“This Government has bought into a belief system where a person’s membership of a group, whether ethnic or identity, is more important than the common humanity that unites all people together.”
DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I rise on behalf of ACT in opposition to this motion. I think it’s extremely important to set out for people who may be watching—for people who may wisely not have spent their life or much of it following parliamentary procedure. It’s important for people watching to just explain what’s actually happening here and why it’s important. This Parliament has passed many, many laws, and many of them, as the Minister just pointed out in his first reason for a new committee, have been very important. It goes without saying that Parliament passes laws that are important, some more important than others, but very important. The reason that he wants a totally different committee from the Health Committee to consider the health bill, as he just said, is that this bill is about meeting Treaty requirements, and it seems to follow that somehow it will not be possible for the current Health Committee to consider the legislation and think through the issues.
So just to be clear, the Minister is asking Parliament to form a new committee to consider a piece of health legislation that is not the Health Committee because the legislation is about meeting Treaty obligations. Well, a lot of people thought it was about healthcare, but he says it’s about Treaty obligations. And he wants to form a new Health Committee, or a Pae Ora Legislation Committee, actually, to consider this legislation, and it’s going to have some members from the Māori Affairs Committee and some members from the Health Committee. Why was it not possible for the Health Committee—the committee that has been appointed by Parliament to consider health matters—to do it? And this is what comes down to. They are saying that if you’re not Māori, you maybe aren’t qualified to think about this Pae Ora bill. And the only way that it can be properly considered is if they decide to have a new committee that has more Māori people on it, because they have insights that other people don’t.
I wanted to get up and talk about this because it’s just a procedural motion. Forming a new committee is not usually an extraordinary thing. It’s been done before. For example, it was done for the Abortion Legislation Bill. But I’m not aware that there’s been a committee formed in this House because it was thought that some elected representatives were incapable of dealing with some matters based on their ethnic background. That’s what they seem to be saying. This is monumental, because the background of this country, New Zealand, is that people have come from all different places for all different reasons, coming towards one thing: they wanted opportunity. They wanted common humanity. They wanted the chance for tomorrow to be better than today and to be born free and equal. Some people came to get away from the feudalism, from the class system of England that evolved in order to have an egalitarian society where people are born free and equal and have opportunity. People have come here from the People’s Republic of China to get away from the oppressive CCP regime. People have come to this country from India to get away from the remnants of the caste system.
Mr Speaker says the debate is narrower than that—I don’t think it is. I think the fact is that today, this Government is saying that there are more important things than the common humanity, that some MPs are more equal than others, that we have to have a special committee to consider an issue relating to Treaty issues because the people on the Health Committee, because of their demographics, can’t do it. That’s what they’re saying. And where they’re taking us within the confines of this Parliament and its procedures is a massive shift. It’s what Elizabeth Rata from the University of Auckland says is the difference between a nation state filled with citizens born free and equal on the one hand and an ethno-state where you’ve actually got to look up your family tree to find out what your political rights are on the other. That’s how significant this motion is.
I’d appeal to the people on the left. I’d appeal to, particularly, people on the old left, who remember a time when progressive politics in New Zealand was about fighting for our common humanity; fighting for a time, fighting for an ideal that each person is bound by a common humanity that’s more important than any superficial difference between individuals. That’s what the old left used to be, but today the new left wants to make identity everything. It wants to commodify people into identities and it wants to say that your superficial characteristics give you insights and capabilities and perspectives more important than being a member of the human race and sharing that common humanity.
And the next reason we oppose this motion is, as if that’s not bad enough, the way that this Parliament operates is that it slowly accumulates a series of precedents. It gradually accumulates the idea that what happened last time is a justification for what happens next time, perhaps with a mild extension. Well, the fact of the matter is that if we go down this pathway and we start saying that, actually, some members are better qualified based on their demographic characteristics to address a matter than others, then we are going to find ourselves in a very poor place. We’re going to find ourselves in a place where some members are not equally capable, and therefore some people who elect some members don’t have equal political rights. This comes back to this simple idea of—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! Now the member will now come to the motion, not projections going forward. It is a narrow motion.
DAVID SEYMOUR: Well, thank you, Mr Speaker. But surely a reason to oppose a motion is concern for the precedents that it will set. I’m very much focused on the motion, but the effect it may have on Parliament and, actually, the effect it will have, because the precedent will be there, is surely—wouldn’t you agree, Mr Speaker?—relevant to this particular motion and the formation of this committee.
SPEAKER: If the member stays close to it.
DAVID SEYMOUR: Yeah, well I’m staying very close to it, Mr Speaker.
We need to preserve the ideas that another Labour Prime Minister went to Paris and signed up to. I’ll appeal to the old left, liberal traditions of the Labour Party not to do this. Once upon a time a Labour Party Prime Minister went to Paris and signed a UN agreement, and I completely agree with it. I think that it was about 1947 or 1948. The Prime Minister, I think, was Peter Fraser, and the agreement was the United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights. And that declaration begins that all people—it actually said all men, but I’m sure they meant all people—are born free and equal. This motion that this Government is passing through Parliament is pregnant with the assumption that all people are not free and equal; that some are more equal than others and that some are better able to consider how we get better healthcare, not based on the matters before them, not based on any particular expertise they may have, but based on background. There’s no other reason not to just send this to the perfectly capable Health Committee that considers every other matter in healthcare.
And I challenge the people on the other side to get up and defend this motion, because there are two ways that they can do it. They can either get up and say, “Yes, we believe that people aren’t born free and equal, that some people have a different perspective just based on their demographic background, and that those differences cannot be surmounted by thinking and learning.” If that’s their argument, that’s fine, but that’s very troubling. The other way is they could just be honest and dump this divisive motion. Thank you, Mr Speaker.