New Zealand MPs ponder new oaths

Ben McKay
·3-min read

As a new crop of New Zealand parliamentarians prepare to swear their oath of allegiance, MPs are split on whether they should modernise their pledge.

The 120 MPs elected in last month's election will take their seats in the house next Wednesday.

Each must recite an oath or affirmation to "bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors" in English or te reo Maori.

New Zealand's decidedly traditional and reverential tone is the same for Australian MPs - but not for ministers.

Since 1993, Australian ministers are asked to serve the people or Commonwealth of Australia, rather than, or alongside the monarch.

The Kiwi pledge is also missing a reference to New Zealand's foundational document, the Treaty of Waitangi.

For many, it's time for reform.

"To be quite honest it makes me feel sick to my guts," Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi told AAP.

"We don't mind having Queen Elizabeth in there but there's no equality, no mention of the Treaty. And that's what the country was founded on, through consent."

"It silences our true oath, which is to our people."

New Zealand Republic chair Lewis Holden said several Caribbean countries had removed the Queen from their oaths and Canada was adding a reference to indigenous treaties to its citizenship oath.

"It's time our politicians, who we elect and pay for, swear allegiance to New Zealanders and the Treaty," he said.

A failed effort at modernisation was launched by Helen Clark's Labour in 2005 but perhaps surprisingly her Labour successor Ms Ardern is yet to see the case for change.

"We have a long standing oath," the progressive PM said.

"We conduct that ceremony in keeping with our constitutional arrangements."

Ms Ardern's view isn't shared by all in her own caucus and particularly her Maori MPs.

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta supports a change of the citizenship oath, Tamati Coffey said it was time for "serious conversation" and Louisa Wall said it was "absolutely" necessary.

"I will grin and bear it (while saying the oath) because the reality is, it's set in legislation," she said.

"But this is a historic issue. Many people want to swear allegiance to the Treaty."

Maori Development Minister Willie Jackson said he had "reservations" but the change wasn't on his to-do list.

Other Maori MPs, like first-term MP Arena Williams said the current oath was "really worth preserving".

Across the aisle, there's little appetite for the symbolic shift.

The two Maori members of the 33-strong opposition National caucus, deputy leader Shane Reti and former leader Simon Bridges, don't support reform.

"Call me old fashioned but I like to think when you're doing it you're signing up to be loyal to New Zealand and our sovereign," Mr Bridges said.

"The MPs who kind of feel otherwise ... maybe they're in the wrong place and maybe they're better out protesting, marching and burning flags on the streets rather than in parliament where we're making laws for the betterment of New Zealand."

On a straw poll of MPs this week in Wellington, reformists are in the minority, with most non-Maori MPs either unsupportive of a shift or seeing it as a poor use of time.

The longest-serving member of the house, speaker Trevor Mallard, said as a Republican he saw New Zealand's oaths changing "probably at the same time that we have a different relationship with the Queen".