As Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi made his way through the House to swear his allegiance to the Queen he promised to challenge the authority which belittled the Treaty of Waitangi.
“Ka tohe au! Ka tohe au! Ka tohe au,” he said during the waerea which translates to “I will challenge, I will challenge, I will challenge”.
Waititi, wearing his trademark cowboy hat, took with him fellow co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer’s mere pounamu before swearing the oath in te reo on a copy of Te Tiriti and a Ringatū bible.
Of the 120 MPs who were sworn in to be the 53rd Parliament, 77 gave the oath or affirmation in English and 44 opted for te reo.
A number of MPs also recited it a second time in another language, including new Act MP James McDowall who spoke Chinese, Green MP Golriz Ghahraman who spoke Farsi and new Labour MPs Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki and Ingrid Leary who spoke Tongan and Rotuman respectively.
Many opted to swear the oath on the bible while others swore on other pieces of writing which were important to them.
New Green MP Elizabeth Kerekere used a copy of a treaty her ancestors signed in Tairawhiti and Greens co-leader Marama Davidson used a book of Māori proverbs.
Due to Covid-19, the MPs swore their oaths either individually or in pairs, which led to some comical moments during the ceremony.
National MP Todd McClay and Labour MP Kieran McAnulty raced each other during their oaths, with McAnulty finishing his well after McClay.
Later, Waititi explained the waerea he gave before being sworn in was a “push back” against the oati (the oath) which “keeps Māori on bended knee” to a sovereign which they never gave sovereignty to.
Ngarewa-Packer also swore on Te Tiriti wearing a korowai made from Parihaka feather and a top hat to represent the ones her kuia wore before the signing of the Treaty.
Waititi said this term he would put forward a Member’s Bill seeking to change the oath to include the Treaty and ngā Hapū o Aotearoa.
“It’s very unfair at this particular time to be swearing an oath to one partner of that treaty.”
Speaker Trevor Mallard, who was re-elected unopposed, said there was lots of room to modernise the oath but as long as the Queen was New Zealand’s head of state it would continue to pledge allegiance to her.
Changing the oath would require legislation, said Mallard who swore on a copy of Te Tiriti.
“The real question is, as far as Parliament’s concerned, is whether [changing the oath is] the most urgent thing we’ve got to deal with going forward. My view is it’s important but it’s not that urgent.”
After he was re-elected, Mallard said he thought this Parliament had the opportunity to hold the Government to account in a way “that has not been seen since our party system developed”.
He was then congratulated by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who said last term he’d made “significant change” through his work on the Standing Orders and by making Parliament more family friendly.
Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins also congratulated Mallard and said despite the odd clashes they’d had over the years, they had a mutual respect for each other.
But Collins said she wanted to see “a little bit of humour every now and again” to help alleviate tension in the House.
“And might I suggest a little bit more of that little cunning smile that you have there would be excellent—just occasionally.”
Greens co-leader James Shaw had a personal plea for Mallard.
“If you are looking at further reforms, I wonder if we could take a look at the rule that requires gentlemen to wear ties.”
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