Political bickering leaves iwi high and dry

8:56 am on 23 September 2016

Power Play - Once again Māori have been left high and dry by the actions of the Crown, after a spat ruined plans for a special sitting of Parliament.

New Zealand Government; parliament; Beehive

Iwi representatives from across the North Island had planned to be at Parliament as the legislation was signed. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

A few weeks ago representatives from every party in Parliament agreed that the House would sit on a Friday to pass five treaty settlement bills through their final readings.

Iwi representatives made plans to make the trek from Taranaki, the Far North and Manawatu to Wellington to be in the public galleries of Parliament as the legislation passed.

Because all the parties agreed to support the legislation, there would have been no need for parties to vote individually in the house and a unanimous voice vote would be all that was needed.

So party whips signed off leave for MPs and Ministers to go back to their electorates leaving a small number of MPs to ensure the legislation passed.

But New Zealand First decided on Tuesday that it could not support two of the bills meaning the plans were derailed and a simple voice vote could not go ahead.

Ministers Gerry Brownlee and Chris Finlayson issued a furious statement saying the appalling behaviour meant the special sitting session would have to be cancelled and the passing of the legislation delayed.

Really?

To cast a full party vote, parties need to have at least 75 percent of their MPs at Parliament, using proxy votes for those who are away.

At the worst, there only needed to be 13 MPs to counter New Zealand First's 12 votes against and ensure the legislation went through.

All other parties in Parliament had guaranteed their support, and Gerry Brownlee himself told RNZ that National would have had about 40 MPs present, so what was the problem?

No one seems to want to answer that question, including Mr Brownlee.

Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox, who could barely contain her fury at Winston Peters, argued there could have been a vote of no confidence in the government on Friday, if there were not enough MPs to vote against one.

Winston Peters on the bridge at Parliament.

Winston Peters has been accused of pulling a political stunt over the incident. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

But that's not technically possible, as the sitting session was an 'extended sitting' under which the only things that can be debated and voted upon are what have been decided by the Business Committee - which in this case was the five Treaty Settlement bills.

Even if it was possible to cast such a vote, Labour had told the government it would guarantee it a majority and would not object to any of the bills.

To be fair to New Zealand First, it is their democratic right to vote as they see fit on any legislation, at any time.

But the question has to be asked - why, when the legislation has been before the house since late last year, did its MPs decide three days ago they didn't like it?

Regardless of who is right or wrong, or what the reasons are for cancelling the extended sitting, it is not the politicians who will suffer as a result.

It is iwi who are now not only out of pocket, but also forced to wait even longer for the settlement of their treaty claims.

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