Wednesday, April 22, 2020

At last, some pushback - albeit half-hearted - against Harawira's vigilantes

Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is slowly stirring as if from a long, deep slumber.

The first signs of life became apparent last week when Northland MP Matt King shook himself awake and called on the police to shut down the unlawful checkpoints set up by Hone Harawira’s followers in the Far North, ostensibly for the purpose of protecting vulnerable Maori communities from Covid-19.

That it took more than three weeks for anyone from the National Party to question the legality of the checkpoints points to the potency of whatever sleeping draught the party had ingested. But at least it was a start.

King was prodded into action following a complaint from a man who said he and his wife had been prevented from driving to nearby Kaihoke for groceries – on the face of it, a flagrant interference in their freedom of movement, imposed with no legal mandate whatsoever other than an informal nod of approval from the local police and the district mayor, the undistinguished former MP John Carter.

Newshub reported that the couple were detained against their will after refusing (quite rightly) to tell their interrogators where they lived. Four of the masked vigilantes allegedly surrounded the couple’s vehicle and took photos of the number plate. Terrified, the wife phoned 111 for help.

After several minutes the couple were told to move to a holding area for further questioning and seized the opportunity to drive off. By the time they made their return journey, police had apparently intervened and the blockade was no longer operating, although the people manning it were still at the roadside.

According to King, other members of the public, including a paramedic, had told of being made to stop and take flyers. People found the checkpoints intimidating but were too scared to say anything.

So … private citizens going about their lawful business have been stopped, detained and intimidated. And the police, who are entrusted to uphold the rule of law (and are normally ultra-zealous about deterring anyone impertinent enough to usurp their role), have looked the other way.

Just why the police have chosen to so cravenly abdicate isn’t clear, but a possible explanation is that they have been instructed not to get offside with local iwi activists. Anything to keep the peace, even if it means risking the goodwill of people whose natural instinct is to respect the law.

The media, previously diligent in their disinclination to subject Harawira’s Tai Tokerau Border Control (apparently that’s what the vigilantes call themselves) to any critical scrutiny, reported King’s statement and added an empty assurance by deputy police commissioner Wally Haumaha – the same Wally Haumaha who survived a Police Conduct Authority investigation which found he had humiliated and intimidated two women subordinates – to the effect that police had “advised” people running the checkpoints on the “appropriate” way to conduct themselves.

Not a word about their legality, or the right of iwi enforcers to usurp the role of properly constituted authorities such as the police and district council. Nothing to see here, folks.

But public anxiety at the way these blockades are operating – and not just in the Far North, but on the East Coast and reportedly in the central North Island as well – has reached such a level that National MPs can’t ignore it. The party’s agonisingly slow awakening continued yesterday during a meeting of Parliament’s epidemic response committee, where Gerry Brownlee brought up the case of an elderly man who was prevented from going to buy milk by a member of the Mongrel Mob.

The man’s MP, Anne Tolley, said she understood that the people manning the checkpoints wanted to protect their communities [from infection], but in New Zealand people should have the right of passage. “If it’s not managed well, I’m worried it could get out of hand.”

Coming from a senior representative of a party that supposedly stands for individual freedom, this was an astonishingly half-hearted defence of a right that’s taken for granted in all liberal democracies. But at least it prompted police minister Stuart Nash into a belated denunciation of “ratbags and renegades” manning illegal roadblocks.

Unfortunately, Nash’s tough-sounding talk was so qualified as to be meaningless. He said that where roadblocks were set up without the support of the local community or the police, “the police will take this very seriously”.

That’s bound to have Harawira quaking in his jandals. As most people realise, the time to crack down on the illegal checkpoints was several weeks ago, when they first appeared. They’re now an established fact, and any attempt to dismantle them could get messy.

It follows that the longer the checkpoints are allowed to continue, the greater the risk that iwi separatists will regard it as their de facto right to police their own “borders” – and by implication, assert sovereignty in other areas of public life, which you can be sure was Harawira’s goal from the get-go. The ultimate objective, as I’ve said before, is the formation of an Indigenous People’s Republic of Te Tai Tokerau.

