Hone Harawira – speaking truth to power

If you drive from Auckland to Hamilton you pass through some of the richest farmland in the world. Settlements like Pokeno, Rangiriri and Huntly dot the route as the road runs down from the Bombay Hills and along the Waikato River.

Along the way virtually everything you see in all directions is confiscated land. It was stripped from Tainui after the British colonial army marched down Auckland’s Great South Road and invaded the Waikato in 1863. The land was taken for the alleged “rebellion” of Tainui but the Waitangi Tribunal found the people of the Waikato had never rebelled but had been forced into a defensive war.

The same story is repeated around the country most particularly in the Bay of Plenty and Taranaki. All together more than three million acres of prime land was confiscated as a result of the land wars of the 1840s and 1860s.

Even Tuhoe, who refused to sign the Treaty of Waitangi, had their most productive coastal lands in the Bay of Plenty confiscated by the Crown because they supported other tribes in the defence of their land such as at the famous battle at Orakau Pa. The confiscation of land was officially punishment for Maori resistance but the real reasons were to provide highly productive land for land-hungry European settlers as well as to defray the costs of war to seize the land in the first place.

Other myriad cases of alienation of Maori land through bribery, corruption and theft have been well-documented through the Waitangi Tribunal process but the history remains obscure to most.

Alienation has continued through most of the intervening decades. The Maori Land Court was used to individualise and privatise land titles and force the sale of Maori owned land through demanding payment of rates and dog taxes. More land was seized under the Public Works Act for war purposes and never returned.

Setting aside the expletives, Hone Harawira was 100% correct when he said “…white motherf…ers have been raping our lands and ripping us off for centuries.” And later when he singled out Phil Goff and Labour for the biggest recent land grab – the foreshore and seabed – it needs to be seen as part of the same historical context. Those who say the issues of the 19th century have no relevance in the 21st century ignore recent history and how the devastating impact of colonisation on Maori continues to be visited in the present.

None of this should need to be said but the reaction of so many to Harawira’s angry email resembles the deeply embedded racism which Don Brash tapped into so successfully a few years back at Orewa.

I’ve been very critical in the past of the Maori Party judging people on their race rather than their behaviour. For example the refusal of Pita Sharples to criticise Robert Mugabe as he brutalised Zimbabweans, the support shown for Donna Awatere-Huata (convicted fraudster) and Taito Philip-Field (convicted of bribery and corruption). In each case the Maori Party leadership reacted to race first and behaviour second despite Awatere-Huata and Field ripping off the very people the Maori Party claims to represent. For some reason this was lost on Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia.

For the next couple of weeks this saga will continue – the Maori Party leadership trying to force Harawira’s resignation and him defending his position in the party. None of this will take Maori or New Zealand any further forward.

Abandoning Hone Harawira is a deeply disappointing approach by the party leadership. It seems they are more concerned about negative pakeha reaction than about the fundamental accuracy of Harawira’s comments and how they are perceived by Maori. It seems Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples have begun to take on the attitudes and values of their political colleagues in coalition.

For her part Tariana Turia has made it her priority to work with National ministers to implement the Whanau Ora programme whereby Maori families will get co-ordinated support from Maori providers through Maori networks. There will be some gains for Maori but these are unlikely to be significant because we know the underlying cause of the extreme social problems we face in New Zealand is the high level of income inequality which has blossomed in the past 25 years. Hone Harawira is the Maori MP who understands this better than most.

It’s the Maori Party leadership, rather than Hone Harawira, which faces a critical decision in the next couple of weeks. Will it seek to appease National or will it accommodate its strongest voice which speaks truth to power?


Rodney Hide’s hypocrisy

I’m not impressed with Rodney Hide’s apology. It has now become a stock in trade for wayward politicians to apologise and expect the public to forgive.

Early last week I thought we’d got to the bottom of his hypocrisy with the $25,163 of taxpayer money spent on trips for his girlfriend which included a round the world jaunt with him as Minister of Local Government (an extra $25,000 for taxpayers) only to find out later in the week taxpayers also paid 90% of an earlier holiday for the couple in Hawaii. Hide had quietly paid the holiday money ($10,000) back to parliamentary services and hoped no-one would notice.

Enough has been said about the ACT leader’s double standards. Not only did he build his political career on strident criticism of MPs perks but ACT made its name criticising wasteful public spending. Now in the middle of a recession Hide sneakily bypassed the Prime Minister’s directive for ministers not to use their ministerial allowances to take partners overseas. Instead he used his parliamentary allowance as an MP elected before 1999 to achieve the same result. Taxpayers would pay.

Taxpayer subsidised travel for Hide’s girlfriend is more than a worker on the minimum wage could expect to earn in a year and much more than a solo parent struggling below the poverty line. Somehow Hide sees his girlfriend as more deserving of taxpayer support.

After relentless criticism of MPs perks the ACT Party leader stopped the gravy train just long enough to jump on with his girlfriend and then kept telling us we all had to tighten our belts during the recession while he was taking his off.

It’s an interesting commentary on ACT. This is the party which prides itself on policies which demand low taxes, less government spending and expecting individuals be more responsible in their personal lives. However it’s all just window dressing. Like most hardened capitalists they believe the rules of restraint and personal responsibility apply to others. Earlier this year former ACT Party leader Roger Douglas used his parliamentary perks to spend $44,000 on a trip to London to see his son’s family while demanding cuts to government spending in the recession. Double standards again.

