Anyone watching or listening to this week’s 12 maiden speeches from new National MPs might wonder what has happened to their party.
Among the usual thanks to their electorate committees, prolonged family histories and boasting about their local regions were some that set out to address the big issue currently dividing Parliament and probably New Zealand as well; race relations.
We saw glimmers of the centrist-liberal wing of the National Party once more back in Parliament.
The most notable example so far came from one new National MP, Greg Fleming, an evangelical Christian and the former head of the Christian think-tank, the Maxim Institute.
He opened his speech last December with a prayer in Te Reo, which translated: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord.”
But then what he offered was a speech very different from that of most National MPs’ maiden speeches.
He said that for the past two years, he’d worked with friends to establish a tertiary language immersion school. Te Wānanga Ihorangi which would welcome its first 40 students this February, and his son Toby would be one of them.
“This haerenga has shaped my faith,” he said.
“It wasn’t long before I found myself yearning to worship in te reo Māori, and so Te Ana Tapu—Holy Sepulchre—soon became my home.
“I am Mihinare and it is an honour to have here tonight many of my friends from Te Ana Tapu, including my bishop, Te Kitohi Pikaahu.
“Now each morning I read Te Paipera Tapu [The Holy Bible]; I pray in te reo o te whenua nei.
“ And when I think of and hear Ihu Karaiti: he kōrero Māori ia. He mataora tōna. [Jesus Christ: he speaks Māori. He has a facial moko].
“A friend told me several years ago, Greg, we will be one when you can walk as easily in my world as I can in yours.
“That invitation beckons me every day.”
The new Northland MP, Grant McCallum, is a veteran National Party activist and official, dairy farmer and a well well-known political commentator on farm radio shows, a fact that he wryly acknowledged in his mihi by referring to himself as he is called on “The Country”, “Ko Grant McNational ahau.”
Sitting at the back of the Chamber watching McCallum was the former National Prime Minister, Dame Jenny Shipley, who had come to Wellington to support him.
Shipley spoke at the Kotahitanga Hui a Motu in Ngauruwahia a fortnight ago and has become a strong supporter of the movement and its call for Mana Motuhake.
She is also a supporter of moves in her home town, Russell, to change its name back to Kororareka.
“The question is who we are and who we want to be,” she told The NZ Herald last year.
“I think New Zealand is capable of being unique and having that conversation.”
McCallum, talking about the small towns that make up his electorate, contrasted Kerikeri and Kaikohe, which he said were 30 minutes apart but in many ways worlds away from each other.
The contrast was economic and cultural, with Northland College in a Kaikohe, 98 per cent Maori, whereas Kerikeri High School was only 38 per cent Maori.
“So how do we help create a greater understanding and connection between these two communities?” he asked.
“The answer is education.
“Through education, we can teach the history of our cultures and what all our ancestors have contributed to New Zealand.
“For example, the settlers developed world-leading pastoral farming practices and were encouraged to do so by Chief Hone Hika, who, after visiting England, asked the settlers to teach the farming techniques to the Maori.
“This led to what was effectively New Zealand’s first demonstration farm at the Waimate North Mission Station.
“We also need to celebrate our Maori culture, which is uniquely New Zealand.
“Central to Maori Culture is Te-Reo. Wouldn’t it be great if, in 2040, we are starting to be seen as a bi-lingual society as our younger generations embrace Te-Reo?
“Through language and leadership, we help create understanding.”
And following on from James Meager’s widely reported maiden speech last year which spoke to his own Maori background, the former chair of the Taranaki Regional Council and now National MP for New Plymouth, David McLeod, detailed his own whakapapa in Te Reo running from Ngai Tahu to Ngati Porou and ultimately Taranaki.
Like Fleming, he pointed to a more optimistic future for Maori-Pakeha relations with a subtle warning to his own party.
“I’m also hoping that hui of recent weeks, and the upcoming Waitangi Celebrations, go some way to reassuring Māori that The National Party are not here to remove Te Reo from the New Zealand landscape, that we do value Te Tiriti as our founding document, that we will uphold and respect all Treaty Settlements, and that we want better health and education outcomes for Māori…along with every other Kiwi,” he said.
There was another aspect to the maiden speeches yesterday and that was their reference beyond Treaty issues to multi culturalism, most notably in a speech from new Naitonal list MP, Nancy Lu.
Her parents immigrated to New Zealand from China in the 1990s, and amidst the lines of her crowded CV is a term as an English language teacher in Ukraine.
“The hard work and determination of Chinese Kiwis have contributed to our economy and made New Zealand a more prosperous and dynamic nation,” she said.
“Our society thrives on the rich and beautiful cultures that call this land home.”
The MPs who think along these lines are still a minority within the National caucus, but what they represent is a potential handbrake on the possibly extreme positions of both ACT and NZFirst.
Politics this Parliamentary term is going to get more interesting (and complex) yet.