Debbie Ngarewa-Packer’s parents – according to a report in Stuff – delivered some strong mantra to live by. One of them: “Don’t accept, you push back, be provocative, but always be respectful.”
But what happens when political opponents don’t accept, push back and – dare we suggest it? – are a mite provocative?
Why, you interrupt their speech and complain you have taken offence as tangata whenua.
Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, of course, is the Maori Party co-leader who now sits in Parliament promoting a political agenda that promotes the interests of Maori.
She has an aptitude for spicing her rhetoric with hyperbole while championing their cause:
“I stand here as a descendant of a people who survived a Holocaust, a genocide, sponsored by this House and members of Parliament whose portraits still hang from the walls.
The aforementioned Stuff report notes she stood for and was elected to the South Taranaki District Council and was deputy mayor between 2007-2010.
Nevertheless she argues for all local and regional councils to be required by law to establish at least one Māori ward in their area.
On the other hand, she bridles at the suggestion other ethnic groups should be entitled to electoral arrangements that ensure their representation.
This became evident when National’s Paul Goldsmith was questioning why separate seats in Parliament based on ethnicity should be extended to local government.
Hansard records what he said next:
So it is a question of extending that focus on difference and dividing the country on ethnic lines in the way that we organise our democracy at the local government level. I can imagine that there are many people in Auckland, where I come from, which is an intensely multicultural society, with many people of different cultures, wondering, “Well, hang on, why is it that all other New Zealanders are treated one way and Māori are treated another way when it comes to how we organise the local government elections?” Yes, and so people rightly …
We didn’t get to hear the rest of the sentence because Ngarewa-Packer interrupted to raise a point of order.
As tangata whenua, I take personal offence to what is being said by the member.
When National’s Nick Smith spoke to the point of order, she cut him off too.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Speaking to the point of order. I listened very carefully to what my colleague Goldsmith said, referring to the way in which Auckland was—
Debbie Ngarewa-Packer: Point of order. I am tangata whenua, I can say how I feel. As tangata whenua, I take personal offence to what is being said by the member.
Nick Smith had cause to complain about being interrupted while speaking on a point of order.
Assistant Speaker Jenny Salesa – curiously – disagreed. Moreover, without hearing arguments in response to Ngarewa-Parker’s point of order, she required Goldsmith to apologise.
But apologise for what?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Madam Speaker, it’s very unconventional for a member in the middle of a point of order to have another member simply stand up and interrupt them, and is not consistent with the way in which the House is run. The point I wish to make—
ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Jenny Salesa): The member Debbie Ngarewa-Packer’s point of order was before your point of order. Can you please take a seat, the Hon Dr Nick Smith. So let me deal with Debbie Ngarewa-Packer’s point of order. She took offence to what you said, the Hon Paul Goldsmith, as tangata whenua. Can you please withdraw and apologise.
Nick Smith tried again.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Point of order, Madam Speaker. Simply because a member may have a particular view about a privileged status of a group of New Zealanders, surely this cannot mean that my colleague Mr Goldsmith, whose comments were simply around the lines of Auckland being a multicultural city with people of multiple different ethnicities, somehow being offensive and being required to withdraw and apologise. Wokeness is not part of the Standing Orders of our Parliament. The member should not be required to withdraw and apologise for such inoffensive, normal remarks.
The Greens’ Chlöe Swarbrick then pitched in (no guesses on which side of the argument).
Chlöe Swarbrick: Speaking to the point of order, Madam Speaker, if I may, in contributing. The contributions of the Hon Paul Goldsmith spoke to the supposed privileged status of tangata whenua in Aotearoa New Zealand. If you look at any statistics, we find that tangata whenua do not occupy that space of privilege.
And then Goldsmith grabbed a chance to find what exactly he must apologise for.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Can I just have a simple point of order. I’d just like to understand what you are asking me to apologise for. What particular words are you asking me to apologise for?
CHAIRPERSON (Hon Jenny Salesa): So the point of order that the member Debbie Ngarewa-Packer raised was that she was personally offended when you called tangata whenua being of a certain status. Can we move forward from here and can you just complete your speech, the Hon Paul Goldsmith.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Sorry I can’t apologise for something that I’m not quite clear what it is, what specific words—and maybe the member can help me—I said that the member requires me to apologise for. A general feeling? I’m just not quite clear what it is.
CHAIRPERSON (Hon Jenny Salesa): Can I please have further clarification from the member Debbie Ngarewa-Packer about what she found so offensive.
And so Ngarewa-Packer was given a platform to explain her grievance (and after she explained it, at Point of Order we remained bewildered).
Debbie Ngarewa-Packer: Thank you, Madam Chair. There was an offence of privileged implication and there was an offence that we belong all in one. Tangata whenua are not multicultural; we are tangata whenua. We need to stop being drifted and floated into every little pool or blanket that you believe we belong in culturally. We have a status: it’s tangata whenua.
National’s Michael Woodhouse meanwhile had been trawling through the rule book to find if Ngarewa-Packer had a case for demanding an apology.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Speaking to that point. I’m very much trying to find the appropriate Speakers’ ruling on the taking of offence. There is a Speakers’ ruling that says that somebody cannot take offence on behalf of another member. The inference in that Speakers’ ruling is that a class of persons, also, a member could not take offence on that. I would argue that the comments made by Mr Goldsmith were debating points. If we come to a point where people can take offence on generalisation, general comments that are otherwise within Standing Orders, I’m afraid that we’re going to get into a situation where we’re going to have a lot of it. Can I also just, while I’m on my feet, make another comment for your consideration? When Dr Nick Smith spoke to the original point of order and was interrupted by Ms Ngarewa-Packer, that was not in order. He had a right to finish his point of order without interruption, and you enabled her to basically cut across that. So I’d like you to consider both of those two points.
CHAIRPERSON (Hon Jenny Salesa): So we have had this discussion. The member has raised that she has been offended. My ruling is that we just move on and to rule that when a class is offended as a class, tangata whenua, would be a significant point of order for me to rule on. I now ask the member if he would like to complete his speech in the last 12 seconds, he is most welcome to.
Twelve seconds left, huh!
Goldsmith gave it a go, only to have Swarbrick interject.
Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH: So as I was saying, before I was interrupted—
Chlöe Swarbrick: What, race baiting?
This (inevitably) triggered another point of order.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Point of order. Madam Chair, I’m sure Mr Goldsmith won’t ask for a withdrawal, but the accusation by one member to another that that member is race baiting is clearly unparliamentarily language and shouldn’t be used.
CHAIRPERSON (Hon Jenny Salesa): The member the Hon Michael Woodhouse is not able to take offence on behalf of another member. We shall move on. Six seconds.
Goldsmith at long last finished with time for just one succinct sentence:
Well, what I’m saying is that the inference of this bill is that this Government does not trust the judgment of New Zealanders.