Hard News by Russell Brown


What we have really lost

John Hartevelt in The Press this morning has an angle that nicely illustrates how imminent was an agreement in principle between the Crown and Tuhoe before the Prime Minister's cancellation-by-press-conference of the agreement's key feature: the Crown had already run up commemorative pens for a signing ceremony scheduled for last Friday.

Also this morning, David Farrar says that John Key has told him he dropped the bombshell – that a transfer of title to Urewera National Park to Tuhoe had been rejected by the government -- as he did "because Tuhoe asked him to".

He says iwi members were already making arrangements to travel to Friday's signing ceremony and needed to know there was, thanks to a Cabinet decision, now no deal to sign. So Key undertook to make the announcement at Monday's post-Cabinet press conference. This seems plausible.

But Farrar also says "I doubt many people have an issue with the actual decision."

I'm not so sure. It may have been reasonable for the public to have some qualms about seabed and foreshore claims, if only because the scope and meaning of any claims was, and is, unclear.

But, as Tariana Turia explained in a column for the Herald, Te Urewera has been explicitly connected with Tuhoe throughout the tribe's history. It has at various times been legally recognised as the property of Tuhoe and its alienation was effected through confiscation and a subsequent brutal purge on the people of the land.

While most of us live near the shoreline, and treasure that fact, very few New Zealanders will ever venture to Te Urewera. Around 95% of the people who live in the area are Tuhoe. The Crown appears to be neglecting the land; Tuhoe would surely treasure it. And in contrast to the flux currently surrounding the foreshore and seabed, guaranteed public access was built in to the deal on the table.

Would the handover of a national park be unprecedented? Yes. But Tuhoe's position is also unprecedented.

The idea that Cabinet was wary of feeding the backlash against mining on Conservation land by alienating a national park -- canvassed in the Herald two days before Key's announcement – seems a little far-fetched. The people most opposed to Schedule 4 land mining might well welcome the return of Tuhoe's land.

I'm surprised, then, that another event has barely been mentioned. After a thoroughly indecent delay, the trial of 18 people charged subsequent to the so-called anti-terror raids of 2007 will begin on August 8, next year.

The court may hear evidence that suggests the police over-reacted that October; that they were seeking to explore and exercise new powers granted them under anti-terrorism laws. But it will also hear evidence that suggests that the key actors were, at best, alarming clowns who were collecting and training with weapons and other military equipment. It will hear of urban "peace" activists obtaining weapons in solidarity, silencers included. I would not be surprised if illicit drugs became part of the picture.

And it will all unfold as we approach a general election. Labour leader Phil Goff appeared determined in his Q+A interview yesterday to keep open his options for attacking the government, and notably unwilling to say that Labour would support a transfer of title. Chris Trotter will doubtless be happy to continue delivering madly apocalyptic warnings about appeasing Maori.

The irony is that even a day or two after the raids, the would-be Tuhoe freedom fighters were still regarded locally as dangerous idiots. Yet the justice they desired is not so far from the justice promised in the agreement now yanked from the table. A fair and civil agreement offering Tuhoe their due would have undercut the rebels; it would have emphasised our ability to seek a just solution by negotiation rather than to demand it by arms. And I fear that's what we have really lost here.

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