Parliament's oath of allegiance has become a source of some contention over the years. 

More than seven weeks after the general election, the 54th New Zealand Parliament officially opened today.

Part of that ceremony requires each MP to swear an oath of allegiance to the British monarch as New Zealand’s head of state. 

But not every MP is comfortable swearing an oath to the King or Queen. 

This was highlighted by Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi this morning when he told Breakfast: “I find it very difficult to do that.”

So why do it?

By law, no MP is allowed to sit or vote in the House or serve on a select committee until they have taken the oath of allegiance or an affirmation, which has the same legal effect as the oath.

As Otago University professor Andrew Geddis told RNZ today: “It’s a bit like Harry Potter, you have to say the exact words to magically be allowed to sit in the House.”

The oath and affirmation can both be made in English or te reo Māori. The first MP to make an affirmation in te reo was Tariana Turia in 2004.

The current wording of the oath of allegiance is:

"I, [name], swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King Charles the Third, His heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God."

"Ko ahau, ko [name] e oati ana ka noho pūmau taku pono ki a Kīngi Tiāre te Tuatoru me tōna kāhui whakaheke, e ai ki te ture. Ko te Atua nei hoki taku pou."

MPs can choose to make an affirmation instead. An affirmation is usually taken to avoid the religious element of an oath. It is worded slightly different and does not have “So help me God” at the end. 

MPs are allowed to immediately repeat their oath or affirmation in another language if they want to. 

Members then sign a document with the words of the oath or affirmation they have made. 

Allegiance to the Treaty?

You may have noticed the oath and affirmation text currently reference the Crown and not its partner in the Treaty of Waitangi, the country’s founding document.

This point has been raised by several MPs over the years.

Tariana Turia pushed for an alternative to the oath that included a reference to the Treaty when she was still a Labour MP back in 1999.

Hone Harawira attempted to pledge his allegiance to the Treaty instead of Queen Elizabeth II when he returned to parliament as leader of the Mana Party in 2011. He was promptly removed from the House. 

He returned to the debating chamber several weeks later and made the oath in te reo. 

Te Pāti Māori has been pushing to change the oath of allegiance since the party was returned to parliament in 2020.

Rawiri Waititi performed a haka before taking the oath then. At the time, he said he was not against the Queen and if the oath also included te Tiriti o Waitangi “we would have no problem”.

“But it’s very unfair at this particular time to be swearing an oath to one partner of that Tiriti.”

This time around, Waititi and his co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer brought four other MPs with them. 

Today, each MP from Te Pāti Māori first swore allegiance to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and to their mokopuna and whenua before stepping forward to take the official oath. 

In a statement on Friday, the party said swearing the oath was “symbolic of the colonial power that Parliament places above the mana of tangata whenua, and the constraints that are placed on Māori MPs representing their people”.

“We do not consent, we do not surrender, we do not cede, we do not submit; we, the indigenous, are rising,” it said.

“We do not buy into the colonial fictions this House is built upon.”


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