National’s lame performance continued on Morning Report this morning when the party’s shadow police minister, Brett Hudson, called for “clarity” over the legality of what he euphemistically called “community checkpoints”. If the government was going to condone them, Hudson said, it needed to publish guidelines on how they should be legally operated.

Wow, there’s a ringing defence of individual rights for you. You can always count on the Nats to man the barricades when personal freedom is under attack.

In line with Radio NZ’s fastidious insistence on editorial balance, Morning Report followed the Hudson interview with a phone call to Tairawhiti activist Tina Ngata for her take on the checkpoints. She took an ingenious line, arguing that “community traffic management” is nothing new.

“This sort of activity has been happening for a long time," Ngata said, citing the role of Maori wardens in traffic management and stretching credulity by implying the checkpoints were no different from locals taking charge of traffic at events such as galas and tangis. 

crucial difference is that Maori wardens enjoy quasi-official status, and have done for a long time. Their activities are sanctioned under the Maori Community Development Act of 1962, and by virtue of their long history they function with the implied consent and goodwill of the community. 

The people manning the Northland and East Cape roadblocks enjoy no such legitimacy. Besides, I've never heard of anyone feeling intimidated or coerced by a Maori warden; on the contrary, their presence is usually a calming influence.

Ngata also said no one has been forced to stop. Perhaps that’s true in her East Coast rohe, but try telling that to the drivers who felt intimidated in the Far North, or the elderly man who was turned back at Maketu.

The justification advanced by the people manning the checkpoints is that they are doing so with the aim of protecting remote communities. Any reasonable person can sympathise with that objective, but it falls far short of justification for allowing self-appointed guardians to take the law into their own hands. Viewed against the backdrop of a long push for Maori nationalism, it should be seen for what it is: an attempt to advance a race-based separatist agenda.

This challenge to the rule of law is happening in plain sight, and no one – not even the National opposition – is doing anything about it, other than impotently tut-tutting.

Footnote: As I was writing this post, prime minister Jacinda Ardern was reportedly asked a question at her daily press conference about the legality of the checkpoints and indicated  she supported them. I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere other than on Maori TV, where it was reported in te reo.  The mainstream media generally maintain a studied indifference to the issue - with the honourable exception of Stuff columnist Martin van Beynen, who wrote what I thought was a rather restrained column about it last Saturday.


Andy Espersen said...

Bravo, Karl. I also listened to Tina Ngata - and like you was bemused that RNZ chose to interview her - as if a statement from her should be made to counteract the complainant's. That is like insisting that a robber's excuses and explanations must be mentioned following a complaint from the person being robbed. Most New Zealanders agree with you on this one.

Odysseus said...

Another excellent commentary to be widely shared thank you Karl. And according to Ardern in her media conference yesterday, she's "okay" with these illegal activities as long as they are "within the law". New Zealanders in their childlike adoration of St Jacinda of the Pandemic swallow this nonsense it appears. We are witnessing a power-grab that will eventually see parts of New Zealand controlled by separatists imposing their own racist agenda.

Max Ritchie said...

If you define “legal” as anything a senior policeman says is OK then these roadblocks are “within the law” I suppose, but if you define illegal as anything which is contrary to the law (which is how I would define it) then the roadblocks are patently illegal. That the National Party is dithering is extraordinary - their former leader Don Brash is absolutely clear on this. Why can’t current National MPs get their heads around this. They should be demanding that it be stopped and should have been doing so three weeks ago.

Peter Salmon said...

This should have been stopped weeks ago.
I posted about the issue here
I have also contacted various politicians with no response as yet.
This behaviour by activists, police and politicians is wrong, very wrong

David George said...

My daughter, alone in the car, was subject to an intimidating grilling by a large, aggressive, masked, gangster type on the state highway coming into town - Kaikohe. He demanded personal information (name and address), what was she doing etc. She's a tough nut (takes after her mother) but was very upset.

Anyone with a little knowledge of human nature/psychology/history could see where the foolish tolerance of vigilante highwaymen would end. The compassionate, concerned townsfolk seeking to protect their community would be inevitably replaced; bullied out of the way by the last people you would want. The prospects for intimidation, control and power would prove irresistible and you end up with the strutting psychopath that accosted my daughter.

