Politics | Parliament

Parliament’s Speaker doubles down on interrupting karakia

Parliament's Speaker Gerry Brownlee. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

This article was first published by RNZ.

Parliament’s speaker Gerry Brownlee has ruled last night’s interruption of a karakia was correct, but such celebrations should in future be discussed so Parliament and those celebrating know what to expect.

He has also criticised the opposition parties for demanding an apology, saying it was “highly disorderly”.

At the final reading of the Whakatōhea Claims Settlement Bill on Tuesday, assistant speaker Maureen Pugh interrupted Te Kahautu Maxwell’s celebratory karakia ahead of a waiata the iwi had permission to perform.

Relying on standing orders, she said the public gallery was not the place for speeches.

After the subsequent waiata, Te Pāti Māori raised a point of order and demanded Pugh apologise for the insult. Brownlee was called in and backed Pugh.

Ahead of Question Time on Wednesday, Brownlee delivered a ruling on the matter.

“The assistant speaker interrupted a kaumatua in the gallery who was speaking prior to the performance of a waiata celebrating the third reading. According to standing orders the Assistant Speaker was correct in doing so. The practice of the House since the 1990s has accommodated celebratory contributions such as karanga and waiata but not contributions the nature of a speech such as whaikōrero.”

He said it was unfortunate Pugh was placed in that situation in the first place, saying the ruling mentioned provided flexibility for the speaker to agree beforehand on celebratory contributions and asked for details of the celebrations to be discussed in future.

“I ask that ministers and members when facilitating arrangements for people to attend an event in the House such as a settlement bill discuss with attendees what celebrations are intended so that the tikanga of the House and the parties to the settlement can be fully aligned. This was not fully observed on this occasion.

“In the future, greater clarity about what is agreed would allow the presiding officer to know what to expect and to ensure things run smoothly. It also will enable those attending to understand what to do and when.”

He then criticised the opposition parties for their calls for the speaker to apologise.

“It is highly disorderly for members to demand apologies from presiding officers when they are applying the rules and practice of the House. I strongly advise when members consider the House’s rules and practice need to evolve, those members should address a proposal to that effect to the Standing Orders Committee.”

Parties respond

Labour leader Chris Hipkins raised a point of order, arguing karakia had on many occasions preceded waiata.

“What happened yesterday is not new. It has happened many many times before,” he said.

“Whilst I accept the ruling that you have made and I don’t wish to challenge you or your ruling I do wish to make sure that in the future we don’t undermine what is an occasion where the Parliament comes together in the spirit of unanimity to support the Treaty settlements process with something like that happening again.”

Brownlee said he believed Hipkins’ point was largely in line with his ruling.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson also said she supported the technicalities of the ruling, but said she “would have expected that there is a ... basic, minimum cultural understanding that the discretion allows and understands the vein and the wairua of what was offered”.

“While I also take on board you have offered a pathway to have our manuhiri and visitors far more prepared, there may be a longer conversation about how the rules of this House can also work: We’ve seen spontaneous karanga happen in this House, haka and waiata. But in the spirit of what was being passed at that time we have allowed that to go through.”

She argued the ruled of the House had been “fiddled” with, “including every day in question time with some quite weird points of order”, and asked for reflection of how consistent that was.

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi said he would not challenge the ruling but “I will challenge you on tikanga”, pointing out Brownlee’s ruling referred to karanga.

“Karanga is not only reserved for women. And those who are representative of iwi that use karanga and wairea to be able to do that would attest to that and affirm that is actually a common practice, where karanga and wairea are used in the same vein.

“This is the challenge to you about tikanga and whether the ... Assistant Speaker at the time would have ended up in that predicament had used the tools that were available to her to ensure that she was getting the cultural advice that the Speaker deserves to have.”

He said it had still been a breach of tikanga to ask someone to sit down while performing a waerea or karanga.

Brownlee suggested that could be discussed with the standing orders committee.

NZ First senior MP Shane Jones took umbrage at what he saw as a “creeping” level of change in Parliament’s rules.

“Your ruling has been made. When the inevitable discussions take place: either this is a House of Representatives serving the primary purpose of us who are democratically elected, or circuitously it’s going to change. It cannot change and should not change unless we abide by what you say.”

He said he had personally messaged te Whakatōhea, and outlined his position.

“By all means sing your waiata, if you depart from the waiata template you will strike problems. I think the situation reflects both poor communication but also a creeping level of change in the House that has not been mandated within the rules of the House.”

Brownlee said Jones’ contribution would need to be considered in the context of the fact he had made a ruling.