The Greens get a little personal

I like the Greens. A lot. Their predilection for social and environmental justice and commitment to clean politics was something that set them apart from the other two main parties toward the end of the 2014 election campaign. So naturally it seemed out of character for Metiria Turei to make what might be construed as a deeply offensive personal remark in her public condemnation of  Tutehounuku (Nuk) Korako (National), as the newly appointed Chair of the Māori Affairs Select Committee (MASC).

In context, Turei was making valid constructive criticisms about the changes to the MASC under the National government. She raised three fundamental concerns.

(1) Scheduling debates on Treaty bills at the same time as the MASC meetings. This is an entirely justified concern, because surely any Te Tiriti issues fall within the scope of Māori Affairs.

(2) That National are wasting the MASC time by not pulling the Te Reo (Māori Language) Bill, despite the Minister of Māori Development establishing an independent advisory group.

The Greens consider that ‘it is not fair on submitters that the bill could be changed significantly after the select committee has already heard their submissions’. Out of interest, I had a look at the terms of reference for the Māori Language Advisory Group (MLAG). The document states that the MLAG will provide expert and independent advice about the Māori Language (Te Reo Māori) Bill including any changes to policy intent and legislation. Moreover, the group will be supported by Te Puni Kōkiri (TPK) and Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (Māori Language Commission). It also specifies:

“For the avoidance of doubt, it is noted that the Māori Affairs Select Committee will undertake its inquiry into the Māori Language (Te Reo Māori) Bill, and provide its report to the House by 30 March 2015. The establishment and operations of the Māori Language Advisory Group is not related to, and will not affect, the operations of the Māori Affairs Select Committee. The Māori Language Advisory Group will be able to review and comment on the findings and recommendations of the Māori Affairs Select Committee with regard to the Māori Language (Te Reo Māori) Bill”

It seems that the two groups have distinct roles. The MLAG to consider the technical aspects of language revitalisation and implementation of the strategy. The MASC to provide a more holistic role in hearing and addressing the concerns of submitters through a final report with recommendations. While that might seem pretty straightforward, it would be good to get some clarification around the process so that the public can see whether it is or isn’t ‘wasting the committee’s time’. However, I am not entirely convinced that the criticism is about public interest in the process. Especially,  given the Greens and Labour have been highly critical of the Bill since its inception and would probably prefer it to not progress any further.

However,  as an opposition MP, Turei does have an obligation to outlay her concerns as a representative on the MASC. But her comments about Korako  I found a little troubling, perhaps I’m overreacting.

(3) Questioning the selection, competency and experience (and impliedly mana) of the person elected by majority vote to position of Chair seemed to me to go beyond the remit of an opposition MP and enter more personal territory. Because it is the Māori Affairs select committee, I’d have expected a measure of manaakitanga be shown, especially once the process of election were complete.

 Turei commented on Māori TV [see audio] that:

 “National put up a first termer as the Chair of this committee, it is an important committee, it should be chaired with someone who has much more experience than that”

I refer to the audio because it gives other cues in the form of tone and body language that cannot be translated in its written form and the text in the article and the interview differ slightly.

Te Rōpū Pounamu (The Greens Māori caucus) also emphasised this sentiment in a tweet:

I wondered on what grounds a first term MP might lack experience to Chair the Committee. Obviously a first time MP has no Parliamentary experience, but all MP’s enter the House with their unique skills and life experiences. I also considered if the same criticism would have been raised if it were a Labour first term MP who was nominated and elected to Chair the Committee.

Anyhow,  I took a peek at Korako’s public profile. Having sat on a number of Boards and having been involved in iwi organisations as well as running his own business, I do not see how he wouldn’t have the necessary skills to do the job. The suggestion that he wasn’t up to scratch was probably deeply insulting to him. It also came across as rather elitist highlighting perhaps a sense of hierarchy within the Greens that would appear to run counter to their narrative of equal opportunity.

What Turei doesn’t mention is the process by which the Chairperson is selected.  Its an important part of the context. In short, at the first Committee meeting nominations are called for by any member of the committee, and the nomination must then be seconded. Once nominations are ready, then the Chairperson is elected by majority vote.

So it is misleading to say National put a first termer as Chair, when the reality is, that Korako’s nomination must have been seconded, and then he was elected to that position by the majority of the committee.  My understanding is that there was a deadlock during the election process and if it weren’t broken then the meeting would have been dismissed and the committee unable to carry out its work. Apparently, Marama Fox relinquished her nomination for Deputy Chair to Nanaia Mahuta (Labour) to break the deadlock and to enable the Committee to carry on.

It is great that the Greens are stressing the importance of the Māori Affairs Select Committee and that they are (and have always been) committed to Te Tiriti. I just think the little snipe at Korako stooped to a level below which I’d expect the Greens to go. I may not agree with his party politics, but his perceived lack of experience by the Greens, isn’t something I’d expect to see his Committee colleagues dragging out in public after he were elected.