Thursday, March 4, 2021

An assumed right of veto?

The protest occupation at the site of a proposed Erebus memorial at Sir Dove-Myer Robinson Park in Parnell is the latest evidence of what seems to be an assumed Maori right of veto.

Dame Rangimarie Naida Glavish is leading the protest, claiming it’s a culturally significant site (isn’t it always?) and that there was inadequate consultation with Maori. Yet her own iwi, Ngati Whatua, gave the project its blessing after a consultation process going back to October 2018. In a statement issued on Wednesday, Ngati Whatua Orakei – the hapu with mana whenua (territorial authority) over the site – detailed its involvement in the approval process and reaffirmed its support.

There’s a pattern emerging here. As at Ihumatao and Wellington’s Shelly Bay, protesters are asserting a right to block projects that had been given the green light - in the case of Shelly Bay, after years of squabbling.

In all three cases, dissidents have challenged decisions made by their own iwi organisations. To put it another way, significant public projects have been compromised - some might say sabotaged - as a result of intra-tribal disputes.

In the case of Ihumatao, this will come at a substantial cost to the taxpayer after the government agreed in December to pay $30 million to undo a housing development deal previously agreed between the local iwi and Fletcher Building.

We can safely assume the eventual bill will be much higher once legal costs and consultancy fees are totted up after a process that we’re told could take five years. That’s the price of the government’s eagerness to win the approval of the Ihumatao activists and their media supporters, who ensured the occupation got plenty of sympathetic publicity.

In the Parnell affair, Auckland mayor Phil Goff appears – so far, at least – to be standing firm against demands that the Erebus memorial be placed elsewhere, though I wouldn’t put money on him holding his ground if the heat goes on.

You certainly don’t have to look far for examples of timid councils backing down in the face of Maori insistence that approved projects be reversed. A notable instance was the about-face executed by Hastings District Council in 2018 over a walking track up the eastern face of Te Mata Peak. The $300,000 track was built and paid for by the adjacent Craggy Range winery, which owned the land and did everything by the book. But the local iwi objected at not having been consulted and demanded that the track be removed.

Both the council and the winery meekly capitulated. The estimated cost of “remediation” at the time was $650,000. I don’t know what the final cost came to, but I noted recently that you can still clearly see the outline of the track zig-zagging up the Te Mata escarpment. If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.

In this case, the iwi veto – which, as far as I can tell, had no basis in law – was exercised retrospectively, making it all the more expensive. But the lesson was clear: bullying works, especially when councils are terrified of being accused of racism.

It worked in New Plymouth last month too, when council workers rushed to remove American flags that had been placed along the main highway to promote a rally of classic American cars.

The organisers had council approval to put them up. But when Taranaki Iwi chief executive Wharehoka Wano took exception to American flags being flown ahead of Waitangi Day, the order went out from the town hall: take them down! Never mind that the council had okayed them in the first place, or that it had also arranged for special Waitangi Day flags to be displayed around the city.  This seemed a case of unelected, unaccountable people exerting authority just because they can.

Of course the council apologised. “We’re sorry we dropped the ball in the run-up to our national day,” it said in a grovelling statement. “We’ve been in touch with iwi to apologise.” The council was taking steps to ensure it wouldn’t happen again, and the flags would be put up again once Waitangi Day had passed and fragile cultural sensitivities were presumably less likely to be bruised.

But “apologise” for what, exactly? Not asking the iwi’s permission? Are councils now expected to anticipate iwi objections to something as harmless as a display of American flags? Should they obtain prior iwi consent to all approvals, even those that look routine and innocuous, just in case they might offend someone?

Here’s the thing. Councils are elected to represent the interests of all citizens. They are required to follow processes laid down in law to ensure fair and equal treatment. Once they start going outside those processes to humour a privileged interest group – whether it’s one based on ethnicity or any other characteristic – then they invite public contempt and distrust. It’s not how democracy is supposed to work.


David McLoughlin said...

I am unsettled by Naida Glavish suddenly appearing here. The opposition to this project has been from the local nimbys, who are very wealthy and very Pakeha. This RNZ story is just one of many about them:

Only last week, the nimbys were threatening to "glamp" in the park to stop the memorial being built. The fact these wealthy whiteys "glamp" rather than "camp" really says it all.

Naida Glavish has been a stand-out heroine of mine since 1984, when she was a toll operator for the old NZPO and was threatened with the sack for answering the old telephone tolls line (I think you dialled 010 to get through) with "kia ora."

I was a junior reporter at the NZ Herald back then and I was so appalled that someone could be threatened with losing their job by answering the phone with "kia ora" that from that day on, I have answered the phone (whether at work or privately) with "kia ora." In the beginning it really pissed some people off, and being a contrarian I liked that. For many years, though, it has been an unremarkable way to answer the phone, and I use it in emails and letters too, like many other people.