The conservative approach is to recognise that folk aren't perfect, that they have the familiar foibles of human nature. The wise, traditional response is to develop systems that operate with that in mind so that we can enjoy a functional society as far as that's possible. The police are an example; as well as their mandate from the people via our consent to be governed they are bound, individually and collectively, by protocol, procedure, oversight and accountability. Their opportunities to do real harm are thereby limited; not so your self appointed vigilante.

Make this stop now!

Andy Espersen said...

Yes, we are all in agreement that this government’s arrogant dismissal of what is obviously wrong in law is despicable. And we wring our hands in powerless despair about it. May I suggest that this is just one more example of postmodernism in action. Over the last quarter century or so, this philosophy has become the prevailing one in many western nations. It permeates much recent legislation in New Zealand.

We used to proudly insist that our European civilisation always looked to reason, science and humanism for guidance. Not any longer. Instead we follow whatever whims or notions that appear in society (and they appear with amazing speed in this age of instant mass communication). We no longer adhere to the established, ethical principles of our ancestors.

Why worry if what you do is legally wrong, as in this case?

Why worry if frightfully inhumane legislation makes it illegal for people to visit dying friends, parents or grandparents?

Why get upset if tyrannical civil defence legislation bans free citizens from leaving their homes?

The end justifies the means - even if the end is just the ideological, fanciful notion that we must perforce eradicate this very ordinary, run-of-the-mill epidemic.

Shame on Jacinda Ardern and her pathetic bunch of fellow legislators. Shame.

Trev1 said...

A government that gives its blessing to racist hooligans usurping the powers of the State, a cringing, dependent media that is now effectively the government's mouthpiece, an increasingly infantilized and servile public... The lights are going out all over New Zealand, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.

Scott said...

Good points Karl. I'm thinking of setting up a similar style checkpoint at the top of the Rimutakas to stop Wellingtonians coming into the Wairarapa with all their possible diseases. Seeing as we are a virus free DHB. I'm very confident of success. But as a white Christian male I'm a tad concerned I could possibly be treated differently than Hone and his whanau? What do people think? Is it a matter of having the right ancestors? Is it a matter of the colour of my skin? Surely not??

Brendan McNeill said...


Our academic and media institutions have spent several decades deconstructing the foundations of western civilisation, including the rule of law that was predicated upon an external and higher authority. In the case of the West, this equated to the legal and judicial precepts contained within the bible.

We can purge Christianity from the public square, (as we have) and celebrate the autonomous individual, but we shouldn't be surprised when men cast off restraint and behave as a law unto themselves. This is the logical outcome; we are our own gods.

Neither should we be surprised that National Party politicians have little stomach for calling out 'transgressors' within such a cultural milieu. Only affirmations and encouragements are considered culturally and politically safe.

For the same reasons, they are slow to defend free speech, something once considered a cornerstone of liberal western democracies. The roots of the problem are the same. We are the first generation that has sought to implement a social order that is not predicated on a religious order, and the fruits of this experiment are beginning to become evident.

I'm not always this cheerful about our cultural trajectory, but as WB Yeats once said "the centre cannot hold".

Doug Longmire said...

I can recall the previous Police commissioner being asked by a reporter on radio if he supported the Northland illegal vigilante roadblock. His weasel answer was along the lines of "we need to talk to local communities" Or somesuch similar waffle.
This was the Police response to an illegal activity on public radio.
I also heartily endorse the above comments by Trev1 and Scott.

Birdman said...

The new Police Commissioner, Andrew Coster, has done the same on Moaning Report this morning, effectively avoiding answering the question on the legality of the vigilante road blocks. In a sense what he conceded was worse, as if these vigilante road blocks continue under Level 3 they need to be "Police led" - so what has the leadership level been under the current L4 I wonder.

You can listen to the interview here

Bush politicised the Police to an alarming degree and Karl gave him heaps over this and his craven supporting eulogy of the disgraced Detective Len Hutton. Bush also used every opportunity to arm the Police in public to create a new normal. How do we, the people, push back? Maybe Bush's legacy will be the Royal Commission finding of the Police total failure over Tarrant obtaining firearms and ammunition at will.

Lawyer Michael Bott wrote about the Police use of lethal force in the DimPost yesterday - see here