My oath! What would Her Majesty make of this?

What some see as another bid by the Maori party to take New Zealand down the road of racial separatism has been rebuffed in Parliament.

Te Ururoa Flavell’s private member’s bill allowing people to pledge to uphold the Treaty of Waitangi when making legal oaths was thrown out by 69 votes to 52.

National, ACT, United Future and New Zealand First all voted against it.

According to Mr Flavell, the bill “is just part of the big jigsaw about recognition of the Treaty” and he says he’s “hugely disappointed” that it was rejected.

But New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, for one, is not shedding any tears, earlier describing it as “a separatist idea”.

“This country has no future if we are going to head down that separatist path as we are doing right now,” he says.

His remarks prompted a swift rejoinder from Mana party leader Hone Harawira, who says: “So what does he want? English separatism? Is that what he wants?

“England is somewhere else, the Queen is somewhere else. We should show allegiance to the people of this land and the Treaty of Waitangi.”

Mr Harawira was ejected from Parliament by the Speaker Lockwood Smith last year for pledging allegiance to the Treaty instead of making the formal oath to the Queen.

It was not the first time he and other MPs had crossed swords with the Speaker by referring to the Treaty in their oaths.

In 2005 all four Maori Party MPs – Peter Sharples, Te Ururoa Flavell, Tariana Turia and Mr Harawira, who was then a member – were made to repeat their oaths without mentioning the Treaty.

Three years later Green MPs Catherine Delahunty and Kevin Hague also referred to the Treaty in their oaths and were forced to repeat them correctly.

Mr Hague later said if he was re-elected he had “every intention” of doing the same thing again.

“For an oath to be meaningful it needs to be meaningful to the person giving the oath. (Might then Mr Hague, a gay, be expected to make his oath on a gaudy gay rainbow flag or a red shirt?)

“What MPs in New Zealand should be swearing allegiance to is to New Zealand and it is appropriate to include allegiance to the Treaty in that,” he says.

All of which prompted Mr Flavell’s private member’s bill, which was drawn from a ballot at Parliament.

Despite being opposed by the National party there was some dissension within its ranks.

Tau Henare told Parliament he supported “totally the thoughts, emotions of what my colleague (Te Ururoa Flavell) has put before the House”.

He said it was an opportunity to “set New Zealand apart from other colonised nations around the world”.

But despite such sentiments Mr Henare was forced to vote against the bill as it was a party vote.

New Zealand First MP Denis O’Rourke, who is a lawyer specialising in legal drafting, described the bill as a “political stunt” and said it was not appropriate to refer to the Treaty in legal oaths.

As he delivered his speech he was taken to task by several unidentified MPs for allegedly mispronouncing the word “Waitangi”.

For their benefit he then repeated it, pronouncing it just as he had done before.

At present the parliamentary swearing-in oath reads: “I swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth 11, her heirs and successors, according to law, so help me God.”

If Mr Flavell’s bill had passed, MPs would have been able to add: “I will uphold the Treaty of Waitangi.”

The last time the oath was changed was back in 2004 when it gave MPs the option of giving the oath in Maori or English.

rvaughan@nbr.co.nz

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