Naida has been involved in many community and political causes over the decades since 1984 and I have always accorded her my ear and respect whenever I've heard her pop up about something.

But why has she suddenly popped up over a plane crash memorial in a park in one of Auckland's wealthiest, whitest suburbs where the nimby Pakeha neighbours strenuously oppose the memorial anyway? It's in an odd way almost something likely to make the nimbys about-face and support the project.

Yes, Naida is Ngati Whatua, the Auckland iwi with mana whenua over that land, but the Ngati Whatua iwi body supports the project and has worked with Auckland Council to facilitate it.

Whatever her reason for popping up like this, I just hope that she doesn't get too covered with effluent for speaking her mind on this.

The crash of TE 109 (which I wrote about extensively for more than a decade) was a monument to stupidity. I am at a loss to understand why it needs a physical monument almost 42 years after it happened, almost as much as I am at a loss to understand why Naida has suddenly inserted herself into this strange controversy.

Hilary Taylor said...

Certainly isn't. You are right about the 'big picture'...kowtowing to Maori loudmouths is the order of the day, and I'm generalising, as all the specific issues you raised have particular nuances. (As it happens my own view of the Erebus memorial aligns with those opposed, but I'm disinclined to endorse Glavish's stance as I mightily disapprove of her grandstanding over Grainne Moss, not to mention her poor manners & lack of grace.) Wishing many of the authorities involved would grow a spine. Can that te Mata track still be accessed? Must try next time I'm in town.

Brendan McNeill said...

“Welcome to [insert council name here]

Press 1 for Parks and reserves, 2 for rates Enquiries, 3 fior groveling apology, If you know the extension you require please dial it now, otherwise stay on the line for operator assistance. ‘

Unknown said...

This Erabus monument and the smattering of recent local events that are opposed by local Iwi will be the start of a prolonged process of this nature. Yet another example of the difficulties associated (170 years and still going) when dealing with Maori.

Karl du Fresne said...

Many of those "difficulties" arose from justified Maori resistance to actions that showed absolutely no respect or even concern for Maori interests. What's happening now is almost the reverse of that. It's the old pendulum effect.

CXH said...

Karl, I think this is the reality. There has been a lot of circumstances where the protests have been completely justified. Many Kiwis have agreed with many of these events. They are now just chancing their arm on everything, real or imagined. The problem is they will quickly lose support from the average Kiwi, to the point where the real ones are lumped in with the imagined.

The claims on traditional rights changed for many after wanting the airwaves and fishing rights hundreds of miles offshore. This picking fights over silly things will create an unneeded pushback.

Empathic said...

The term 'mana whenua' and a few similar terms have recently started to be used quite frequently by NZ news media. Radio NZ routinely referred to the Ihumatao occupiers as 'mana whenua'. In the comments above 'David' alleged that Ngati Whatua have 'mana whenua' over Dove-Myer Robinson Park, previously known as the Parnell Rose Garden and before that Parnell Park but now suddenly being renamed 'the Mataharehare Pā site' by our media even though the area is only 'near' that Pa site.

The term 'mana whenua' appears to mean some sort of special status and authority over the land concerned. The term implies that authority is spiritually based (whatever that means) and somehow overrides any other earthly processes such as legal ownership or decisions by democratically elected governing bodies. The term implies an exclusive authority, i.e. only one group can have the 'mana whenua' for the land in question. The authority appears to be self-appointed, based on vague criteria related to some historic activity on or near an area of land. Any level of involvement appears to be sufficient for the purpose.

Do Ngati Whatua have any authority that might be represented by the term 'mana whenua' over the Park ? I understand that in 1840 Ngati Whatua gifted the land as part of 3000 acres to Captain Hobson in order to establish the new capital of New Zealand. So do we assume that some authority remains over something that one has given to another? The land was soon sold to bolster government coffers and was then occupied legitimately by two homes prior to becoming the Rose Gardens. Do the descendants of those who owned and built on the land have any authority comparable to 'mana whenua' and if not, why not? For whatever reason the Park became the site of two memorial monuments to World War II, one erected by the Netherlands Veterans Association and one by the NZ Korean Veterans Association. Are those memorials and the people they represent entitled to any 'mana whenua', or indeed is the tradition of erecting memorials there entitled to any respect?

Why would 'mana whenua' status not belong to the iwi that occupied the Park's land previously, prior to 1750 when Ngati Whatua violently seized it? Is 'mana whenua' based on a snapshot of which iwi or group happened to possess, or to be carrying out some activity on, a piece of land at the moment the Treaty was signed or on some other arbitrary date?

It's concerning that media would so readily and naively adopt a term describing a concept so ill-defined and so presumptuous and that has such dangerous potential consequences over established understandings of ownership and governance.

Trev1 said...

Brilliant exposition of this absurd racist assertion of authority assisted by our corrupt media. Thank you.