Hard News by Russell Brown

Roads to glory

So a billion dollars' work has been lopped off Auckland's Eastern Corridor proposal because there's no apparent way of paying for it. It's hard to credit that when John Banks announced the big plan last year he was trumpeting a new harbour tunnel to go with it.

Now, we won't even see the other tunnel he was championing - the one under Parnell (impractical and expensive, the mayor says, as if he always thought it was a silly idea) and the expressway, shorn of its bus lanes, will span Hobson Bay, below a clutch of wealthy and quite probably litigious residents (these are the people, remember, who went to court to try and stop something as innocuous as an upgrade to Parnell baths).

Even if you accept the benefits, it's the costs that remain the problem. Checkpoint ran some Auckland vox pops yesterday, and found some people in favour. It might have been interesting to have heard their response to the question "Do you support the Eastern Corridor if it means being charged to drive to and from the city on any major road (including the harbour bridge) at peak hours every day?" Because that's what's being proposed. The frequently-made claim that a mere toll on the Eastern Corridor itself has been quietly put to one side. Now it's all roads to and from the city.

Congestion pricing isn't necessarily a bad idea, but you do it as part of a broad transport strategy that offers people options such as viable public transport - not simply to pay for a pet project. The one good thing about the congestion pricing idea at the moment is that it stands to capture some revenue from the rest of greater Auckland, because at the moment there's simply very little in the Eastern Corridor - a road to Howick - for me as an Auckland City ratepayer. Frankly, I'll believe it when I see it (a) emerge from the consent process unscathed, and (b) Aucklanders get a real look at what it will cost them and where, and still vote in the mayor and council to do it.

Here's an irony: it seems that just two months ago, Michael Berg, father of Nick Berg, the American executed in Iraq was, along with their tower inspection company, being targeted as "the enemy" by people on the extreme but influential conservative website The Free Republic. His offence? Being on a list of signatories to a peace petition posted by one sweaty Freeper. Hundreds of other Freepers pile into the comments column promising "serious grief" for some on the list, including the reporting of the names of federal employees to the FBI. I guess the Bergs have a more profound form of grief to deal with now, huh? (Thanks to Joe Wylie for finding that link.)

It was interesting that by last night's late news on TV, the story of the killing of Nick Berg, a hitherto unknown American, had overtaken that of New Zealander John Tyrell, who is, any way you look at it, just as dead. Suddenly, it's not just death and suffering to which we respond, but the graphic spectacle of such; prison pictures included. The war has become pornographic - one long snuff movie - and we are all, I fear, increasingly brutalised by it.

Anyway, it appears that there are a few questions yet to be answered about what happened to Berg in Iraq: specifically, with respect to the way he was held with the FBI's knowledge past his planned date of return to the US. No, the FBI didn't chop his head off. But it might be useful to know what the hell happened. The Christian Science Monitor has a good roundup of responses to the hideous video and the claim that the killing it records was a response to the Abi Ghraib abuses.

Three people responded to my invitation earlier this week to comment on what Maori obligations under the Treaty might be, and what responsibilities might come with the rights of rangatiratanga. Kyle Matthews addresses a number of points, including:

On the same site Russell Brown asks "Am I entitled to be annoyed when a Tainui hikoi spokesman appears on Holmes and declares that Maori own the whole coastline and I'm to go there only by invitation?" The answer Russell is simple: no. Or at least, you're only entitled to be if you also think that National Front director Kyle Chapman represents all people of European descent simply because he's the one that ends up on TV.

Not quite what I meant. The spokesman who appeared on Holmes (could somebody put me out of my misery and remind me of his name? The TVNZ website doesn't have it) appeared to do so on the basis of some standing within both Tainui and the hikoi. He wasn't, so far as I'm aware, publicly disowned by either. So it's not quite the same as any Maori saying something silly: more like a member of a political party making an extreme statement and the party suffering repercussions. Organisations will be misunderstood if they don't control their message very carefully.

Philip Temple, author of A Sort of Conscience, the award-winning story of the Wakefields' deals in the early settlement period, took another tack:

I concur with your sense of disappointment with Pat Snedden's second contribution to the Treaty debate, although I still learned much from his vast range of experience in this area, as I did with his first address.

