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Thursday, November 8, 2012

When to cross the floor

The issue here is whether Tau Henare should have crossed the floor in support of Te Ururoa Flavell's bill that would have allowed Members of Parliament to choose to swear allegiance to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

In my view, the answer is yes. Why? Because he delivered a very strong speech in favour of the bill.

Although the bill was unlikely to obtain majority support from the house, in principle, Tau should have crossed. He should have done so because of his whakapapa and for his mana and the mana of the people. Such a move might have restored his reputation among the wider Maori community by signalling to them that he was willing to place the needs of not just Maori but any person who values Te Tiriti o Waitangi, ahead of the Party's position.

Recently, I had the privilege of listening to Tau Henare speak at the World Indigenous Lawyers Conference. I call it a privilege, because prior to his address I had him pinned as self-interested,arrogant and authoritarian. I was pleasantly surprised.While I disagreed with some of what he said, he was honest and he was passionate about Maori achievement.

So I was shocked when he was challenged to cross the floor on the issues set out above and he gracefully declined on the basis that such actions lead to unstable government.

Tau Henare is a seasoned politician, and it is unlikely that his position on the issue would be challenged by the National caucus. John Key made a statement today acknowledging that he knew of Tau's opposition to the party position, and that Key does not prevent his MP's from crossing the floor. While such a move might put the spotlight on the National Party in light of all the recent events including privacy breaches and bad taste comments, John Key and his political spin team would've surely been able to limit any negative publicity, and might have even been able to spin it in terms favourable to the National Party.

Additionally, this would have shown that the issue is important not just to a few 'radical Maori' but to any person who values Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the founding document of Aotearoa New Zealand. Instead, he has done a disservice to the issue by backing down and voting against his own strongly held preferences.

I question whether his desire to be Speaker of the House clouded his judgement on the issue. I hope not.