off without giving an opportunity for translation.

"If this was someone who was a member who was deaf and who rose to speak and sign, you know Mallard would have made sure he heard the point through an interpreter. He didn't hear the point through an interpreter and the last time I heard him speak te reo - he is not fluent.

"Now Mallard is the one grandstanding and making it so much more than it had to be."