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Source: New Zealand Parliament

6pm to 7.30pm

Greetings, Office of the Clerk, Parliamentary Service,

Tihei mauri ora

Tuia ki runga

Tuia ki raro

Tuia ki roto

Tuia ki waho

Tuia te here tangata

Ka rongo te po, ka rongo te ao

E ngā mana, e nga reo,

E ngā karanga maha e huihui nei, tēnā tātou katoa.


Behold the breath of life

Fasten above

Bind below

Unite from within

Unify the outer

Unify the strand of man

Listen constantly night and day

To those gathered here

From diverse backgrounds,

I greet you all

Māori language in the House of Representatives has been an enduring element of New Zealand democracy since the first four Māori MPs were elected in 1868. At that time, Te Arawa chief, Pōkiha Taranui questioned the point of “our chiefs being sent into the Pākehā parliament if they can’t understand the language of the Pākehā.”

They were provided with sequential interpretation of English into Te Reo Māori and, as required, Te Reo Māori into English.

Now, 142 years later, simultaneous interpretation on a permanent basis is being introduced into the House allowing for seamless interpretation of Te Reo Maori into English.

From today whenever a member speaks in Te Reo Māori, simultaneous interpretation into English will be provided. This brings to fruition the Standing Orders Committee recommendation in 2008 that simultaneous interpretation be introduced to the House in either language without waiting for an interpretation to be given afterwards. This is expected to improve the flow of debate in the House.

Members will listen via earpieces provided at their seats. Gallery visitors can ask the attendants for a receiver and earpiece.

Viewers of Parliament TV will have a choice of audio with the live television coverage. They will be able to hear whatever is spoken in the House, either English or Māori, or they can hear “English only.”

I am told it will be seamless as a flick of a switch which will divert the audio stream from the member speaking in the House in Te Reo Māori to the interpreter working in a specially equipped interpreter’s booth in a studio adjacent to the House.

For most New Zealanders it will be a new experience as they choose a preferred audio stream while watching television. I am told the process of choosing the audio stream is going to test many less accomplished users of the remote controls like me, but will be achievable by pushing enough buttons – or even get your 10-year-old to do it for you!

This achievement is a tribute to the work of the Office of the Clerk, Clerk Assistant (Reporting Services), Wynne Price and her team including project manager and Senior Parliamentary Officer (Broadcasting) Carol Rankin, Te Kaiwhakahaere – Nga Ratonga Reo Māori, Wīremu Haunui and his team, technical staff, Parliamentary Service, and all those who have worked with them to make this happen. There have been many hours of negotiation and discussion with the providers of various services to accommodate this modernisation of Parliament’s interpretation services.

Development of Māori Language services in the House since 1997 has been rapid beginning with Wīremu who was then a part-time interpreter on contract in the chamber. In 2000 a simultaneous interpretation service in Māui Tikitiki-a-Taranga was provided and in 2004 a Kaiwhakamārama Reo was appointed. By last year, there were four staff engaged in a range of interpretation, transcription and translation services.

The spur for Te Reo Māori was the ruling by Sir Douglas Kidd, who ruled that,” when a member speaks in Māori that member does so as of right.” (1997, Vol. 562. p. 3192. Kidd)

Timing for a speaker on the floor of the House is strictly controlled, and Sir Douglas Kidd acknowledged that time was an issue when interpreting Māori into English. He decided the interpretation was for the benefit of members who do not understand Māori. He then also ruled that what ever time is allowed by Standing Orders for a particular type of speech in Māori, additional time would be allowed for interpretation.

Simultaneous interpretation means the allowance of time for interpretation within the House is unlikely to be factor in the future.

I also wish to note that the simultaneous interpretation does not form part of the official record of House proceedings. It is a service provided to the House to facilitate debate. A considered, written translation will appear in the published Hansard as the official record.

The simultaneous interpretation service now available is further recognition of the place of the Māori language in Parliament and the status of Te Reo Māori as an official language of New Zealand.

Some of you might like to look at the timeline displayed here in the Grand Hall which summarises the place of the Māori language in Parliament over a full 140 years or more.

From 1868 until 1920 Parliament had interpreters in the House.

The first interpreter was E.W. Puckey, from the Native Department who began his duties on 4 August 1868. He entered the chamber and sat between two of the new Māori MPs following a motion passed in the House that: “pending the consideration of permanent arrangements for the interpretation of Māori speeches, Mr Speaker be requested to summon the interpreter of the House to interpret for the Māori members.”

It is fair to say that the interpreters were absolutely vital to the functioning of the Māori MPs in those days. Most of them had a rudimentary grasp of English at best until the turn of the twentieth century.

By the 1880s the interpreters’ duties (two in the House of Representatives and one in the Legislative Council) also included translating bills and parliamentary papers into Māori, translating hundreds of petitions from Māori, and attending the Māori Affairs Committee.

By the turn of the twentieth century younger Māori members were well educated and spoke English well. Continued employment of interpreters became an issue.

In 1913 Apirana Ngata attempted to speak in Māori without an interpreter present in order to obstruct business. Speaker Lang ruled that the Māori MPs should speak in English if they were able to. This ruling established expectations for much of the twentieth century.

Employment of an interpreter lapsed from 1920. In following years Māori MPs were able to speak briefly in Māori if they themselves provided a sequential interpretation.

Speaker Lang’s ruling of 1913 remained in place into the 1980s but some flexibility was evident. Tapihana Paraire ‘Dobbie’ Paikea (Northern Maori, 1943-63) spoke in Māori – to much mirth from his fellow members even though his interpretation gave no indication why. Oddly, this often occurred on Fridays (then a sitting day). He was ingeniously broadcasting through the radio details to his wife about his impending return home and other ‘marital intimacies’!

This is not to encourage similar practices today. The Speaker must always be vigilant to ensure that speaking in the House is for its proper purpose!

By the 1990s the demand to speak Māori was growing. In 1990 Koro Wētere as Minister replied to questions in Māori and refused to provide an interpretation. On becoming Speaker in 1993 Peter Tapsell sang a waiata and suggested that the occasional use of Māori for formal matters would be appropriate.

With the reintroduction of interpreters and Māori language services in the last 10 or 15 years, the Māori language has become more commonplace in the chamber.

Parliament continues to recognise the importance of Te Reo Māori to New Zealand’s political affairs, society and culture. The introduction of simultaneous interpretation is evidence of that commitment.

I am pleased to now officially launch the simultaneous interpretation service for the House of Representatives.