Hard News by Russell Brown

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Can I confess to being a Waitangi Day slacker? I'm glad the ceremonies up north went off without major incident, but I felt nothing much about the day. I feel tired of it. It's fortunate that others have more energy. Poneke has a nice post on the meaning of Waitangi Day, linking to several others.

DPF, inevitably, declared that Helen Clark blundered by not attending the events at Te Tii marae (the usual haters piled into agree in somewhat stronger terms). Colin Espiner also wondered at the wisdom of the Prime Ministerial no-show.

I'm inclined to agree, but less so after reading Audrey Young's blog about Clark's visit to Karetu, the home marae of Labour's new northern candidate, Kelvin Davis. It reads as if it became something special, and something worth a bit more respect than the snide dismissal it got from John Key.

Young's follow-up story emphasises the contrast with ceremonies past at Waitangi.

It's a casual day out and not what most PMs would do to mark their national day but then most PMs have not had the trouble she has had.

In 2002, the last time Helen Clark attended the dawn service at Waitangi, she endured a 20-minute tirade in which she was accused of treason by the "Deputy Prime Minister and Attorney General" in the "Maori Government of Aotearoa".

She was told that according to Maori custom, her crime was punishable by death.

When Clark was eventually invited to speak she was shouted down by a housing activist from Auckland and her contribution lasted a mere 30 seconds. That was as brief as the prayer that National leader John Key rattled through yesterday …

Clark returned to Te Tii Marae in 2004 but she and her ministers were jostled and physically threatened.

They were huddled in a tight group and surrounded by police officers trying to get them out safely.

What looked like water bottles were squirted over some of them but when the liquid dripped down the face of one in the group and on to his lips it turned out to be urine.

Was Clark right to suppose that her absence allowed for a calmer day, or have Ngapuhi just finally got a handle on their own responsibilities?

Whatever, Key's visit to Waitangi appears to have been a political triumph. I can't claim to understand the politics of it: Key was a member of the party of Don Brash; the party that apparently still wishes to repeal the foreshore and seabed legislation in order to extinguish any prospect of customary rights, and to abolish the Maori seats.

No Right Turn has a short post on the agreement with Ngati Porou to recognise their territorial customary rights under the Foreshore and Seabed Act. He regards it as "good news", but laments:

Reading this, the overwhelming feeling is that this is exactly the sort of settlement crown and iwi would have been discussing if the law had not been passed and iwi had been free to contest ownership through the courts. So instead of having a few court cases short-circuited by negotiation and mutual settlement, we've had them short-circuited by law and a denial of fundamental human rights - with consequent feelings of betrayal and mistrust - to achieve pretty much the same result. In what universe could that possibly be considered a good outcome?

By legislating in panic, the government has made its job harder. Not only does it have to reach the same settlements it would have reached anyway; it also has to deal with the legacy of mistrust it has created. We're all going to be paying for that mistake for some time to come.

That hongi with Tame Iti, and his highlighting of Iti's family in a speech, might turn out to be problematic for Key. I am willing to lay odds that Iti's public reputation will be rather poorer than it is now by year's end.

Problematic right now: Close Up's funding of petrol vouchers and accommodation as the price of access to Iti and his famly at Waitangi. It runs dangerously close to paying for the story, however modestly. Moreover, it's the news media not just conveying a particular Waitangi narrative, but actively creating it. Bad move.

PS: In other news, Tim Shadbolt is still a dick. And a bully, to judge by both his tirade against his council management and his performance on Morning Report today.

(I'd have ventured some comment on Super Tuesday, but we have four threads running on the US presidential primaries and I'm not sure we need another one. Pop on over to System and pick your discussion.)

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