A fiery debate is unfolding in New Zealand after a Māori Party co-leader was kicked out of Parliament on Tuesday for not wearing a tie.
Instead, Rawiri Waititi instead chose to wear cultural dress – or as a he called it, “Māori business attire” – with a pounamu, or greenstone, necklace around his neck.
This is despite a rule that male parliamentarians must wear a traditional Western-style tie in the parliament’s debating chamber.
Early in question time, an argument broke out when Mr Waititi tried to ask a question. He was told to sit down by Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard, who said male MPs could ask questions only if they were wearing a tie.
Mr Waititi tried again later and was again shut down by Mr Mallard.
But rather than staying silent, Mr Waititi continued to speak. He was subsequently ejected from the chamber by Mr Mallard.
“This is not about ties, it is about cultural identity mate,” Mr Waititi reportedly said as he was leaving the chamber.
Dissapointing the Speaker has set one precedent for some members of but not for everyone. Being told to leave the house because of my choice to wear hei-tiki as cultural business attire is absurd.
— Rawiri Waititi MP (@Rawiri_Waititi) February 9, 2021
The argument between Mr Mallard and Mr Waititi is the latest in an ongoing scuffle between the two MPs.
Speaking to media after the incident, the Māori MP said the Speaker’s conduct was becoming “unconscionable”.
“It’s forcing indigenous people into wearing what I described as a colonial noose,” he said.
Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer decided to wear a tie, despite not being required to as a woman.
We’re back in the house for 2021 – @Rawiri_Waititi and I have had our first caucus hui, met new staff, supported petition to stop synthetic fertilisers, challenged the Govt to ban seabed mining and fought for our tikanga to be included in the house. Day one☝🏼 pic.twitter.com/zBej204HGe
— Debbie Ngarewa-Packer MP (@packer_deb) February 9, 2021
In response to the outcry, Mr Mallard said the Māori Party did not respond to his review of the tie rule last week, when he asked parliamentarians to have their say about what was appropriate business attire in the House.
The review followed growing calls for members to be allowed to wear cultural interpretations of formal wear, in addition to men being allowed to remove their ties.
That’s partly because Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s new parliament is New Zealand’s most diverse and inclusive.
Of its member, 48 per cent are women, 11 per cent LGBTQI community members, 21 per cent Māori, 8.3 per cent Pacific, and 7 per cent are Asian New Zealanders.
After receiving majority support for the status quo, Mr Mallard decided to keep the dress code.
“A significant majority of members who responded opposed any change to dress standards for the debating chamber,” he said.
“Having considered those views, I have decided that no change in current standards is warranted. Business attire, including a jacket and tie for men, remains the required dress standard.”
Ms Ardern said she had no personal objection to ties being optional in parliament, saying there were more important issues to discuss in the debating chamber, like solving the country’s worsening housing crisis.
“I don’t think New Zealanders care about ties,” she said.