Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Pasifika MPs weigh in on tie debate

Pasifika MP's weigh in on tie debate

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Alice Lolohea | Reporter/Director/Videographer

Addressing Parliament in his maiden speech last year, Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi lifted the red tie hanging from his neck into the air, saying in te reo, “Take the noose from around my neck so that I may sing my song.” This week, when Waititi wore a hei-tiki in place of a tie, Speaker Trevor Mallard refused to allow Waititi to ask questions and subsequently booted him from the House.

Waititi’s stand against the wearing of the “colonial noose” has been sung around the world, with many international publications documenting the clothing conflict between Waititi and Mallard. After hearing a submission from Te Paati Māori and meeting with the Standing Orders committee, Mallard delivered his verdict: “The committee did not reach a consensus but the majority of the committee was in favour of removing the requirement for ties to form part of ‘appropriate business attire’ for males,” he said.

It’s a win for Waititi and for Indigenous MPs. But it’s not the first time cultural attire has been brought into question. In 2017, members of the Pacific Youth Leadership and Transformation Council (PYLAT) made recommendations to the Standing Orders Committee requesting that the Parliamentary dress code better reflect the diversity of Aotearoa.

Speaking to the Morning Report in 2017, PYLAT Chair Josiah Tualamali’i said he was required to wear a jacket over his formal Pacific attire when seated in the Speaker’s gallery.

“We were already dressed formally – it seems strange that we have to adopt something else for it to be considered formal,” said Tualamali’i.

Labour MP's Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki, Aupito Su'a WIlliam Sio and Poto Williams pose for a photo inside Parliament.
Labour MP’s Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki, Aupito Su’a WIlliam Sio and Poto Williams pose for a photo in their cultural attire inside Parliament.  PHOTO // Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Labour MP Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki says the recommendations made by PYLAT led the way for her to able to wear her ta’ovala inside Parliament. “Their voices were heard and rules [changed].  I’m grateful for their leadership.”

“Wearing my Tongan attire is about Love. My expression of love of my ancestors and my birth country Tonga. My heart warms in confidence knowing that I’m enveloped with love, spirituality and responsibility to be respectful. My identity is not just for special occasions; it’s my always.”

Kanongata’a-Suisuiki’s fellow Labour MPs were asked whether they would continue to wear ties in Parliament. Labour Party MP Kris Fa’afoi told 1 News he would continue to wear a tie for the rest of his parliamentary career because “that’s what my mum expects of me”.

Aupito Su’a William Sio will also continue to wear his. “I believe there is an expectation in Pacific thinking that their leaders should dress formally and wear ties to show their respect for the office of being a Member of Parliament, and maintain mana in the political world, as their representative.”

“My cultural attire of wearing my lavalava and revealing my ceremonial full-body tatau would not work on a cold Wellington winter’s day in Parliament, but the tie and jacket is fit for purpose. That does not mean that I will not wear a ceremonial costume into the House, but it has to have a meaning and be practical,” says Aupito.

Labour MP Kris Fa'afoi and Green MP Teanau Tuiono
(L-R) Labour MP Kris Fa’afoi says he will continue to wear a tie to Parliament. Green Party MP Teanau Tuiono says “Formal attire or cultural attire means different things to different people, so we need to be embracing of that.”  PHOTOS // RNZ

In response to Fa’afoi and Aupito’s comments, Green Party MP Teanau Tuiono says, “Everybody is coming from a different place and a different context. My mother texted me and went, ‘Well, your tie was crooked anyway when I saw you on TV.'”

Tuiono supported Rawiri Waititi’s decision to wear a hei-tiki in place of a tie. “His hei-tiki was a lot more beautiful and actually raised the standard of dress within Parliament – a lot better than the ties I was wearing. Most of my ties actually came from the op shops. My first week here I didn’t actually own a tie,” says Tuiono.

“The argument that he put forward was a very persuasive one about cultural attire and what that actually means in terms of raising the standard of dress actually in the house, so good on him.”

“It’s 2021. Formal attire or cultural attire means different things to different people, so we need to be embracing of that. The point of the House of Representatives is that it needs to represent the people, so we might as well look as ourselves as opposed to dressing like overpaid accountants, or underpaid accountants depending on how you want to put it. So I was happy to see the ties go.”

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