Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Front row faux pas at powhiri

Bronwyn Bishop was accidentally placed among the men at the front during the powhiri. Photo / Getty Images
Bronwyn Bishop was accidentally placed among the men at the front during the powhiri. Photo / Getty Images

A senior Australian politician has brushed off her minor breach of Maori protocol at the opening of a conference at Parliament, where she was placed in a male-only section.

Women do not usually sit in the paepae (front row) for Maori ceremonies. But at the opening of the Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth yesterday, Australian Speaker of the House of Representatives Bronwyn Bishop was accidentally placed among the men at the front during the powhiri.

The senior politician in Tony Abbott's Liberal Party said she was not bothered by the faux pas.

"I am a member of the Standing Committee and I was told that that was where I was to sit and I did. I'll simply say that I was a good guest and sat where I was told."

Ms Bishop was not moved from her seat.

Last year, Labour MPs Annette King and Maryan Street were asked to move from the paepae during a powhiri, an incident that prompted Speaker David Carter to call for a review and more modern kawa (protocols).

Mr Carter's review has proved divisive, with Wellington iwi Te Atiawa and Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia staunchly opposing a change.

Others believed that the protocols undermined women's rights and needed to be modernised.

Ms Bishop is the third woman Speaker in Australia, and belongs to a party that currently has just one female minister in the Cabinet.

She said she was not disappointed to miss out on a ministerial position in Mr Abbott's Government despite her 20 years' experience as a politician.

"We've got other (women) ministers who are not in Cabinet and I expect there'll be changes over time. I've never been someone who has been keen on quotas and I think we've got a lot of talent on our backbench and it will come through."

A third of New Zealand MPs are women, and there are six in the Cabinet of 20.

Local gender ratios were overshadowed by Rwanda, represented at the conference by Speaker of the Lower House Donatille Mukabalisa. Rwanda's Lower House has the highest percentage of female politicians in the world, at 64 per cent.

- NZ Herald

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