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Maori protesters march as New Zealand MPs sworn in

Ben McKay -

Thousands of people have marched across New Zealand to protest the new government's policies for Maori, signalling the start of clashes over the country's national identity which could define Chris Luxon's coalition.

On Tuesday, newly elected members took their places in the 54th parliament with a swearing-in ceremony in Wellington.

Outside parliament, there were peaceful demonstrations, led by the Maori Party, to resist "anti-Maori" policies of the conservative coalition.

The National party-led government is supporting a review of the Treaty of Waitangi, with a view to remaking how the foundational document signed in 1840 affects laws, and with it, modern-day society.

It has ordered a crackdown of Maori language use by public authorities, to disestablish the Maori Health Authority, and to strip powers from the Waitangi Tribunal, a standing commission of inquiry into treaty breaches.

"Our protest ... was an activation of our people," NZ Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waiti says. (Ben McKay/AAP PHOTOS)

Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi believes the coalition's policy platform will take NZ "back to the 1800s" and "white-wash Aotearoa" by erasing Maori rights.

"Our protest this morning was an activation of our people," he said, in support of "the very document that allows us to live here freely".

The protest was timed to coincide with the Commission Opening of Parliament, when the successful MPs at the October election were sworn in.

All MPs are required to swear an oath or affirmation to King Charles III to take their seats, a practice that rankles many left-leaning lawmakers.

"It's a bit like Harry Potter," University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis told Radio NZ.

"You have to say the exact words to magically be allowed to sit in the House."

Takuta Ferris, the first Maori Party MP invited to recite his affirmation, instead stood in his place, offering an informal pledge to Maori tikanga (practices), to mokopuna (grandchildren), and to the treaty.

Clad in a Maori headrest, Mr Ferris then performed a haka on his way across the chamber, taking the formal affirmation that confirmed his seat in the chamber.

Other Maori Party MPs recited a similar informal oath.

"It brings some real character to the house. We've got to always be provocative and push back," co-leader Debbie Ngarewa Packer said.

"No one was offended ... there is a way to do this. It's with respect, and represents our values."

Mr Waititi downplayed a slight departure from the slated script, when he appeared to say 'harehare' rather than 'hare', for Charles, which could be understood as King Scab.

"I wouldn't ever call him that ... harehare is another name for Charles," he said.

The Maori Party won only 3.1 per cent of the vote but returned six MPs after dislodging Labour MPs from electorates dedicated to New Zealand's indigenous people.

The party were behind Tuesday morning's protests in about a dozen cities and towns, which drew a few thousand.

Police said two people were arrested, with commuters annoyed by traffic delays, particularly in Auckland.

The Maori Party has promised future actions, with Waitangi Day in February likely to be a flashpoint.

ACT leader David Seymour said the protests disrespected the election outcome and were "divisive theatrics".

"New Zealanders elected a government that will treat people equally, regardless of their race ... it's a sad day when a political party is protesting equal rights," he said.

Mr Luxon said his government was "deeply committed to improving outcomes for Maori and non-Maori", criticising the Labour government's record.

"In terms of participation on welfare, on social state house waitlists, education, health care, all of those things have gone backwards," he said.

Mr Luxon asked for an open mind when assessing his administration.

"We've only been in government a week," he said.

"People may project onto us a whole range of things, and me personally.

"My job is to model out what I want to see in this country: more unity, everyone doing well, and improved outcomes.

"Maori have done very well in National-led governments in the past, and they're going to continue to do well."

Concluding Tuesday's formalities, National MP Gerry Brownlee, first elected in 1996, was unopposed as Speaker.

Ben McKay - AAP


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