More interesting than Hide’s two-faces of personal responsibility were his comments reported at the ACT breakfast fundraiser last week when he criticised John Key as not doing anything as Prime Minister – except launch the national cycleway. Hide complained that ACT did everything but was hated while the PM did nothing and was liked. He went on to say he had no trouble getting his ideas through cabinet. The other ministers were too absorbed in their own portfolios to take much notice apparently.

This is likely to be substantially true. Despite ACT gaining just 3.6% of the party vote at the last election Hide negotiated for himself a very powerful position within Key’s government. As Minister of Local Government he is keen is to push through what Green MP Sue Kedgley calls Rogernomics Part 2. In other words to bring to local government the same user-pays, privatisation, community-destroying policies which Roger Douglas brought to the 1984 Labour government.

Most National MPs are keen on these policies and are happy to see the Epsom MP drive the agenda they know is unpopular with the public. They are happy for ACT to be hated while their smiling assassin John Key avoids public wrath.

Hone Harawira’s misdemeanours are mild by comparison. He was wrong to leave his parliamentary delegation leaderless and head off to Paris for sightseeing. It looked bad because it was bad. And his angry email to Buddy Mikaere was also unacceptable. He reacted angrily when his side trip was questioned and responded with a race-based comment which assumed it was just pakeha criticising his jaunt.

I’ve often been critical of Maori Party MPs who react to race when it’s the behaviour which is wrong. The party’s refusal to criticise Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, its automatic support for the likes of Donna Awatere Huata (former ACT MP and convicted fraudster) and disgraced Labour MP Taito Philip Field (convicted of bribery and corruption) was based on their ethnicity as was Hone’s attack on those criticising his Paris jaunt.

We will always have badly behaving MPs but what we lack is the ability for voters to recall MPs who abuse their position. A petition signed by say 10% of voters in an electorate should be sufficient to force a recall poll which would give an electorate the ability to remove their MP from parliament. Such votes wouldn’t be held lightly and in the cases of Hide and Harawira would probably not be activated.

However simply the existence of the power to recall an MP would be enough to keep most of them a lot more respectful of taxpayers than we’ve seen from recent events.


Personal responsibility starts with the brewers

Another appalling road crash. Two teenagers killed with others hospitalised in serious condition. This time it’s Hawkes Bay and a late night collision near Napier on a bridge over the Tutaekuri River where a van with seven young people going home from a party collided with a car.

There are horrendous pictures and distraught faces as devastated families are trying to come to grips with the tragedy. At the centre is the all too familiar combination of alcohol, teenagers and cars.

The family of the 16 year old at the wheel of the van deny alcohol was a factor but it seems the police hold the opposite view. And who would be surprised. Young people killing themselves and others in road crashes where alcohol is a factor are a common feature of life in New Zealand.

In the coming weeks there will be much mourning the loss of these young lives and plenty of finger pointing at young people not acting responsibly when it comes to alcohol. The young driver will be held responsible and it appears the police are likely to lay charges.

We all expect young people to be responsible for their actions but just pause a moment and look what these teenagers are up against. There is a whole industry spending two hundred thousand dollars a day encouraging New Zealanders to drink more and it’s young New Zealanders who are at the sharp end of alcohol promotion.

The alcohol industry are creating new products every day to target teenage drinkers. Alcopops or RTDs (Ready To Drinks) were popularised by Michael Erceg’s Independent Liquor and are targeted at teenagers. And it’s not just boys but increasingly young girls are in the alcohol industry spotlight. These sweet drinks which disguise the taste of alcohol are popular with young women – they have become cocktails for teenagers. Erceg left a billion dollar business when he died four years ago and the empire continues to grow on the backs of popular youth drinks such as Woodstock and Pulse, not to mention the KGB parties (KGB is a popular alcopop) which the company sponsors. Again the focus is on encouraging young New Zealanders to booze up large.

And then there is Lion Nathan and Dominion Breweries who are promoting in the same youth market. Dominion Brewery’s Tui brand shamelessly uses sex to promote alcohol and along with its various promotions such as the Miss Tui competition and Tui Brewery Girls Calendar it’s no wonder we have problems when we expect our teenagers to navigate such a vigorously-promoted, booze-sodden culture.

Personally I’ve had a gutsful of hearing about the failure of teenagers to take personal responsibility for their actions when no-one is calling for alcohol industry leaders to show the same personal responsibility.

Where are the questions for Geoff Ricketts, Chair of Lion Nathan since 2001? According to the December 2008 issue of Management magazine Ricketts philosophy “is to deliver strong returns for shareholders while conducting the business in line with deeply held values of integrity and doing the right thing for the long-term health of the business, the environment and the societies in which Lion Nathan operates”. Yeah right. It seems the dangers of alcohol abuse come a distant second to heavy promotion of alcohol to our youth so the company can deliver “strong returns to shareholders”.

And what about Brian Blake from Dominion Breweries which pushes the Tui advertising campaign targeting young New Zealanders? Where is his personal responsibility in all this?

Similarly with the director of Independent Liquor. I’m sure there will be the usual tut-tuting around the boardroom about irresponsible teenagers before the directors get down to salivating over the graphs showing increasing sales and growing profits from alcohol abuse.

Why is it that personal responsibility passes the corporates by? Why does it only apply to a 16 year old taking her friends home after a party?

These companies are all expecting teenagers to drink responsibly while they cynically push, push, push their products at young New Zealanders.

I’d like to see Geoff Ricketts and Brian Blake and the private equity directors who own Independent Liquor turn out on a Friday night to pick up the human remains of young lives lost from the irresponsible promotion of alcohol to youngsters.

It will be a good day in New Zealand when these booze barons take some personal responsibility for their actions rather than leave it to a hapless 16 year old to explain why she was drinking before the horrendous accident which killed two of her friends.