Newstalk ZB's Leighton Smith posed a pertinent question last week, as is his wont. "Why do we play this game?" he asked, as another Te Tii Marae debacle evolved from a shambles to a circus, with the Prime Minister saying he wouldn't be there on Friday because he hadn't been invited. Then he had been and would be. Then he had been but wouldn't go if he wasn't allowed to reply to critics.
Turns out that the marae trustees did want him there, but by the time that email hit Mr Key's office he had decided to go elsewhere. And who could blame him?
Why we give this ridiculous annual display of self-proclaimed importance any credence at all defies explanation. Te Tii Marae's only significance is conferred by its geographical location, a stone's throw from the Treaty Grounds. It is one marae. It does not speak for Ngapuhi, let alone Maoridom. And it has simply become a focus for protest, the only benefit of which is that it seems to have drawn the malcontents away from Waitangi Day itself. New Zealanders of all ethnicities are now free to enjoy the day without being harangued by people who make plenty of noise but little, if any, sense.
On that point, it would be nice if those in the media who give vent to their dismay this time every year were to make the distinction between February 5 and the day after. The protests, frustrating, annoying and pointless as they might be, do not detract from Waitangi Day at Waitangi, which has become a wonderful occasion for all to enjoy. If the protesters are spoiling something it is Waitangi Eve, and that is an important difference.
February 5 at Te Tii and the days leading up to it have long been an irrelevance, a puerile show of childish temper and bad behaviour that benefits no one. Minister for Treaty Negotiations Chris Finlayson last week described it as a third- rate Vaudeville act, and plenty of people would agree with him. While this year's cause celebre, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, clearly concerns some people, the cause hardly matters. Last year it was exploring for oil, next year it will be something else. And no one is going to let the facts get in the way of a good old-fashioned tantrum.
The critics tell us that there is no mention of Maori or the Treaty of Waitangi in the TPP. Wrong. Detail of the agreement, released weeks ago, clearly shows that the Treaty of Waitangi will continue to take precedence. We have been told that pharmaceuticals will become more expensive thanks to TPP. Wrong. We have been told that alleged breaches of the agreement will be heard by secret tribunals. Right once, now wrong.
For all that, some people, Friday's dildo-tossing nurse included, insist that we are being betrayed by this agreement. Most have difficulty explaining how they have reached that conclusion - one boy racer said last week that he was sick of the price of petrol going up. And this idiot is allowed to vote.
Whether or not we should accept politicians' assurances is a moot point. We know from past experience that assurances can be empty. Who remembers National Cabinet Minister Max Bradford telling us, after his reforming of the electricity market, to watch our power bills go down?
We are still watching. It is relevant here though that a future government could walk away from the TPP, assuming it will come to pass in a couple of years' time, but none of those who have vented their spleen thus far seem to have considered the fact that this country is already party to more trade agreements than they can poke a stick at. And that doesn't keep them awake at night.
None of them seem to appreciate that if we don't trade with bigger economies - and beyond the Pacific islands that's all of them - we have no future, economic or otherwise. That forecast applies to the protesters as much as every other New Zealander.
The big worry, of course, is that we are in the process of losing our sovereignty, given that our prescriptions are going to cost more under TPP and some corporate bogey will be able to sue us if we adopt laws that they perceive as disadvantaging them. Well here's a news flash - New Zealand's sovereignty is a myth. We gave it away long ago to the likes of the World Trade Organisation, the International Labour Organisation, the World Bank and a raft of free trade agreements that were negotiated and signed without a murmur of protest from the flag wavers.
The major villain in terms of sovereignty of course is the United Nations, formed after WWII , in similar mould as its post-WWI predecessor the League of Nations, to prevent such a cataclysmic conflict in the future. What an outstanding success it has been.
It has presided over a world constantly at war, where pestilence, starvation, genocide and corruption make this planet a hell for countless millions of people. It has proved itself to be utterly impotent when it matters, even to effectively ease the suffering of people whose great misfortune has been to be born in the wrong place, but it has been rather more successful in imposing its will on countries that do behave themselves. Countries like ours.
Over the years we have signed up, or more accurately politicians have signed up on our behalf, to a plethora of UN conventions that dictate the way we live and interact with each other and the world. No protests there? Nope. No concerns about loss of sovereignty? Obviously not. Even visits by the UN's special rapporteurs, who unfailingly come to the conclusion that Maori are ill- treated in this country, go unremarked upon. The cynic might say that some of us are prepared to cede our sovereignty to others if the message they are conveying appeals to us. Never mind the principle.
Meanwhile, back at Te Tii, last week's buffoonery included the unedifying sight of opposition politicians waiting in the rain for an hour or more until they were welcomed on to the marae. What a disgraceful display of bad manners. These people were presumably invited to be there, but were left out in the weather while their hosts did goodness knows what. This had nothing to do with tikanga or culture. This was about common human decency. Who would invite guests to their home then leave them standing out in the rain? And who but a craven politician would accept that rudeness? Why did they not turn around and go home?
Who, for that matter, would invite the national spotlight then charge the media $750 a head to turn the light on? It seems that print and radio representatives at least didn't part with the cash, some of them sneaking into the marae to get what they wanted, but why would they want to do that?
Surely we have reached the point where all publicity should cease. What happens at Te Tii is of no moment at all. Publicity simply panders to the egos of people intent on making the most of a fleeting period of prominence that is conferred upon them by a bigger event nearby. There is no valid reason for the media wanting to be there, and they should stay away. Unless, of course, the trustees want to pay them to be there.