Breach of contentious powhiri protocol

Last updated 13:35 22/01/2014

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A powhiri welcoming 250 world leaders to Parliament this morning saw a minor breach of protocol with a female Australian politician placed in the front row with the men.

Speaker David Carter is hosting the Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers this week, a meeting which includes representatives from over 60 Commonwealth nations.

They were welcomed onto Parliament with a powhiri.

While current protocol frowns upon women sitting in the front of the paepae, Australian Speaker Bronwyn Bishop was seated there this morning.

A spokeswoman for Carter said Bishop was invited to sit in the front row during the powhiri and speeches as a member of the Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth Standing Committee (CSPOC).

There was an agreement that all CSPOC Standing Committee members would sit in the front row, she said.

The spokeswoman pointed to the review of the protocols governing powhiri at Parliament ordered by Carter last year.

"Some opportunities to trial potential solutions (such as that which occurred this morning) may arise as we work towards an appropriate outcome."

The protocol governing powhiri at Parliament have been placed under scrutiny recently, with Carter saying customs such as banning women from sitting in the front row with men were outdated.

The review was prompted last year after Labour MPs Annette King and Maryan Street were asked to leave their seats in the front row during a powhiri at Parliament.

Local iwi Te Atiawa, who developed the protocol in consultation with other iwi 15 years ago, have said it should not be changed.

But Te Atiawa spokesman Morrie Love said the rules were more relaxed for visiting parties and was not concerned by Bishop's placement though it was "certainly something that should be discussed".

Exceptions could be made for visiting women whose roles dictated they should sit in the front.

"If they're a guest and they're part of the official party then that wouldn't be unusual."

Tradition should be stuck to on the New Zealand side, however with the front row also restricted to Maori speakers.

Powhiri were a tradition and should be done correctly, he said.

The Maori Party declined to comment but co-leader Tariana Turia has also rejected the need for changes to the protocol.

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