Audrey Young: Kelvin Davis gives the speech that Jacinda Ardern should have given

Māori-Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis gave a brilliant speech in Parliament today, the speech that Jacinda Ardern probably should have given some time ago if she had wanted to avoid the unfortunate events that preceded it.

It explained the thinking behind the various models of partnership with Māori that sit behind the Government’s policy agenda.

If Ardern had done it as well as Davis did, then National and Act’s attacks on a largely unarticulated policy direction might not have got the same traction as they have.

And Parliament might not have witnessed the stunning events in question time, including a walk-out of the two Māori Party MPs, Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and a critically important debate about what amount to conflicting rights of MPs – the right of free speech versus the right to be free from offence.

Waititi was actually ordered out of the House by Speaker Trevor Mallard for failing to stop the haka he was reciting as he was leaving.

For two weeks the Māori Party has objected to Opposition questions about the Government’s Māori-related policy, saying it was racist.

It is clearly a sincerely held view by the Māori Party, perhaps reinforced by the fact that with so few MPs, they have a limited number of questions and cannot readily take part and are bystanders in the chamber.

It is also clear that it is not just what National’s Judith Collins says in the House but the vitriol it unleashes on social media that lies behind the Māori Party’s actions.

It is also a sincerely held view of National and Act that they not only have a right but an obligation to question significant policy proposals, such as the planned Māori Health Authority under the health reforms, and the principles that sit behind it.

Outside the House, Ngarewa-Packer said it was not right that Mallard “has not got the courage to stop racism in the House.”

In fact, Mallard largely handled the issue superbly, in contrast to the opprobrium he attracted last week over comments he made under parliamentary privilege accusing a former staffer of serious sexual assault.

Instead of rushing to judgment today, as he is wont to do, Mallard allowed a series of contributions from across the House on the issue of racism, in response to a point of order from Greens co-leader Marama Davidson.

None of the contributions was rehearsed, they were all thoughtful and spontaneous, they drew from senior MPs and newer ones such as Act’s Nicole McKee, a Māori MP, and they canvassed the dilemma of a modern Parliament of where to draw the line.

Summing it up, Mallard drew the line at the individual: he said the Māori Party was entitled to call National’s questions racist and National was entitled to call the Government’s policies as racist but he was sticking to previous rulings that MPs must not call each other individually racist.

He also made the point that standards change over time and that what might have been acceptable 20 years might not be now.

All of this was the preface to the prepared speech by Kelvin Davis in the general debate – which began by suggesting that the Māori Party, with only 1.2 per cent of the party vote at the election, did not speak for Māoridom.

He went to explain why he was so outraged that what the Government was doing was being compared to apartheid.

It was an important contribution to an electric day in the House. The real pity is that the Māori Party was not there to hear it.

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