Parliament's Speaker, David Carter, has sought a review of Maori protocols at Parliament after two senior women MPs were asked to move from the front row for a welcome ceremony to visitors.

He said he wanted to "modernise" the protocols. "Parliament needs a protocol that is modern and acceptable to a diversified Parliament."

Parliament's longest serving woman MP Annette King and her Labour colleague Maryan Street were asked to move from the front bench during a powhiri at the start of the Youth Parliament several months ago.

That prompted the Speaker to begin a process to review protocols that were put in place 15 years ago with the oversight of the Wellington iwi, Te Atiawa.


The powhiri for the Youth Parliament was held in Parliament's Grand Hall. In accordance with the kawa (protocol) that has operated at Parliament, most of those taking part were told in advance that women would not be sitting in the front row.

Ms King and Ms Street came in late and when they sat on the front row alongside the Speaker, they were asked to shift by Kura Moeahu, who assists Parliament's kaumatua, Rose White-Tahuparae.

"They were asked to move and I thought that was embarrassing to them," Mr Carter told the Herald.

He had had feedback from other MPs.

"I have initiated the discussions with Te Atiawa and I haven't had feedback from those discussions. But the matter won't rest. I intend to follow it up in the New Year. I want Te Atiawa to talk to other iwi so that we can modernise protocol but do it in a way that respects Maori tradition," Mr Carter said.

Rose White-Tahuparae is producing a paper on protocols as a basis for discussion in 2014.

The existing protocols were developed about 15 years ago by Te Atiawa which then consulted other iwi around the country.

"I think Parliament needs to be in a position where it actually over time develops its own protocol under guidance from Te Atiawa and other iwi," Mr Carter said.


Before Helen Clark became Prime Minister, she was reduced to tears in Te Tii Marae at Waitangi in 1998 when she was berated by Titewhai Harawira for being allowed to speak in the wharenui.

Different marae have different kawa for speaking, including the order of speeches and whether all the hosts go first or they alternate with visitors.

Only a minority allow women to speak. However, some institutions, such as university marae or government departments, may develop their own protocols rather than adopting the kawa of the local iwi.