National MP Stuart Smith: Demand the Debate, Aotearoa or New Zealand

Opinion 14/07/2021

OPINION: Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith discusses how whether Kiwis are for change or against it, the most important thing is that we get to discuss it.

There is no doubt that the Māori language has a significant place in New Zealand. I like using Māori place names and I am an enthusiastic student of te reo. I take regular classes, as is my individual choice, but I might add my ability does not match my enthusiasm.

However, I am well aware that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for learning languages nor sees the role of te reo exactly as I do.

In the past few months, there has been an increasing spotlight placed on significant changes to how our Government enacts the Crown responsibility to uphold the Treaty of Waitangi. 

While there are those who vehemently support the notion of co-governance and, of course, those who oppose it, it is my opinion that a lot of New Zealanders fall into a third group. This group are more concerned with the lack of transparency from the Government in implementing co-governance policies without consultation or engagement with the whole of New Zealand. 

National Party Leader Judith Collins has been labelled a racist by the Māori Party for bringing this conversation to the table and inviting Kiwis to have their say on these matters. 

My view is that asking legitimate questions about the future of our country is not racist. Parliamentarians are voted in by the people and work for the people. If we sit back, don’t ask questions, and let the Government advance what are pretty radical changes, without advocating for adequate consultation, then we are not doing our jobs properly.

There is a particular change that, while seemingly nominal, has sparked some controversy; the de facto changing of New Zealand’s name to Aotearoa New Zealand by the Government and in the media. 

Now, I am not seeking to make a judgement call about whether we should change our name or not. That is neither here nor there. I am simply giving voice to the argument that perhaps before the shift began to be put in motion, New Zealanders themselves should have been consulted.

It is presumptuous and disrespectful to make a decision of such cultural importance for the country without engaging all who live there.

Sir John Key had the courage to stand by his convictions and let New Zealanders decide whether we should change our flag. No matter where you stood on the issue, you still had the opportunity to have a say. Sir John lost that debate when New Zealand voted to retain the existing flag and he accepted this verdict.

Arguably changing the name of the country is even more significant than changing the flag and it is my belief that the right thing for the Labour Government to do is to advance an open conversation on this.

For some people, for example those who have represented or fought for New Zealand, there is a very strong connection with our existing name. For others, the te reo name Aotearoa holds greater significance. As I see it, there is no right or wrong perspective. However, it is wrong for a public service and Government to decide a way forward with no regard for how New Zealanders think or feel about it. 

National have launched a campaign to ‘Demand the Debate’ on a number of significant issues the Government have progressed without consulting the public including He Puapua and ute taxes. We believe that this Labour Government has grown arrogant and are forgetting that a parliamentary majority is not a mandate to fulfil their ideological wishlist.

The oped was written by National MP Stuart Smith. Stuart comes from a Canterbury family that were fifth generation sheep & deer farmers. He is married to Julie and father to three adult children.

Stuart and Julie moved to Marlborough in 1994 and began growing grapes. In 1996 they established their own wine label and Stuart became interested in the wider Viticulture industry. He had an early involvement with the Marlborough Grape Growers Association.

Since then he has held several local and national roles including being President of the New Zealand Grape Growers Council and Chair of New Zealand Winegrowers. He was subsequently inducted as a Fellow of the New Zealand Winegrowers Board for services to the industry. He is a member of the New Zealand Institute of Directors.

In 2014, Stuart entered Parliament winning with a majority of around 11,000 votes. He is the National Party spokesperson for Climate Change and Viticulture.

National MP Stuart Smith