How MPs reacted to Māori Party's 'racist rhetoric' dispute

It was a tense afternoon in Parliament as MPs debated whether the Māori Party was justified in protesting against "racist rhetoric" by National leader Judith Collins. 

And there were mixed views on the issue. While Labour Party deputy leader Kelvin Davis accused Collins of diving "headfirst into politics of division", ACT MP Nicole McKee said the Māori Party did not represent her. 

The Māori Party's protesting on Wednesday came as Collins put questions to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about He Puapua, a Government report commissioned in 2019 that sets out a roadmap to co-governance between the Crown and Māori by 2040. 

Collins has expressed her concern that the Government is trying to implement "separatism by stealth", pointing to plans for a Māori Health Authority and Māori wards in local councils, both of which are recommended in the report. 

Paradoxically, the He Puapua report was commissioned as a response to former Prime Minister John Key - Collins' old boss - signing New Zealand up in 2010 to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. 

Collins' questioning was initially interrupted by Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, who asked the Prime Minister if she thought Collins' line of questioning was racist.

The Speaker ruled the matter was "well outside" the Prime Minister's responsibilities. But as Collins continued, Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi interrupted her and asked the Speaker to step in. Collins could be heard scoffing as she was forced to sit down again.

"Mr Speaker, I seek your guidance and advice," Waititi said. "Over the past two weeks there has been racist propaganda and rhetoric towards tangata whenua. That not only is insulting to tangata whenua, but diminishes the mana of this House."

Mallard dismissed Waititi's disruption, ruling that the conversation was "not at the point" where it needed to be stopped. 

"We are a House of Representatives, there are a broad range of views within the House, and part of my responsibility is to allow those views to be aired."

Waititi continued to interrupt Collins and was kicked out of the House. He responded by performing a rousing haka, before departing the Chamber with Ngarewa-Packer and Green MP Teanau Tuiono. 

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson sparked a debate in the House by highlighting Speaker's rulings that no MP can be racist towards another. 

National MP Michael Woodhouse agreed the rules "are very clear that accusations of racism are not to be levelled", but "it is entirely within the Speaker's prerogative to rule matters out and to judge them, or for a member to take offence".

ACT leader David Seymour said the purpose of Parliament is to "scrutinise and hold to account the executive", or the Government. He said because the Government "appears to have some policy initiatives which are racially explicit" they "need to be debated". 

House Leader Chris Hipkins surprisingly seemed to agree. 

"I think the overall objective here was to get members debating the substance of an issue rather than using labels in order to characterise one another. I think members expressing concern about sentiments being expressed on one side of the House or another is absolutely legitimate; it is a legitimate part of debate."

Despite their political differences, National MP Chris Bishop said he wanted to "echo exactly what Mr Hipkins just said then, and also what David Seymour said in his contribution". 

ACT MP Nicole McKee said the Māori Party did not reflect her views. 

"I am one of those indigenous peoples, and I sit here in this House as a representative of others as well. And when we have politicians that say that they speak for my race that I belong to, I find that they're not actually speaking for me," she said. 

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

Labour's Kelvin Davis agreed with McKee - to a degree. 

"I agree with her entirely except for one point: don't ever think that a party that gets 1.2 percent of the vote actually represent the views of Māoridom."

He then launched into an attack on Collins. 

"Judith Collins dove headfirst into the politics of division and, in doing so, she tried to rewrite history, Te Tiriti o Waitangi. You see, Judith Collins is opposed to partnership with Māori on our terms. She's opposed to Māori asserting their rangatiratanga in health. She's opposed to Māori asserting their rangatiratanga for Māori to come up with solutions to care for our most vulnerable children."

As Minister for Māori-Crown Relations, Davis said the solution is "walking across the bridge that is Te Tiriti o Waitangi from the non-Māori world into the Māori world".

Collins told reporters she will continue to ask questions about He Puapua until she gets more answers from the Prime Minister. 

"I'm the leader of the Opposition. I'm not going to have my head petted and be told to sit down and be a good little girl."