Friday, March 5, 2021

Karl du Fresne: An assumed right of veto?

The protest occupation at the site of a proposed Erebus memorial at Sir Dove-Myer Robinson Park in Parnell is the latest evidence of what seems to be an assumed Maori right of veto.

Dame Rangimarie Naida Glavish is leading the protest, claiming it’s a culturally significant site (isn’t it always?) and that there was inadequate consultation with Maori. Yet her own iwi, Ngati Whatua, gave the project its blessing after a consultation process going back to October 2018. In a statement issued on Wednesday, Ngati Whatua Orakei – the hapu with mana whenua (territorial authority) over the site – detailed its involvement in the approval process and reaffirmed its support.

There’s a pattern emerging here. As at Ihumatao and Wellington’s Shelly Bay, protesters are asserting a right to block projects that had been given the green light - in the case of Shelly Bay, after years of squabbling.

In all three cases, dissidents have challenged decisions made by their own iwi organisations. To put it another way, significant public projects have been compromised - some might say sabotaged - as a result of intra-tribal disputes.

In the case of Ihumatao, this will come at a substantial cost to the taxpayer after the government agreed in December to pay $30 million to undo a housing development deal previously agreed between the local iwi and Fletcher Building.

We can safely assume the eventual bill will be much higher once legal costs and consultancy fees are totted up after a process that we’re told could take five years. That’s the price of the government’s eagerness to win the approval of the Ihumatao activists and their media supporters, who ensured the occupation got plenty of sympathetic publicity.

In the Parnell affair, Auckland mayor Phil Goff appears – so far, at least – to be standing firm against demands that the Erebus memorial be placed elsewhere, though I wouldn’t put money on him holding his ground if the heat goes on.

You certainly don’t have to look far for examples of timid councils backing down in the face of Maori insistence that approved projects be reversed. A notable instance was the about-face executed by Hastings District Council in 2018 over a walking track up the eastern face of Te Mata Peak. The $300,000 track was built and paid for by the adjacent Craggy Range winery, which owned the land and did everything by the book. But the local iwi objected at not having been consulted and demanded that the track be removed.

Both the council and the winery meekly capitulated. The estimated cost of “remediation” at the time was $650,000. I don’t know what the final cost came to, but I noted recently that you can still clearly see the outline of the track zig-zagging up the Te Mata escarpment. If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.

In this case, the iwi veto – which, as far as I can tell, had no basis in law – was exercised retrospectively, making it all the more expensive. But the lesson was clear: bullying works, especially when councils are terrified of being accused of racism.

It worked in New Plymouth last month too, when council workers rushed to remove American flags that had been placed along the main highway to promote a rally of classic American cars.

The organisers had council approval to put them up. But when Taranaki Iwi chief executive Wharehoka Wano took exception to American flags being flown ahead of Waitangi Day, the order went out from the town hall: take them down! Never mind that the council had okayed them in the first place, or that it had also arranged for special Waitangi Day flags to be displayed around the city. This seemed a case of unelected, unaccountable people exerting authority just because they can.

Of course the council apologised. “We’re sorry we dropped the ball in the run-up to our national day,” it said in a grovelling statement. “We’ve been in touch with iwi to apologise.” The council was taking steps to ensure it wouldn’t happen again, and the flags would be put up again once Waitangi Day had passed and fragile cultural sensitivities were presumably less likely to be bruised.

But “apologise” for what, exactly? Not asking the iwi’s permission? Are councils now expected to anticipate iwi objections to something as harmless as a display of American flags? Should they obtain prior iwi consent to all approvals, even those that look routine and innocuous, just in case they might offend someone?

Here’s the thing. Councils are elected to represent the interests of all citizens. They are required to follow processes laid down in law to ensure fair and equal treatment. Once they start going outside those processes to humour a privileged interest group – whether it’s one based on ethnicity or any other characteristic – then they invite public contempt and distrust. It’s not how democracy is supposed to work.

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


DeeM said...

This is what happens when you allow government and councils to be overrun by the woke establishment. Unless you draw a line in the sand and make it clear to activist groups that this kind of behaviour won't be tolerated then, just like spoilt kids, they'll do it even more.
The Maori elite revel in this kind of grandstanding. It makes them feel empowered and special. It's just a massive ego boost. Their protests typically have no real point other than to say we have the power to stop this so we will.
The current government encourages these activities with its Maori pro-racist policies and many councils either support it or are too intimidated to protest.
Nothing will change until we get a centre-right government which promises to ACTUALLY govern for all NZders. The longer this takes the harder it will be to undo.

Fiona said...

It also confirms once again that there is no clone-like "Maori" with one united view on all things. Our media, bureaucracy and government need to give those with Maori ancestry some credit and respect. Each individual has a brain and is entitled to think for oneself. Not all Maori want to toe the tribal line.

Max Ritchie said...

This situation has been developing for years. The latest is the Margaret Mutu-drafted volume seeking a new government system a bit like the Anglican Church one of a Maori parliament and one for the rest of us to jointly decide government matters. It is total nonsense and it is now time to put an end to it.

Barry Kirkwood said...

With respect : I have been following the Erebus memorial site controversy on Facebook and can assure you that many non-maori are opposed to the project and would much prefer the site to remain as it is. Born and raised in Parnell, I must say I agree with them.Bringing up racial issues is muddying the pool.

Robert Mann said...

Relevant to recall: the repeated warning by Sir Peter Tapsell when Speaker and afterwards - tribalism is no basis for modern life.

Lesley Stephenson said...

Karl.......where have you been last few years.....asking iwi permission before we whities can fart is exactly what radical Maori expect....didn't you read that in The Treaty!

Robin said...

We, the general public of N.Z. are being played like a fiddle! If anybody "Dare" speak against whatever the latest (flags etc.) is drummed up of course you're a racist. Bullying and tantrum are two words that come to mind. Spoilt children come to mind.

Anonymous said...

Arguments from Maori activists, often seem equivalent to toddlers in a sandpit. One has a tantrum and claims a toy saying ' I was here first'. Unfortunately this juvenile logic abounds nowadays. Donald