Friday, 6 April 2012

A competent, but controversial Gentleman, Sir Peter Tapsell

A great New Zealander died today. Sir Peter Tapsell, the first Maori Speaker of Parliament, has died. He was 82.

I met Sir Peter a few times and his daughter was a student of mine when I was Director at the New Zealand Outward Bound School. For many young New Zealanders struggling with their identity as who we were as New Zealanders, Peter had an interesting perspective we listened to. Being a great rugby player, we even listened more.

The MP for Eastern Maori for 15 years, he held Cabinet posts in the Lange Labour Government of the 1980s and was previously an orthopaedic surgeon.

A member of Te Arawa, he was a talented sportsman in his younger years and was vice-captain of the 1954 Maori All Blacks.

Peter Tapsell was born on 21 January 1930 in Rotorua, educated at the Otago Medical School and won a scholarship to the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh.

In 1961, he returned to Rotorua and worked in orthopaedics for 20 years. In 1968, he was awarded an MBE for his services to the community.

Sir Peter served as the town's deputy mayor before being elected as the Labour MP for Eastern Maori in 1981. He became a Cabinet minister in 1984 and held several portfolios, including Police, Defence and Internal Affairs.

Historic appointment

In 1993, with Labour again in opposition, Peter Tapsell was a surprise choice as Speaker of the House.

The appointment was historic - he was the first Maori to be made Speaker, the first from an opposition party and the last under the First-Past-the-Post electoral system.

In an interview with Radio New Zealand about that time, Sir Peter said he wanted to improve the standard of debate and behaviour in the House.

"I hope we will have more broad debate, more open debate, but generally debate - rather than simply a competent role of trying to point-score.

"And, of course, I think the public are quite right - the behaviour in Parliament in the last few years, has deteriorated markedly and I hope it will be improved."

Controversial views

Knighted in 1997, Sir Peter was known for his immaculate suits and courtly behaviour, but sometimes ran into trouble with his plainly expressed views, such as when he held women responsible, as well as men, when they were raped.

He was often critical of Maori, saying the young were not living up to their responsibilities and accusing their elders of failing to show them the right way to live.

"Until we can improve the standards of behaviour in our own generation ... better standards of honesty, better standards of behaviour generally, then we are wasting our time spending all that money on those little children.

"They aren't going to benefit from that at all; they're going to go away from it recalcitrant and they're going to go away from it disappointed and disheartened."

However, he also believed Maori should be a core subject in schools so that New Zealand could grow toward developing a national culture.

When he lost his seat in 1996 in the first election under the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system, Sir Peter was honoured at a reception in Rotorua and described as the pride of Te Arawa. He retired to his farm near Ruatoria.

Sir Peter Tapsell is survived by his four children. His wife, Margaret, is deceased. For me, Sir Peter was a role model, and helped me understand more clearly Pakeha, Moari relationships.





42 comments:

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
An interesting man to be sure. Most of the comments I am seeing on the pages of Maori friends on FB are people recalling his days as a doctor and his undying generosity. From a lot of the younger brilliant Maori minds I have been meeting comes the whole questioning of why it is Maori only become "successful" and given titles, ect., when they become successful in the colonizers world and encourage other Maori to do so as well - almost a continuation of colonization in silently negating the principles of Tino rangatriatanga. It is very interesting meeting and absorbing the view points of these young minds, or the older brilliant Maori minds outside the system, such as Moana Jackson, Mereama Pittman, Mike Smith, Tame Iti, and so on. The approach is far different that that of Peter Tapsell and of fighting from within, and of course where the system then brands the above as "radicals" and "seperatists", ect.. instead of the labels of colonization like Sir or Dame. A lot to get my head around in relationship to my own place here in Aotearoa. In any case, cheers for the memeories and resume on a good man. Condolences to his family and those who knew him.
Rangimarie,
Robb

Bob McKerrow said...

Certainly a generous man. Strange, at the time I knew him I was living at Anakiwa and so was Tama Iti. Our children went to Linkwater school. So discussions with Tama, the great Ngati Kuia leader Turi Elkington and Turoa Royal, Principla of Wellington College were people who helped me understand what it is to be Pakeha with alittle Maori. Tama is a great guy, and so was Sir Peter. The age old question of whether you can change the system from within or externally, has its pros andcons. We need both. Sir Aparini Ngata brought respectability to Maori and showed they were equal, and not a 'heathen race' as the colonial hyms proclaim. Great that you are understanding Maoritanga, Manaakitanga through your Maori friends. Arohanui, Ropate.

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