Pat says that the Treaty is ours [pakehas] too and there has been much talk of partnership and yet largely the obligations to the Treaty, in settlements, legislation etc... have been the pakeha's towards Maori. Negotiations on Treaty matters are between Maori - whichever group they are - and the 'Crown'.

Just as occurred back in 1840, British [read NZ] citizens were not consulted at all, although they ended up footing the bills. In Treaty debates, Article 3 is almost never mentioned, except with regard to what rights Maori have under a legal system brought here by the pakeha. Article 3, in fact, made Maori British [read NZ] citizens and being a citizen requires that one works for the common good of the nation.

The political and social institutions that have made New Zealand one of the most open, democratic and fair societies in the world came from Britain, and have been developed according to the needs of a new country, adapting to the needs of all groups, especially Maori, as they should continue to do. But when are Maori going to remember that they signed up to being British and to declare their commitment to our common citizenship? Their rights and needs under the Treaty have been assiduously attended to over the last 20 years. When do we see acknowledgement of their obligations as citizens?

Katharina Ruckstuhl covered a number of other points in depth, including the question about practical forms of governance:

Treaty of Waitangi claims have clearly given Iwi the ability to govern themselves and manage their own resources for their own people. This is appropriate in a modern nation - and at the risk of sounding like a dyed-in-the-wool socialist - unless Maori "own the means of production", then there is little chance of making big gains at the systemic level - no Government, no matter how well intentioned, can actually make any difference unless there is a willing pool of people prepared to actually do the real work. Iwi are prepared to.

But what I meant is that iwi don't operate in a vacuum. The advances under the Treaty in recent years mean they increasingly have to interact and co-operate, and in that sense, good governance by and for Maori matters to all of us. She continues:

And while we're on to thresholds - the whole "consulting over prisons in both Ngawha and the Waikato" thing again points the finger only one way. I've heard from some sources, that while the public may have been outraged about the fees paid to the Maori consultant, no-one has said anything about the $1 million paid to the Pakeha consultants. Let's hope the Justice system is getting great value out of them.

My point on the RMA thing isn't the money per se, but that in the case of consents for both prisons (particularly at Ngawha) it seems quite unclear who has the right to say yes or no, and smaller groups may have run off with the process. It's not the first time this kind of confusion has taken place, and similar confusion about, for example, rights to take kai moana, seems not uncommon. This isn't something the Crown or Pakeha can sort out.

Should the exercise of rangatiratanga - chiefly authority - include making sure one party to the process presents a consistent and authoritative position to the other? I'm interested in the idea of whether, say, Ngai Tahu is getting it right while Tainui isn't. That's more what I meant by governance than anything to do with Parliament.

Anyway, thanks to those three. It simply struck me that for all the talk of Crown/Pakeha obligations, nobody says anything about what Maori obligations under the Treaty might be, and that it was worth being a little bit provocative and putting the question. (The bit about child welfare related to statements made by Tariana Turia here and elsewhere, as Associate Minister of Social Services, which appeared to cut across her own service's zero-tolerance strategy on child abuse. I found her message unsettling at the time.)

And finally: I found out a bit more about NZ Idol and ensuing contracts yesterday, by interviewing entertainment lawyer Chris Hocquard on my Wire show on 95bFM (he also happens to act for Paul Ellis - it's a small country). Independent legal advice for all 10 Idol finalists is actually built into the Idol format (if the Salon story I linked to yesterday was accurate, this hasn't always been the case) and a representative of the Idol franchise-holder actually flew out to oversee the formation of a panel of specialist lawyers for the contestants to choose from. This is good.

With regard to BMG exercising its option to sign at least two of the finalists, it appears that Ben's album will be made very quickly (in shops June 15) while Michael's recording project will proceed at a more conventional pace - which is probably an advantage for Michael. And nice one BMG for shipping me over a box of CDs - I was delighted to be able to fill out my Sugarlicks and Capital Recordings collections - but a P&D deal with two good indies isn't quite the same as developing one or more major artists. Still, with it having been through a spell where it had Sir Howard Morrison and not a lot else (after, among other things, sending Che Fu off to Sony), I'm pleased to see BMG renewing its commitment to the local scene. That's all good, as the kids say.