Kingitanga

At one level the ceremonies surrounding the death of the Maori Queen and appointment of her eldest son as successor seem quaint and irrelevant to modern day New Zealand.

The ceremonies themselves carry their own cultural importance within Maoridom and it’s easy for outside observers to be drawn into such impressive, remarkable events which, aside from the obvious cultural associations, also carry deep spiritual meaning and historical significance for many Maori.

Although it doesn’t have the longevity of our more familiar English monarchy, the Maori monarchy is at least distinctly New Zealand.

Like her English counterpart the Maori Queen’s role was to stay under the radar of public political debate. She didn’t take sides but apparently helped bring diverse opinions together and got people talking to each other. The only publicity was in the ceremonial roles she played on public occasions. For most New Zealanders she appeared to play only a figurehead role – not leadership in the traditional sense but perhaps in a cultural sense.

What is most important however is to recognise that the King movement arose not as a mimic of English royalty but from a grim and determined struggle by Maori to retain their land which in the 1850’s they were losing rapidly through dodgy deals, cynical manipulation and outright theft. Modern day land agents are angels by comparison with government agents of the day.

It had become clear shortly after the signing of the treaty that our most important and critical agreement which effectively established the right of Pakeha to be in New Zealand was being cynically abused and flouted outright by the Crown. Hone Heke (the first to sign the treaty) was in rebellion and chopping down the flagpole at Kororareka within a few years of the Treaty’s signing.

The same story was repeated around the country. Several large pan-tribal meetings were held and Maori recognised they needed to be unified in the face of relentless pakeha thirst for private ownership of land – Maori land.

The outcome was a ceremony in 1858 where Ngati Haua Chief Wiremu Tamihana (the “king maker”) crowned Potatau I as the first Maori King of a movement based in Waikato but with pan-tribal support and respect. Last week it was a direct descendent of Tamihana who crowned the new Maori king. Adding to the significance of 1858 is that this was the first year when the number of pakeha settlers finally outnumbered Maori. 

Struggle it was. Maori were called upon to renounce their king and Governor Grey prepared for war when they refused. Within a short time British Imperial troops marched on Waikato and in a series of battles culminating in the famous battle at Orakau Pa the King movement was beaten but not defeated. Maori defence of their land cost them millions of acres in confiscations. Waikato Maori, at the heart of the King movement lost most heavily. All the lush farmland from the Bombay hills to Hamilton was confiscated for example. They had resisted rather than stopped the seizure of their land.

The King movement has continued through till today but more as a symbol of Maori struggle rather than leading the struggle as it did in its formative years.

However possibly much more important than last week’s coronation was the call for establishment of a genuine pan-tribal Maori movement. Interestingly this call came from Sir Tipene O’Reagan from Ngai Tahu who perhaps have the least connection to the King movement. He asserts that existing Maori pan-tribal organisations – such as the New Zealand Maori Council – have been “domesticated” by the government and a new group should be discussed to spearhead inter-tribal debate and consultation with the Crown and the public.

Attempting to establish such pan-tribal movements is as old as the Maori King movement. After 1890 for example two separate attempts were made to establish Maori parliaments. The Maori King movement itself established the Kauhanganui (Great Council) which passed a lot of legislation but lacked the means to implement it. Unsurprisingly such was the lasting bitterness and resentment from the confiscation of Maori landand abuse of the Treaty that the council issued a proclamation for all Pakehas to leave New Zealand.

It was only in 1994 that the settlement of some of these grievances took place when Tainui accepted a minute percentage of what had been stolen from them.

The proposal for a new pan-tribal body is to be discussed in November at Pukawa under the auspices of Tuwharetoa. This time though the struggle will have a different focus. The place of Maori in negative social statistics is well cemented and we receive weekly reminders of this from all directions – with the sharpest example being the death of the Kahui twins. Tackling the root causes of Maori social deprivation will also mean linking up with other groups in similar low socio-economic traps.

It could be that the events at Ngaruawahia over the past two weeks provide a catalyst for a re-invigorated struggle by Maori for a place in the sun in the land of their birth. We should all applaud such a development.

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Medals first puts sport last

Sports funding agency SPARC is selling us a dummy.

Last week it announced its high performance strategy through to the London Olympic Games in 2012. The strategy involves investing substantial sums of money in just nine sports with the others left to pick up the crumbs.

In a crude, simplistic plan the allocation aims to get “New Zealand athletes and teams winning in events that matter to New Zealand”.

On this basis rugby, cricket and netball are “targeted” to win world championships by 2012 while swimming, rowing, sailing, triathlon, athletics and cycling will be expected to bring back at least 10 medals from the London Olympics.

These “winner” sports will get 70% of the $33 million available while sports like softball, hockey and rugby league will have to fight for the crumbs after the big nine have finished feasting.

SPARC Chief Executive Nick Hill said the egalitarian tradition whereby most sports were entitled to some taxpayer funding were over. In a truly worrying statement he said “We are behaving like a bank…where can we put the dollars to have the best chance of success?”

