New Speaker of the House caught in electorate dilemma

By Stefan Dimitrof

Te Tai Hauāuru MP Adrian Rūrawhe is preparing to become the Speaker of the House in August when Trevor Mallard steps down.

But the MP admits he faces a problem only one of his predecessors has had before.

That was Sir Lockwood Smith who was an electorate MP when he was made Speaker. He continued to work at both his electorate and Speaker duties until the end of that parliamentary term before switching to his party's list in the following terms.

The Speaker is the highest authority of the House of Representatives and the job includes taking a neutral approach to the parties, disciplining MPs, making sure rules are upheld in the debating chamber, and acting as the landlord for Parliament Buildings.

Rūrawhe says he will be talking to his constituency committee and to his party (Labour) about the situation.

"There is no facility for me to exit during this term so I am fully committed to Te Tai Hauāuru right up to the next election.

"I don't have any other option other than to stay or otherwise it would force a by-election, so I would expect in the next few months I will firm up that position but out of respect to my committee, its members deserve to be consulted on the matter."

Rūrawhe said he was fortunate to be the deputy speaker so had experienced as acting Speaker over a dozen of what he considered the most difficult part of the job: Question Time.

“It has been quite an honour to do that.”

Rūrawhe said that the Speaker role has its own challenges but he is willing to step up and “have a go”.

'Getting the balance right'

The fluent speaker of te reo Māori said he had seen the use of te reo Māori increase in the chamber during his time, which was heartening. Most new MPs had started their maiden speeches with some Māori.

"I think it's very normal. I like to use te reo Māori in a way that enhances the mana of the House."

Rūrawhe said he would find some aspects of the position challenging.

“Getting the balance right between allowing the opposition to hold the government to account and expecting the government to be accountable is critically important.

“In that situation, you have to err on the side of the opposition to be able to hold the government to account.

“The government has the power, and in my role, I must uphold those traditions of the House; it’s a challenge because you always seem to upset at least half the House.”

The great-grandson of Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana, who founded the largest Māori church in Aotearoa, Rūrawhe is also following in the footsteps of Sir Peter Tapsell, the first Māori Speaker in 1993, and says they are "really big" footsteps to fill.

He said the Speaker's role also incorporated chairing three select committees as well as the Parliamentary Service Commission. There were also some unique tasks such as the Speaker being responsible for the health and safety of everybody in the parliament precinct.