Hard News by Russell Brown


National MP Nick Smith has promised an end to the "spiritual nonsense" he says is being forced on New Zealanders by Christian churches. He says his party will end "bizarre" restraints on legitimate commercial activity on such days as "Good" Friday.

Smith described as "fantasy" the popular Christian belief that an ancestor called Jesus Christ came back to life two days after dying whilst nailed to a wooden cross.

"We won't stop there," Smith said, saying that the attention paid to objections from Christian churches to the Civil Union Bill "shows just how politically correct and stupid" Parliament had become: "Why, when medical science quite clearly demonstrates that homosexuality is simply an element of human diversity, should the country be held to ransom by people holding the hocus-pocus view that it is somehow sinful? I mean, are people with freckles 'sinful' too?"

Smith said National would "remove any references to the spiritual world" from legislation, and end the "credibility" extended to Christian beliefs by such customary practices as opening Parliament with a prayer.

He was joined by the Act Party spokesman Ken Shirley, who attacked "the nonsense of allowing spiritual and metaphysical considerations to creep into our laws". Shirley said his party wanted urgently to curb the right of Christians to object to the placement of legitimate businesses such as brothels near their sacred places.

Yes, the paragraphs above are satire. Smith and Shirley would never be rash enough to mock the spiritual beliefs of Christians. The spiritual beliefs of Maori, on the other hand, are always fair game. The actual releases from Smith and Shirley were attacking the response of the Environment Court to claims by local Maori that land specified for a housing project near Thames was tapu - as evidenced, apparently, by what would be known in Western belief systems as poltergeist activity. You'll note that their comments and choice of language are frequently identical to that I've used above. The Environment Court's crime in this case has been to suggest that the developer meets with the iwi concerned, Ngati Maru, to discuss the tapu at the building site.

There is no real evidence for Shirley's claim that the iwi is seeking leverage - financial or otherwise - over the consent process. Indeed, Ngati Maru's actions over a very similar application in the Auckland region strongly suggest otherwise. As reported a few days ago in the Herald's Business section, Ngati Maru and the developer have agreed on a plan to highlight the "sacredness and exceptional history" of the land - in which umbilical cords and afterbirth are buried - as part of a settlement.

Both sides are adamant that no money changed hands as part of the settlement. The High Court judge who prodded the developer with the observation that "the relationship between Maori and their ancestral land is not a mere verbal formula, but a value to be given serious weight because of its expression of the sensibilities of actual people," showed a degree of respect that seems quite absent from the minds of Smith and Shirley.

As it happens, I don't subscribe to any of the above belief systems - although, as I have previously noted, I find Tangaroa a more convincing theoretical presence than an all-purpose God when I'm standing on a roaring ocean beach. Both National and Act aim to fix the Maori hoodoo problem (which has not actually prevented the building of a motorway or a prison) by gutting the Resource Management Act of any cultural content. I think Tariana Turia might have to stop pretending she'd be able enter a coalition with either of them.