Friday, March 27, 2020

Karl du Fresne: Harawira's opportunistic try-on in the Far North

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight. Hone Harawira and his mates are manning checkpoints on main highways in the Far North to intercept tourists and turn them back, ostensibly to protect their people from Covid-19. He describes it as a border-closing exercise. 

And the police, whose statutory duty is to maintain law and order, appear to have meekly gone along with this brazen usurpation of their authority by a failed MP (he was tossed out by his own Maori voters in 2014) with no legal mandate whatsoever. 

So too, we are told, has the local mayor, former National MP John Carter.
While the eyes of the country and the media have been on supermarket queues, toilet paper shortages and prime ministerial press conferences, Harawira appears to be using the health crisis as a smokescreen for an opportunistic grab for power – and he’s getting away with it.

Some commentators have rightly highlighted the risk that new rules imposed to control the spread of Covid-19 will lead to an abuse of state power, but an even greater danger to civil liberties is posed when Maori activists take it upon themselves to limit people’s freedom of movement. Politicians can at least be punished at the next election if they get things wrong or overstep the mark, but who is Harawira accountable to? No one.

We didn't see this coming, but perhaps we should have. Harawira comes from a whanau with a long history of bullying and aggressive behaviour.

His concerns about the threat posed to Maori health in the Far North by thoughtless overseas tourists might be entirely valid. Elderly Maori are especially vulnerable. But no one, Maori or otherwise, gave Harawira the right to take matters into his own hands (with the help of his rugby league-playing mates, whose presence at the roadblocks can be counted on to intimidate travellers into complying with their instructions/requests).

This is a classic try-on: a direct challenge to the authority of those who are supposed to be in charge, such as the police and district council. And far from resisting him, they’re cravenly waving him through.

Police deputy commissioner Wally Haumaha dresses up police co-operation with Harawira as a matter of supporting local iwi and encouraging people to work together. It’s not about putting roadblocks in place, he assured Radio NZ. But that’s exactly what it is, even if Haumaha prefers to use bullshit euphemisms such as “safe assembly points” or “community safety zones”.

Harawira was also interviewed on RNZ but predictably wasn’t asked the obvious questions, such as who appointed him as local commissar or where he got his authority. He talked of “weeding out tourists” and “politely” turning them around and sending them back to Auckland. He sounded like a man confident no one would try to stop him, and indeed claimed he was working with the police.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who remembers the failure of the police to take action on previous occasions when Maori protesters defied the law by blocking public roads leading to disputed land, or allowed the iwi of James Takamore to keep his body against his family’s wishes when all the courts said it had no right to.

You could almost be excused for wondering whether Harawira fancies himself as a local version of the Middle Eastern and North African warlords who exercise total authority within their own domains and are answerable to no one.  The disgrace is that the people we rely on to uphold the rule of law are standing back and letting it happen.

Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at


Ray S said...
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Harawira is an embarrassment for all maori as are the police for the entire country in this instance. Closing a state highway without any authority as they have done, must surely be a criminal act. For the police to roll over and allow it to continue shows just how afraid we are being tagged racist. If the police were to remove or arrest these people, Harawira would undoubtedly play the race card.

I have read that a BOP tribe has declared a rahui on their land which includes part of state highway 35. Effectively baring access to the area to all but tribe members.

In both these instances, it is not necessary to blockade any road while the country is in lock down and 99% of citizens are unable to travel.

Anonymous said...
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Fear not, The police are much more subtle than that and well used to people like Harawira.
They know these things start off with much attention grabbing fanfare but when boring routine is required they will fade into oblivion. Just give Harawira his moment of publicity and it will soon fade away when sustained presence at roadblocks is called for. TV showed a clip of him in action in the rain and he said he would be pleased when it was time to go home.

Robert Mann said...
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Surprisingly, Karl has omitted the pseudo-officlal title accorded by Radio NZ to Harawira's road-blocking gang -- end in the word Board.
Yes I saw the chief gangster on TV complaining at lack of relief. Such reticence, so coy ... anyone taken in by this humble act will understandably by anonymous.

Aldosezarogonz said...
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An interesting but long known strategy by certain "elements" who signalled their intent as long ago as the early 1980s. Back then, I was taken up north by a leading dissident from those parts and shown their "operations" network which included training camps, supply systems, civil disobedience planned stratagem locale. A very sobering sight and set up. This would appear to be the reality of that. This is the now "opened door" for this dissident "element" to enact their separatist agenda as exposed in a clandestine meeting of people they assumed would support their apartheid cause. Rise of their version of Kingitanga. If we want a separatist state in Northland or the Uruwera or else where, this is the perfect opportunity to enact it. There are guns aplenty with munitions dumps and supply lines already in existence. Enough sympathisers in the armed forces, police, SAS and other clandestine "official' organisations to mount a Figian style coup with little disturbance to the sleepy minds of the general populace. Just like Sitivini Rambuka achieved.

Owen said...
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What will he do if there is an outbreak in the north? Block doctors, equipment, ambulances?

Chris Taylor said...
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This sort of situation happens in many parts of the world as the writer correctly says. Not only the Middle East and North Africa but also sub-Saharan Africa too. The phenomenon only exists in countries without law ie without a democratic socio-political system. It is to be hoped that NZ is not or has not become this.

Bruce of Bananaland said...
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When we have weak government there are always those that seek to fill the vacuum.

This currently small excursion "off the reservation" is just a start. Emboldened by weak kneed police and politicians the groups will try a little further and further until they become the de facto authority. Society will be bullied into a cowed position to save their own hide just as they fold before warlords and terrorists.

We are witnessing the destruction of New Zealand because we have a weak socialist government trying to capture the votes of like-minded people by pork barrelling with borrowed money and a destroyed economy in the process.

RRB said...
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The rhetoric should be directed at the police and the minister of police. Harawera bathes in the public glorification from his own kind. Why is a group of Maori supremacists and beneficiaries blatantly allowed to break the law supported by the local police commissioner and the Police minister who hides in the Beehive.
A much harder crowd to deal to than the lawful gun owners the police minister has been persecuting.