It’s the equivalent of a school putting all its resources into the top stream academic classes while those less able are left to flounder. It does happen but it’s as wrong in sport as it is in school.

 

Surely SPARC has a bigger vision than this? Instead of just a few medals at Olympic and Commonwealth Games shouldn’t we be focusing on the overall development of sport and its role in our community?

Yes, it’s good to win medals and we like to see black singlets on the podium in foreign countries with the national anthem playing. And yes, it’s nice to bask in the warm glow of reflected glory gained on the international stage. Especially if our tally beats the Australians on a population basis.

But it’s also great to see the tens of thousands of youngsters, teenagers and their families playing touch rugby every week across our less flash suburbs. This matters to New Zealand but where is touch rugby in the allocations?

To target sports for gold-medal funding is a short-sighted, stunted view of sport. It smacks of continuing insecurity and lack of maturity as a country. Some of us seem to be still looking for approval from others overseas instead of being self confident about our place in the world.

SPARC’s attitude reflects comments earlier this year from Sports Minister Trevor Mallard who suggested kiwis don’t have the mental toughness to succeed in top-level sports competition. He was upset that our medal tally from the Melbourne Commonwealth Games was below his expectations. There were too many fourths and not enough golds.

 

Such was his frustration it seemed he might organise a march in Wellington calling for the fourth place getters to be branded “losers”.

At the time other commentators criticised sport in primary schools which encourages participation ahead of competition. The argument was that this produces mediocrity rather than international winners.

But both arguments are going no-where. So-called lack of mental toughness and so-called political correctness in sport are just expressions of frustration from the sidelines which again reflect the seriously insecure feelings of many New Zealanders. These are people who need constant reassurances we can foot it with the best overseas. 

It was pleasing at the time to see the lack of resonance for Mallard’s comments in the wider community. This in itself is a sign of a maturing attitude to sport and a growing self-confidence that we can do better – but on our terms rather than those of others.

At the end of the day SPARC’s allocations don’t put sport first. Instead their funding decisions pander to armchair viewers instead of the players, coaches and supporters of sports at local level. Surely if we want to encourage more New Zealanders to be sports participants rather than junk-food-eating, beer-swilling loafers who live their physical lives through the exploits of others then we should emphasise funding across all sports at local community level instead of purchasing a few medals at the top.

It could be that the allocation has as much to do with national politics as it does with sport. Apparently when our sports teams are doing well overseas we are a bit happier at home and in elections happy people tend to vote for the government in power. We have an Olympic Games and an election in 2008. One wonders how much influence Sports Minister Trevor Mallard had over the allocations.

There can be little doubt that the future health of our community relies more on touch rugby than gold medals in sailing. Someone should tell SPARC.

Madness of the market rules electricity

One night last year I arrived home to find the power off. The fuse box was fine but it didn’t take long to find the problem. The outside meter box contained a note to say the power had been disconnected. Knowing our power bills were up to date I sat with a candle to read the phone book and called the company. Yes the power was disconnected because the dwelling was unoccupied I was told. Well no I said, we lived here and had for several years so there was some kind of mistake. The company insisted I was wrong, refused to reconnect the power and referred me to another company who they said had taken over the contract to supply us. The conversation deteriorated from there and to cut a long story short it took several more phone calls to get the power back on. It turned out the meter had been disconnected in error because another resident elsewhere had changed from one electricity supplier to another.

If this sounds confusing then join the club!

My boys enjoyed the experience however. By the time I’d got off the phone there were a couple of dozen t-light candles spread around the house and it resembled the set from an old Dracula movie.

This experience is a small reflection of the unbelievable brainlessness of the so-called electricity reforms introduced by National in the 1990s and continued by Labour since.

These so-called “reforms” took a well functioning, community owned electricity supply network, chopped it up into a multitude of self-interested companies – some community owned, some government owned, some privatized – and created several artificial “markets” to generate, transmit and sell electricity. Well-groomed men in suits had a field day designing corporate brands and flash logos, developing mission statements, producing glossy brochures, organizing advertising campaigns and calculating projected profits.

Names like Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Unison, Vector, Mercury Energy, Transpower, Genesis, Powerco etc emerged from this lunacy. Don’t worry if you don’t know if they are generators, transmission companies, lines companies, retail companies, government owned, local community owned or privately owned. The Minister of Energy probably only has a vague idea himself. 

The problems created by this madness emerged quickly and have become more acute as time has passed. We have seen prices skyrocket, major power failures, supply uncertainty, poor maintenance, lack of investment and the absence of conservation values.

The latest saga was revealed last week when the Commerce Commission intervened to accuse Vector of abusing its monopoly as a lines company. The Commission claims that Vector is ripping off its customers and charging higher rates in Wellington to subsidise residential consumers in Auckland.

Vector is defending its practices but the overall experiment, having failed so dismally to deliver secure supplies of electricity at reasonable prices, must surely be deemed an abject failure by even the most hard-nosed free marketeers.

