Let me ask you this question: Why did the Prime Minister make the mistake of calling the Maori king in to sort out the problem at Ihumātao?
I call it a mistake for a reason. Because this has made the Ihumātao situation a lot worse than it was seven weeks ago.
Seven weeks ago we were dealing with a bunch of young people camping out on the land in protest and demanding that the government return the land. Now, we dealing with a bunch of young people and the mana whenua apparently and the Maori King, all demanding that the government return the land.
So I think it’s fair to say this is not what the Government wanted the King to do.
The Government’s got everyone from the PM down to try to settle down expectations. Fletchers looks like its freaking out. It’s seeking urgent meetings with everyone involved to try to figure out what the hell’s going to happen next. And the protesters themselves are sounding emboldened saying, they couldn’t care less if this rips open past treaty settlements.
This is a nightmare for the government.
So why, I ask again, did the PM make the mistake of calling the king in? What did she think was going to happen? Why did she trust the king? He’s been no friend of labour’s. Before the last election he publicly endorsed the Maori Party and the Mana Party and said he wouldn’t be voting Labour again.
And isn’t it in his interests to make this call? To say the land should be returned? Doesn’t make him a bit of a hero to advocate for full land return even if it’s impractical?
Here’s the nightmare for the government. It doesn’t matter what it does or how creative it is, if it gives this land back, it emboldens other protesters.
It could ask Auckland Council to buy the land, or the kingitanga to buy the land, or lend the money to the iwi to buy the land itself, or declare the land a heritage site so it maybe skirts the treaty settlement process, or maybe beg Fletchers to give the land back to the iwi.
It doesn’t matter. Because whatever it does, if there is a full return of the land, any other iwi with a gripe about land will see that all it takes is a long protest on the land and eventually somehow, some way, you get the land back.
And there are iwi watching this to see if they should do it. It’s been reported Taranaki-Whanau is watching this. It’s fighting a major development planned for Shelly Bay in Wellington.
Calling in the king was a mistake for the Government. It’s not made this better. It’s made this worse.
Heather du Plessis-Allan is a journalist and commentator who hosts Newstalk ZB's Drive show.