Sunday, October 6, 2013

Leave it to Maori and hope for the best

(First published in The Dominion Post, October 4.)
THE RECENT conviction of a Hawke’s Bay kaitiaki, or “guardian” of customary fisheries, makes a mockery of the word.
Napier District Court heard that authorisations issued by Rangi Spooner under customary fishing regulations covered multiple dates instead of the allowed 48-hour period. A man named Jason Brown obtained 11 such authorisations and was later convicted of illegally selling crayfish for $10 each.

A separate hearing was told that Brown caught 1730 crays, supposedly for events at his house. That’s a helluva lot of crayfish.
Spooner was convicted of failing to meet fisheries officer Kelly Pouwhare despite repeated requests arising from concern about the permits he had issued.

Under the regulations, kaitiaki – who are appointed by their iwi – can authorise Maori to exceed normal catch limits and to take undersized fish, but not for commercial gain or trade.
The authorisations are issued so that Maori can provide for whanau or guests – for example, at a tangi or wedding. It’s a recognition of their traditional rights as tangata whenua. But the system depends on trust, and Spooner’s conviction is bound to reinforce suspicions that it’s wide open to abuse.

There is a delicate issue here. Given the importance among Maori of obligations to whanau, hapu and iwi, it’s easy to imagine people in positions of trust, such as kaitiaki, being put under pressure to rort the system.
In this case, fisheries officers were on to it. But you have to wonder whether other abuses go undetected – and if so, how many.

Can we be confident that the authorities are always rigorous in ensuring the regulations are respected? Probably not, because bureaucrats and their political masters fret about being labelled culturally insensitive – or even worse, racist.  Far safer to leave Maori to police themselves and hope for the best.
Like the rest of us (indeed, arguably even more so), Maori have an interest in ensuring the protection of vulnerable fish species. If they are genuinely committed to conservation, the onus is on iwi and hapu themselves to expose and condemn anyone who lets the side down by playing fast and loose with the rules.

* * *

MY WIFE and I have been enjoying an outstanding British drama series called Broadchurch, which Television New Zealand plans to screen next year (most likely, as a cynical friend commented, at 11.30pm or thereabouts).
The series, which revolves around the trauma and upheaval caused by the murder of a schoolboy in a quiet English seaside town, reaffirms my faith in British television drama. Almost everything about it – writing, acting, editing, camerawork, music – is nigh flawless.

It’s a reminder that the British seem to have a bottomless reservoir of acting talent to draw from. The only familiar face, from a large cast, is that of David Tennant, a former Doctor Who, who plays the tormented Scottish detective investigating the case.
But Broadchurch has a drawback, and it’s one that’s increasingly common. The dialogue is so mumbled and muffled in places that we found ourselves frequently rewinding the DVD to hear critical snatches of conversation again.

Perhaps my hearing isn’t what it used to be, but I have no difficulty following what’s going on in most programmes. It’s only in movies and TV dramas (and more noticeably in American than British examples) that the dialogue is muddy.
Presumably directors demand this from their actors on the misguided assumption that it sounds more authentic. Unfortunately the problem is compounded by modern flat-screen TVs that sacrifice decent speakers for elegant looks.

In the absence of subtitles, the only option is to fork out for auxiliary speakers in the hope of clearer audio. That’s progress for you.
* * *

NEW LABOUR leader David Cunliffe is getting good notices, even from those at the opposite end of the political spectrum, such as former ACT leader Rodney Hide.
But I’m withholding judgment. I decided I disliked Mr Cunliffe when, as Minister of Health in the Clark government, he sacked the democratically elected Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, describing them as “a nasty little nest of self-perpetuating provincial elites”.  He struck me then as a politician who liked to throw his weight around just because he could.

Nothing since then has changed my view of him. In fact my opinion was reinforced by an interview with Guyon Espiner in The Listener which exposed Mr Cunliffe as precious, controlling and acutely concerned – in fact almost neurotic – about his public image.
His pronouncements before and since his election as leader suggest he’s a politician who will say whatever he thinks will ingratiate him with voters. In this respect he is disconcertingly similar to former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd.

There’s a Uriah Heep-ish quality to Mr Cunliffe: rampant ambition overlaid by a phony air of humility. Those quibbles aside, I’m sure he’s a top bloke.

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