The situation is now so bad that last week we had the National Party’s energy spokesperson, Nick Smith, suggested that the electricity generator Transpower should be changed from an SOE (state owned enterprise) to a public service provider so it could invest properly in a stable, secure energy supply rather than having to return profits to the government. What a novel idea – why hasn’t anyone thought of it before?

While Smith’s suggestion was an unfamiliar breath of fresh air, Labour’s David Parker could only say this might be considered as part of yet another review which is looming.

Labour’s answer to the problems has been to set up an Electricity Commission to have oversight of the “market” and make recommendations on regulations that might be needed to tidy things up.

This is hopelessly off the mark. We don’t need a commissioner to prop up a phony market where extracting profit for shareholders takes precedence over a secure electricity supply. We need to nationalize our electricity network and ignore the irrational cries of the men in suits and their profit-hungry shareholders.

New Zealand is a country of just four million people – not much bigger than Sydney. Common sense says that the best delivery of essential infrastructure such as electricity is though a community-organized and controlled supply.

Our parents and grandparents built the hydro dams, erected the pylons, constructed the substations, installed the transformers and ensured a reliable power source to every home.

We have unlearnt all this and the truly pathetic level of political debate means that nothing will change soon. The best advice in the meantime is to keep the candles handy.

Taito Philip Field fails the people of Mangere

When Taito Phillip Field entered parliament it was heralded as a maturing of our society.

He was the first MP of Pacific Island descent to enter parliament when he was elected as Labour MP for Otara in 1993. It was widely celebrated through the Pacific Island community. Three years later he took over the Mangere electorate seat vacated by former Prime Minister Dave Lange.

Again this was celebrated. A middle-class European lawyer was replaced by a Pacific Islander to represent an electorate which was predominately brown and mostly Pacific.

Mangere is the lowest income electorate in the country. Amid our 60 electorates it ranks number one on the deprivation index. Incomes are low, poverty is rife, stresses on families and kids are huge.

However it seemed a perfect match at the time, made in heaven even. Many Pacific people emigrated here in the 1960’s and 1970’s to seek a better life and who better to help deliver this than a Pacific representative himself.

Field has been in the spotlight for several months now over allegations he personally benefited from the use of his position as a Minister to advocate for work permits on behalf of Thai workers. Field had houses painted and tiled by these workers but they were paid only about one-third of what would have been a reasonable rate. It looks suspicious at best.

The independent investigation by Noel Ingram QC found no evidence of misuse of his ministerial position to advocate on immigration issues but the report left a dark cloud of suspicion over the MP because witnesses did not have to speak to the inquiry (and many didn’t) and the inquiry outcome was at best inconclusive.

The problem lies with the government putting in place a toothless inquiry as a way to stonewall and protect their man when allegations began to swirl around the MP. Labour needs Field’s vote to preserve its parliamentary majority and doesn’t want to risk a defection or a by-election. In that scenario Field could well become an independent MP with a grudge against the government.

However, 13 years after entering parliament it’s worth looking at what Field has delivered for Pacific people and his electorate. It’s not a pretty picture. Having arrived to parliament with so much hope attached, Field has been a failure.

He can’t be blamed for Pacific Island people in our low income communities going backwards under National rule in the 1990’s but he must share a good proportion of the blame for them continuing to go backwards under Labour’s leadership over the past 7 years.

The Ministry of Social Development report released a fortnight ago showed that Pacific Island families suffering severe hardship increased from 16 percent in 2000 to a staggering 30 percent in 2004.

This simple statistic outlines a massive injustice. Wealth has been leaving Pacific families in Mangere and our other low income communities at an even greater rate under Labour than under National.

Where has this money gone? The answer came a few days after the Ministry report when the annual rich-list was published. It’s a titillating read for some to see who’s raced ahead and who’s fallen behind in the financial celebrity stakes. The business community calls it the politics of envy but really it’s the politics of greed. But the most important statistic from the release this year is that the 187 richest New Zealanders together increased their wealth by no less than $3.7 billion over the previous year. It is hard to comprehend the massive scale of this shift in wealth but the evidence of its impact is clear. Whole communities of New Zealanders have slipped deeper into poverty and none more so that Mangere.

In all of the media fuss over Taito Phillip Field it seems that no-one has asked him the most important questions. Why has he remained silent over deepening poverty in his electorate? Why has he not spoken out in parliament or on the Social Services Select Committee? Or what about the plight of Housing New Zealand tenants where the proportion of people suffering severe hardship has more than doubled in the first 4 years of his government (from 19% to 41%)? What about his constituents Chris and Cru Kahui? What does he think of the fact that the proportion of children living in families under severe or significant hardship increased from 18% in 2000 to 26% in 2004?

Just how much more do people in his electorate have to suffer before he takes some responsibility or some action?

Field may have successfully elevated himself to millionaire status but by any measure he has failed spectacularly to represent the people of his electorate. If he had any integrity at all he would resign.