There are seven new Māori members of Parliament following the election. Conversely, seven Māori MPs left Parliament at the same time. This means that Māori continue to make up just under 20 percent of all sitting MPs in our House of Representatives, with 23 out of 120 MPs with Māori ancestry.

ACT is tied first with the Green Party for having the highest percentage of Māori MPs amongst their ranks (except for the Māori Party and their sole MP Rawiri Waititi). ACT and the Green Party each have three Māori members of Parliament out of ten, or 30 percent. Labour is behind them with 23.5 percent, or 15 out of 64 of their members being Māori. National has only two out of their 35 MPs being Māori, or just over five per cent.

The Māori MPs leaving Parliament include former Deputy Prime Minister and leader of NZ First Winston Peters (with a 45-year political career like none other), along with his party members Ron Mark, Shane Jones and Jenny Marcroft.

National’s Paula Bennett and Nuk Korako, as well as Jami-Lee Ross (previously National, then independent) have also left.

We spoke with the new Māori MPs to find out more about them and their plans for the upcoming term. We also chat with Labour MP for East Coast Kiri Allan – who has just finished her first term in Parliament – to find out more about what the newbies can expect.  

Karen Chhour, 39, ACT List MP

When did you realise that you’d be a sitting MP?

When we first began, we were polling quite low. But I was really enthused to get more people involved, based on the values that the party would bring to Parliament. Even if we got one or two on the night, I thought that the effort was worth making. As it got further into the ACT Party Bus Tour, with the positive responses around the country, I actually started to feel like this might happen.

Why do you want to be in Parliament?

I just want to make a difference for the young ones growing up that have lost hope of being able to achieve things. They are defining themselves by the way they are growing up and I don’t think that should define who you are. I want to start setting a positive example for our children and stop putting them into these categories where we’re defining who they are, before they even had a chance to decide for themselves. I think our system at the moment, a lot of our kids are getting lost in it. They're being defined by it. We shouldn't be allowing this to happen to our young ones. We should be helping them to achieve and giving them equal opportunity in life. 

How would you give them equal opportunity?

I think we need to start right from a young age. I think our children sometimes get categorised from a very young age. You sometimes hear people look at a child and go, “That kid's going to turn out to be a nobody.” That really hurts. I just can't understand people's attitudes. We’re no longer a community, we're all in it for ourselves. I think we need to start thinking about ourselves as all being in this together. We all need to be working together to create that equal opportunity… We need to be working with our young ones right from an early age and showing them a better pathway in life.

Nicole McKee, 48, ACT List MP

Why do you want to be in Parliament?

Part of the issues that got me here was the firearms reform and the unfair and unreasonable way that the reform occurred during 2019 and 2020. My hope is that I can bring into the house some education around firearms safety so that any future legislation is done properly and achieves the goal of keeping New Zealand safe. 

I believe our current legislation does not achieve that. I think that's due to inadequate, “specialised” people helping out with the legislative process. So that’s a big part of the reason why I'm here, but it's not the only reason. Looking at some of the things that have occurred throughout New Zealand over the last term of government, such as the possibility that we could be restricted in our speech with hate speech laws. At the end of the day, we need to be able to have freedom of speech and the ability to be able to debate with each other over issues without being scared of doing that.

What is your vision for Māori?

We keep getting told that we’re a team of five million and I think that we are. We need to get together and work together but in saying that, we also need to have equal opportunities. My goal is to ensure that we do have those equal opportunities. That’s what I’m going to strive for. 

What’s the best thing about being Māori?

One of the best things about being Māori is explaining our culture to those who don't understand in such a way that they appreciate and respect it.

Teanau Tuiono, 47, Green Party List MP

Tell me about the moment you knew you were going to be a part of this Parliament?

We had our election party in Palmerston North at Café Royale and someone was calling out the numbers. I was like: “Oh okay, well I’m at number 8, so as long as it doesn’t drop below six percent, I’ll get in.” Later in the night, it hadn’t dropped below what it was and it wasn’t even borderline for me so I just said “I’m in”. It was a pretty surreal night.

Why do you want to be in Parliament?

There’s a whole lot of issues. I’ve been working at the intersection of indigenous people’s rights and the environment throughout my whole adult life and also working in education. I’ve got a background in law, so I’ve worked internationally with different NGOs and the UN. My focus is on what’s the best thing we can do for indigenous people, especially those in the Pacific. I saw this as an opportunity to make a contribution.

What are you most nervous about heading into Parliament?

There’s a lot of different processes and stuff like that. We’ve been here at MP school learning what’s what and what’s not and all the grey things in the middle. I understand this place can be a very toxic environment so I’m trying to quickly learn how to navigate all of that. The unknown is what makes me nervous.

Elizabeth Kerekere far left

Elizabeth Kerekere, 54, Green Party List MP 

Why do you want to be in Parliament?

I think in the back of my mind, I've been heading this way for a long time. I've been an activist since I was 15 years old, so that’s basically 40 years. I've worked in many different organisations and set up several of my own. It just got to a point where I saw where change needed to happen to continue the work that I'm doing but it needed to happen here. I'm ready to call myself a politician. I haven't been for a long time, but I'm ready now.

