Talking vital, but in which Parliament?

As if one Parliament was not enough.

During Budget week Te Pati Maori not only effectively boycotted the political process, but it also issued a "Declaration of Political Independence" — Te Ngākau o Te Iwi Māori’— which called on people of all origins to support the establishment of a Maori Parliament.

Like many an idea, this is not a new one.

From 1892-1902 the Kotahitanga movement convened an autonomous Maori Parliament which met annually until it was superceded by the establishment of local Maori councils.

More recently the independent working group Matike Mai Aotearoa, chaired by the academic Margaret Mutu, has considered how Maori political representation might be reimagined.

Much of the thinking contained within its 2016 report has fed into the ongoing Hui Taumata process, through which Maori have gathered to discuss constitutional issues, including reviving a Maori Parliament. The Hui Taumata sessions are the more cerebral, considered equivalent of the howl of anger unleashed by Te Pati Maori a fortnight ago with its declaration and Budget Day protest marches and call for strike action.

Matike Mai Aotearoa, chaired by the academic Margaret Mutu (pictured here), has considered how...
Matike Mai Aotearoa, chaired by the academic Margaret Mutu (pictured here), has considered how Māori political representation might be reimagined. PHOTO: ODT FILES
But each comes from an understandable and long-held historic resentment of the treatment of Maori in the colonial and post-colonial era.

This is encapsulated by Prof Mutu in her statement that Parliament as we know it is a British institution imposed on New Zealand by Pakeha and for Pakeha.

She is largely correct, but that does not mean that Parliament, then and now, cannot allow diverse Maori voices to be heard.

Although there are varied views about their worth and efficacy, Maori seats in Parliament have existed as a permanent fixture since 1876.

It has taken much longer for parliamentary parties to broaden their representation of Maori from general seats, but in a change which reflects changing societal attitudes and better reflects the population make-up, there are 33 MPs of Māori descent across all six parties in the current Parliament.

This, of course, includes the six MPs representing Te Pati Maori, who bring a distinct and different perspective to Parliament.

But its MPs also have a visceral resentment of the processes and formalities of the institution to which they have been elected, epitomised by the no-show by its MPs during the post-Budget debates.

"We signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi but we continuously allow this House to assume that it has sovereignty and absolute superiority over Māori," co-leader Rawiri Waititi told Parliament before leaving the premises.

"Today, we made a declaration in the name of our mokopuna that we would no longer allow the assumption of this Parliament to have superiority or sovereignty over te Iwi Māori."

Which is a perfectly valid viewpoint, but it would be presumptuous of Te Pati Maori to assume that Maori speak with one unified voice on any political issue, and that it is their voice which is representative.

Just to the left of their MPs in the debating chamber sit Act New Zealand’s Nicole McKee and Karen Chhour, Maori women who each deeply resent the discounting by their neighbours of their views because their politics sit at the other end of the spectrum.

And at the other end of the House glowers New Zealand First leader Winston Peters (Ngāti Wai), who in the general debate of May 29 unleashed a vehement denunciation of Te Pati Maori for what he called "blatant racist rhetoric . . . (that) belongs in the gutter."

Which suggests finding a broad consensus of Maori views is no easy thing,

Also, that if any future Maori Parliament is to be a truly representative institution rather than an echo chamber, that there is no guarantee that it will meet the hopes of Te Pati Maori, that it will be anchored in tikanga and kawa, focus entirely on mokopuna livelihood, and be part of transforming Aotearoa into a nation which respects the tino rangatiratanga of tangata whenua, and creates a safe home for all peoples.

Noble sentiments, but not everyone agrees that the path chosen by Te Pati Maori leads to that destination.

But one thing which we can agree with Te Pati Maori on is that if the Treaty is to be respected and honoured, that responsive dialogue is the key — whichever Parliament those speeches are made in.