Deborah Coddington

Deborah Coddington is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Deborah Coddington: MP insults us while failing to grasp our bond with land

We all have cuzzies, uncles, granddads on the land. Photo / Herald on Sunday
We all have cuzzies, uncles, granddads on the land. Photo / Herald on Sunday

Embattled MPs silently give thanks when monumental events like the Christchurch earthquake take over the headlines and relieve them from fronting up on television.

Nonetheless, Maurice Williamson should not be allowed to wriggle out of his scattergun accusations last week that New Zealanders are racist.

Speaking as Land Information Minister - that is, one of those charged with approving or declining the application from Chinese company Natural Dairy to buy the dairy farms formerly owned by Alan Crafar - Williamson said this country's opposition to foreign investment was targeted more against Asians than Europeans, and it "frightened" him that Kiwis think foreign investment is a "bad thing".

Williamson is not a fool, but he says idiotic things. Former leaders banished him to the back benches for his outbursts. John Key has more sense and tried to explain away his intemperance as folksy humour. As I used to tell my children when they dredged up this lame excuse, jokes are meant to be funny.

On Friday, Williamson went to ground, refusing to front the media. Big and brave in front of a business-friendly audience. Not so bold when hard questions are asked. Little puppies yap annoyingly. Working dogs bark when strength is required.

I find it nauseous that Williamson, who carries the title Honourable, can throw insults around with impunity. Yet in the very same week, a Supreme Court judge must fight through the High Court to try to preserve his honourable name.

However, I do not believe Williamson is racist for telling unoriginal jokes at an awards ceremony shortly before he accused us all of being racist.

But his statements are without merit. This country was built on foreign investment - South British Insurance, Commercial Bank of Australia - I never saw Kiwis run screaming in terror from these august institutions.

And if you look at last year's statistics, $4.9 foreign billions were invested in land, plus $219 billion in manufacturing, finance and insurance companies. So there's still plenty of unopposed foreign investment pouring in.

New Zealanders aren't racist, but they are emotional about the land and what's so wrong with that? It's what defines us, sets us apart from those we rub up against when we visit New York, London or even across the ditch, Sydney. We like to think we can shove our feet into gumboots, whistle up the huntaway, round up some sheep and drive a tractor, even though most of us can't.

When you switch on the telly in your Manhattan hotel, you won't see ads for sheep drench or gorse spray, but apartment dwellers in Auckland don't bat an eyelid at the bugger ads, sheep-shagging or Southern men. We identify with those, because we have cuzzies, uncles, granddads on the land.

I might not be making much sense here, but bear with me, because national identity is hard to define. It's a visceral thing and that's why 20,000 people paid 70 cents to respond to Close Up's television poll, overwhelmingly saying they don't want to sell New Zealand land to overseas owners.

I reckon if Close Up had altered that poll, and asked if farms were to be LEASED to overseas owners, the response would be different. And get this: we're talking about "overseas owners" here. Not foreigners who make the commitment to leave their homeland, move to New Zealand and sign up to being a Kiwi.

New Zealanders don't care who owns the dairy, the bank - any business - but only the land endures. If foreigners - Europeans, Asians, whoever - want to buy New Zealand land, we want them to settle here and be Kiwis. That means leaving their foreign-based corporate identity at the border.

I grew up on a farm and neighbouring farms were often sold to foreigners, one to a Scotsman who culled then cut a sheep in half, wool still intact, right around the middle. They were initially treated with suspicion but were welcomed into the community because they wanted to be Kiwi farmers.

So answer me this: why is it not racist when Maori New Zealanders have an emotional bond with the land, but racist when Pakeha New Zealanders feel the same instinctive passion? Can't Pakeha New Zealanders have their turangawaewae?

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