Ties off in NZ as Waititi forces change

·3-min read

To Rawiri Waititi, it was never just about a tie.

But having won the battle to free his neck of "the colonial noose", the Maori Party co-leader is eyeing fresh transformation of New Zealand's parliament.

Until this week, it was compulsory for male MPs to wear a tie in Wellington's House of Representatives.

Mr Waititi's stubborn refusal to wear one put him on a collision course with speaker Trevor Mallard, the 66-year-old Labour traditionalist supported in the role by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

On Tuesday, Mr Mallard sent Mr Waititi from the chamber for non-compliance.

But by Wednesday night, a mighty backlash forced Mr Mallard into a u-turn, declaring ties no longer required.

"The removal of the tie, it allows Maori and the generations that come after me, freedom to express their cultural identity," Mr Waititi told Australian Associated Press.

"The win is a win for Maori and indigenous peoples, Maori here in Aotearoa but indigenous people all over the world.

"We should never ever settle for forceful subjugation or assimilation."

It was not the first blue Mr Waititi has had in this term of parliament.

The Maori Party weren't allowed to reply to Ms Ardern's opening speech due to a standing order enforced by a mean-spirited Mr Mallard.

Mr Waititi followed that ruling with a barnstorming maiden speech beginning in song, and finishing with him swapping his tie for a 'hei-tiki', or Maori pendant.

Foreshadowing this week's debate, he declared "take the noose from around my neck, so that I may sing my song" and "I will adorn myself with the treasures of my ancestors".

The bubbly and unapologetic MP was the only man to win a seat off Ms Ardern's dominant Labour party in last year's election.

He praises Ms Ardern's moves to create a public holiday for the Maori New Year, to teach indigenous history in schools, and to better resource Maori service providers.

He also scorns her dismissal of the tie issue.

"When she says 'Oh, we've got bigger issues to worry about than a tie', that comes from a very privileged space," he said.

"She hasn't been subjected to years and years and years of discrimination, racial prejudice, displacement from our lands, the pillaging of our language.

"All of these types of things have continuously eaten away at our identity as a people."

With this win under his belt, the 39-year-old is eyeing other "archaic colonial processes" and more substantial reforms.

He supports a radical change to parliamentary representation for Maori, who total around 17 per cent of New Zealand's population.

"What we should be seeing is a 50-50 split between Maori and non-Maori in his house," he said.

"And in employees. It's the right thing to do ... to reflect the Treaty of Waitangi partnership".

With just two MPs in the 120-member house, that change is not likely, even if Mr Waititi sees further decolonisation as inevitable.

"There's a new generation of Maori coming through ... I'm at the top end of the generation, but I'll tell you there's an unapologetic one coming behind me."