'A real honour': Māori MP tipped for top constitutional role

Posted 14 June 2022 by Moana Ellis

Labour MP Adrian Rurawhe could become only the second Māori to take on the role of Speaker of the House.

No caption

File photo: Labour MP for Te Tai Hauāuru Adrian Rurawhe. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday the Labour MP for Te Tai Hauāuru would be nominated to replace Trevor Mallard, who is leaving to take up a European diplomatic posting.

Between 1993 and 1996 Sir Peter Tapsell was the first Māori to hold the role of te mana whakawā o te whare, Speaker of the House and Head of Parliament.

“So it’s been a long time since we had a Māori occupy that position,” Rurawhe said. “It is a real honour and a privilege to be considered for one of New Zealand’s most important constitutional roles.”

no metadata

The Speaker of the House is the highest authority of the House of Representatives, and one of the pillars of New Zealand’s democracy alongside the Governor-General as head of state, the Prime Minister as head of government, and the head of judiciary, the Chief Justice.

“It’s an important democratic role for the day-to-day functioning of Parliament,” Rurawhe said.

“It clearly can be quite a lonely position because at the end of the day you are the person who is presiding in chambers and who has to make rulings on whether things are in order or not.

“That will quite often upset at least half of the House. That’s just a reality of the nature of it. It’s not unlike being a referee in a test match – you’re not going to please everyone.”

Outside the debating chamber, the Speaker is also responsible for the buildings and grounds of Parliament, providing services to members, and chairing the Standing Orders, Business and Officers of Parliament committees.

“I don’t under-estimate the challenge of the role. My colleagues believe I have the ability to do it, and I’m going to do my very best to be a very good speaker.”

No caption

File photo: Parliament Interior. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Rurawhe, who has been deputy Speaker since 2020, said every Speaker had their own style.

“I don’t try to be like anyone else, I can only be myself and uphold the values that I believe in. I don’t treat it really any differently than, for example, like when I was the chair of my hapū or the chair of my iwi.

“When I am making a ruling it’s always based on standing orders but I can’t help but interpret them according to my own values and lived experience.”

Rurawhe will be the first Speaker who will be able to preside in both English and te reo Māori.

“To maintain order, sometimes when English isn’t working I will revert to te reo Māori and the interesting thing is, it usually works. It will be something that the House has already experienced, as I’ve done it from time to time as deputy Speaker.”

Rurawhe said it had always been his hope to transition at some stage into the role of Speaker.

The Prime Minister said yesterday Mallard had worked closely with Rurawhe as part of his plan to transition out of the role.

The call for nominations will be made in August.

“For me, that’s a perfect transitional timeframe,” Rurawhe said. “It means I’m not overburdened with the magnitude of the role and that I can ease into it over a period of two months.”

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ on Air