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CLIVE BOONHAM: Should Te Pati Maori MPs be allowed to swear the oath of allegiance?

This article is a continuation of the article Swearing in of new MPs: The constitution versus the Treaty activists.


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On 1 December 2023 Te Pati Maori published an official press release on its Facebook page entitled An Oath to our Mokopuna.


It was published in the name of Hana Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke and five others, namely Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, Rawiri Waititi, Takutai Moana Natasha Kemp, Tākuta Ferris, and Mariameno Kapa-Kingi. They are all newly elected MPs for Te Pati Maori.


The press release was published four days before the six MPs will be obliged to swear an oath of allegiance to King Charles the Third if they wish to sit and vote in the 54th New Zealand Parliament.


It is unclear from the contents of the press release whether the six elected members intend to refuse to swear the oath, or whether they intend to swear the oath of allegiance to King Charles while at the same time rejecting the constitution of New Zealand, its legal system and the absolute sovereignty of King Charles.


To a certain extent the issue is clear cut. If a Member refuses to swear or affirm the oath in Mäori or in English then that person cannot sit in the House, vote or get paid.


The oath relates to future actions: "I will be faithful..." - and not to past actions. So Members are not judged on earlier transgressions but are given the benefit of the doubt in respect of their current mindset.


However, in this instance the MPs in question issued a press release just four days before the swearing in ceremony (on 5 December 2023), in anticipation of being obliged to swear the oath of allegiance. In this release they unequivocally announced to the world their views on the oath, on Parliament and on King Charles. The press release contains the following statements:


Māori owe no allegiance to the genocidal legacy of the British Empire.


There is no honour in the Crown. It is tainted with the blood of indigenous nations, and its throne sits at the apex of global white supremacy.


To the sovereign of England, we say history will judge whether you have the moral capacity to shoulder responsibility for your family’s heinous legacy. It is beyond you to restore its honour - the harm caused by your Crown is now intergenerational and irreparable. Indigenous blood stains the throne you sit on.


We do not consent, we do not surrender, we do not cede, we do not submit; we, the indigenous, are rising. We do not buy into the colonial fictions this House is built upon.


Te Pāti Māori pledges allegiance to our mokopuna, our whenua, and Te Tiriti o Waitangi. We will continue to do our best by you, in accordance to our tikanga, amongst the monsters whose portraits still hang on the walls of Parliament.


The language used is extremely strong. The elected members believe that the constitution of New Zealand is a "colonial fiction", and that "Māori owe no allegiance to the genocidal legacy of the British Empire". Presumably that is a reference to King Charles and confirmation that they do not bear any allegiance to the King.


In the Canadian case cited in my previous article the following point was made:


An oath to the King is not an oath to the person who wears the crown at a given time; rather, it is an oath to an institution that symbolizes our system of government, a democratic constitutional monarchy. An oath to the King is therefore an oath to our system of government and homeland, not an oath to a foreign monarch.


The six Te Pati Maori elected members not only reject the sovereignty of King Charles, but they also reject the legitimacy of New Zealand's constitution as a democratic constitutional monarchy.


It is a difficult issue for the Clerk of the House who will have to administer the oath-taking by Members. According to Parliamentary procedure it is the Clerk of the House who administers the swearing of the oath of allegiance. The new Speaker is then elected by the sworn-in Members. The procedure is set out here.


The six Members were elected pursuant to the laws of New Zealand and, if they swear the oath, they will become part of the Legislature enacting laws pursuant to New Zealand's constitution. But at the last hurdle they are rejecting the legitimacy of those constitutional arrangements and the Crown's pivotal role.


In other Commonwealth countries nationalists and republicans have been able to swear the oath of allegiance to the Crown because they acknowledge the legitimacy of the current constitutional system, and work within that system to bring about a change. The difference is that Te Pati Maori elected members do not accept the legitimacy of New Zealand's current constitution. They believe that the constitution is a fiction and that they will not submit to it by swearing allegiance to the King. Their allegiance is pledged elsewhere:


We do not consent, we do not surrender, we do not cede, we do not submit; we, the indigenous, are rising. We do not buy into the colonial fictions this House is built upon.


Māori owe no allegiance to the genocidal legacy of the British Empire.


Te Pāti Māori pledges allegiance to our mokopuna, our whenua, and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.


Te Pati Maori has laid down a challenge to Parliament. Its elected members unequivocally reject the statutory role of Parliament itself and that of King Charles. They are disrespectful to both. They reject the rule of law in favour of tikanga.


If they are allowed to take the oath then it is likely that they will use it as a Trojan horse to get access to Parliament through constitutional means. Then they will be at liberty to attack the constitution from within Parliament.


Is the new government prepared to stand firmly behind New Zealand's written constitution, or will it allow Te Pati Maori to make a mockery of the oath of allegiance?


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Clive Boonham is a retired Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand. This article first appeared at The Treaty Facts

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