Customary practice

This week there was a kerfuffle in the New Zealand Parliament over a tie, or the lack of one. The Maori Party co-leader, Rawiri Waititi refused to wear a tie. He argued he was wearing Maori business attire with a hei tiki around his neck. Trevor Mallard, Speaker of the House and enforcer of the dress rules, amongst other rules, said this dress was not appropriate and prevented Waititi from asking questions on two occasions. This wasn’t the first time Waititi has raised the issue – last year he was also told he would be ejected from the Debating Chamber if he did not wear a tie. Waititi called ties ‘a colonial noose’. Following this confrontation, Green Party leader James Shaw suggested the rule should be changed, but Mallard decided to leave the rule in place, after minor changes, on the basis that there was ‘very little support for a change’. He did note that his personal preference would be to do away with ties which he ‘personally loathes’.

Diverse comments were reported on, including Labour whip Kieran McAnulty saying he would be more comfortable in shorts and jandals, and Health Minister, Chris Hipkins, saying that wearing of ties “Shows respect for the institution and the importance of the role we all undertake.” James Shaw also suggested that, “For those MPs who think wearing ties reflects on the solemnity and gravity of what we do in the House, I would ask them to reflect on the schoolyard behaviour that goes on there daily.”

Is Rawiri Waititi well enough dressed to address the Speaker of the House?

The outdatedness and origins of ties in white colonialism were much discussed – one could consider ties a symbol of repression. I don’t remember ties with any liking myself; our Christchurch Girl’s High winter uniform included one and there isn’t too much good to be said for them other than that they keep the collar of your shirt closed if the button falls off. I guess they force people to practice a form of manual dexterity, like tying shoelaces.

After various debate, Trevor Mallard backtracked. He was in an invidious position, trying to interpret and uphold rules that hark back to another era, and it was time for a serious challenge. Dress is very much a cultural phenomenon, therefore it needs updating regularly (probably more regularly than the NZ Parliament have updated their rules) as national cultures change and grow. We need people both to discuss such matters, and people who are the ‘guardians of the norms’ to to remind us of rules that we have previously agreed to, creating a balance between change and stability. A world without rules is anarchy, a world without sensible rules is a mockery.

At the same time as the tie debate, there has been some interesting discussion regarding prejudice against wahine Maori as the result of colonisation which, in my mind at least, has joined up with discussions over the rights of women to speak on the marae, particularly in relation to Waitangi Day. The Mana Wahine Kaupapa inquiry has been reported on because the tribunal is hearing evidence. This inquiry relates to Treaty breaches by the Crown both historic and contemporary, resulting in systematic discrimination, deprivation and inequities experienced by Maori women. The original claim was made in 1993 by 16 leaders; it has taken quite a while for the system to properly consider it. One of the witnesses described the traditional roles of Maori men and women as essential parts of the collective whole, but did not describe the colonising culture in the same way. The colonial frame is seen as one in which men were looked to as leaders and chiefs, causing negation of wahine Maori.

There was a famous incident in 1988, when Helen Clark as Prime Minister of New Zealand was barred from speaking on the marae at Waitangi. Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson was allowed to speak at Te Tii marae in 2014 and then Jacinda Ardern was the first female Prime Minister to be given the right to speak in 2018, after prolonged discussions. However, other women leaders are still not allowed to deliver a speech from the mahau (porch). Apparently Ngapuhi have committed to all women leaders being able to speak during the powhiri (formal greeting process onto a marae) in 2022. However, this does not mean that all women, or all Maori women, will be able to speak during the powhiri.

The rules over when women can speak on marae are being challenged, but this challenge is complicated if it comes from outside of the group who own the rules. The rules of the marae are those of Maori, and in fact those of the particular iwi of the marae on which the speaking occurs – different tribes have different protocols. Therefore, even more complex is a challenge from Maori women who consider that the ‘normal’ behaviour of pakeha males has continued to infringe their rights as Maori women. Whose rights are right when cultures are different? How does one preserve the cultures of two different groups and facilitate them successfully interacting? And is there any argument for accepting oppression of a part of a society because it is their cultural practice? We have a long road to continue to travel, with many debates upon its path, that will not be resolved as easily as whether men should wear ties in Parliament’s Debating Chamber – 2 days after the tie fiasco came to a head, the Standing Orders Committee decided ties would no longer be necessary and the news of this rapidly rocketed around a world that wants to hear about matters other than COVID-19.

As a final little COVID motif, however, I did some basic maths on the numbers of vaccinators required to roll out COVID-19 vaccines once they arrive in the country (noting that it is very welcome that Pfizer will send our first batch of vaccines next week, 6 weeks earlier than forecast). The numbers reported this week were that the Ministry of Health would train 2000 to 3000 people to be vaccinators. Is this enough?

  • New Zealand has a population of around 5.1 million people, 20% of whom are 15 or under. So we have 4,080,000 people to vaccinate (currently no vaccines are approved for children).
  • Let’s say that one person can vaccinate 6 people an hour (I can’t find any figures around this), on the basis that someone else will monitor the people for about 20 minutes to make sure that they don’t have an allergic reaction. We’ll give them 42 people a day, on the basis that they probably have to do some admin or other tasks beyond vaccinating in an 8 hour day.
  • So in one day our vaccinator will have fully vaccinated the equivalent of 21 people, on the basis that everyone will need two shots of most of the vaccines (yes they will need them on different days, but this is just a calculation).
  • That means to vaccinate our population will take 194,000 full vaccinator days.
  • There are 230 working days in a year given a 5 day working week, when you deduct 4 weeks leave and 2 weeks sick leave.
  • The conclusion is that we need 843 people full time for a year to vaccinate all New Zealanders 16 and over. Which means that 2000-3000 being trained sequentially should do the trick.

Published by janecshearer

I'm a self-employed life enthusiast living in Gibbston, New Zealand

One thought on “Customary practice

  1. I was reflecting the other day on the rights of women speaking at waitangi Marae. Waitangi Day is meant to be, to my understanding, about the signing of a treaty between the Colonists and the Maori. Yet I have seen Waitangi Day, for my whole lifetime, as a Maori day….probably because the Maori make the rules, they do the singing and dancing etc etc. yes it’s on their marae but I think it should be a day which is about both cultures ( people will, I am sure, belittle the British culture in response to this but it is still our heritage) and the rules should not be set by one party. It’s just offensive.

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