Talk about how you came to be involved with activism.

I was around women who were doing consciousness-raising groups and I used to babysit their kids. They’d be talking about the black liberation movement and feminism and what did that look like for Māori women in terms of being indigenous people. I was listening and soaking things in and hearing a lot of different viewpoints.

The other thing is my mother signed me up at 15 to be the treasurer of the Māori Women’s Welfare League, so I was trained to take minutes and keep books at a very young age in a much more formal setting. I was pleased that I learned two different styles of creating change and working with the community alongside each other.

What’s the single most important issue for you heading into Parliament?

I would say it’s the ability for Māori, no matter what level of society they are - whether it be the head of a runanga battling with the council about the RMA [Resource Management Act] or a whānau trying to find somewhere to live or to feed their kids – it’s about them having the right to speak on issues that are affecting them. My focus has always been in rainbow communities, for our young people and people with disabilities.

Shanan Halbert, 37, Labour MP for Northcote

What’s your vision for Māori?

The primary issues for Māori are definitely education and employment but equally we’ve got to get some of our marae developments off the ground locally. Part of that is the ongoing work to increase community access at Awataha Marae [in Northcote, Auckland] and also building our second marae in the electorate, which is Uruamo Maranga Ake Marae, which is the Beach Haven based marae. 

What are you most excited about?

I'm very excited about my class of 2020. There's 16 of us new MPs at the moment and possibly more to join. In that, there's an incredibly diverse group of people, both ethnically, but also a strong group of mana wahine in there. Also people that come from a range of skill sets across health and education. My next-door neighbour (in Parliament) is a human rights lawyer. So the opportunity to work with my class. 

Arena Williams, 30, Labour MP for Manurewa

What makes you a good fit for Parliament?

On the day that I was first ushered into the debating chamber at the heart of Parliament House, I found a seat at the corner of the room where I could look around at all of the new faces who've come here to do the work that needs to be done for their communities. We all come from different walks of life and from different professional backgrounds - and that diversity of thought is what makes New Zealand's Parliament work so well. I was a commercial lawyer, a general counsel, and before that a probation officer, but I'm also a mum of two wee kids, a daughter of a live-in elderly parent, and a proud Māori woman. All of those experiences have made me a good listener and a quick learner, and that's what will make me good at this job.

What is your vision for Māori?

I hope for a New Zealand where every Māori kid grows up healthy, safe, and proud to be Māori. We are not there yet and there is work to be done at all levels to make sure that that is true within our lifetimes.

What are you most nervous about?

I'm nervous about the weight of the responsibility of representing our beautiful Manurewa community - there is so much need, and so many families for whom Covid-19 has unbearably stretched an already stressed household, and I will always work to deliver to those people who need us most.

Rawiri Waititi, 39, Māori Party MP for Waiariki

What qualifies you to be ‘the voice of Māori’?

What makes me qualified first of all is my whakapapa. This allows me to represent our people. We are the true voice of our people. For far too long we have allowed non-Māori, who are not qualified, to look after us. The qualification is by Māori, for Māori, to Māori.

What is your vision for Māori?

My vision for Māori is that they’re sitting in their rightful place as the indigenous peoples of this country, they’re not sitting at the back of the queue. If you look at the statistics, they don’t lie. We’ve got to start moving into a space where Māori are in an equitable space and an equal space.

What’s the best thing about being Māori?

Being Māori is like having superpowers. It gives us magic that nobody else has, because there’s nobody else in the world like us. We’ve got to stop allowing people to treat us like second class citizens in our own country. We must always be number one, in our minds, hearts, souls, and everything we do. It is time for us to take our rightful place as the indigenous peoples of this country and as tangata whenua.

And some words of advice from Kiri Allan, who was in their position three years ago, and is now beginning her second term in Parliament.

Kiri Allan, 36, Labour MP for East Coast

Tell us about your first experiences as an MP.

I remember the first day of school (the new MPs’ induction programme) three years ago and there’s a couple of waves of emotion that strike you. Of course you’re quite exhilarated, coming off the back of a really lengthy campaign and all of a sudden, you're down there in Parliament in a completely different environment than what you're probably used to. So, there's that excitement and nervousness that comes with anything new and then shortly thereafter, is this incredible wave of responsibility that you feel wash over.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome during your first term?

There are a whole lot of new requirements that come with your role and a number of responsibilities. There are huge learnings, and everybody approaches the role differently. It's a very complex environment to operate in, and one where can you spend a lot of your time traveling… So managing that and your family. Also, the role never ceases, because there's always something for you to do out there in the community, and to translate that back in terms of your advocacy here in Wellington. There are layers to the job, there's layers to the role.

What advice would you give to new MPs?

The big piece of advice that I've given to everybody starting out this week, is just to really breathe through your nose and embrace the experience. You only get to do this once and you know, give yourself some time to get used to the role and the nature of the role. It's an incredible privilege to serve your community, and to have the faith and trust of your constituents.