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Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Troubled Treaty requires respect

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The first to go in Christchurch's red zone is this house in Seabreeze Close, Bexley. Photo / Simon Baker
The first to go in Christchurch's red zone is this house in Seabreeze Close, Bexley. Photo / Simon Baker

That sound you hear is activists, both Maori and Pakeha, folding up their "Treaty is a Fraud" posters and putting them away now that the Government has revealed it has three options for dealing with Treaty provisions when the sale of state-owned assets begins.

The difficulty for the Government is that it has already shown its willingness to treat the Treaty of Waitangi with contempt in order to make a few dollars. I was happy at one point to see omitted the clause requiring anyone buying an SOE to attend to Treaty principles. Backtracking notwithstanding, that such a move could even be considered is hard to credit. As a bicultural nation we are nothing without this longstanding, troublesome agreement between Maori and Pakeha. It is all we have that can be seen as in any sense a founding document. Reinforced by custom, it has held us together for 182 years.

In that time it has been attacked, reviled, ignored, abused and mocked but, since the 1970s, it has also been respected by successive Governments.

The decision to consider omitting the Treaty clause to expedite asset sales marks the end of an era. The Treaty has never been made law but its principles have been honoured - when they have been - because a treaty is a treaty. There has been something honourable in all this. It has provided a foundation on which to build a country that, for all its faults, has faced the consequences of colonialism like few others.

Underlying the Government's attitude is an us-and-them mindset in which acknowledging the Treaty is something Pakeha do for Maori in order to keep them happy. This is an insult to Maori and Pakeha alike.

* * *

Demolition of houses in the Christchurch Red Zone has begun. The former owners of the buildings will not be notified that their family homes are about to be obliterated.

This seems callous.

Apparently, with 5000 homes to get through, it's not practical to notify everybody. That sure is a lot of houses, but it's hard to imagine that one phone call, text or email for each house would add greatly to the workload. I'm no expert on demolition, but I'd guess it's a lot easier for a few people to get in a car and make a trip across town than it is to assemble the necessary heavy machinery and execute the demolitions themselves.

Sure, these are only bricks and glass and timber on one level, but they are also the places in which people brought up their children, lived out their dreams, fought and laughed and loved. You do get attached.

Grief counsellors will tell you that getting a chance to say goodbye is a big part of successful mourning. Those who have been made homeless by the disaster have much to mourn and have had precious little help to do so.

There are many things we have given up on because they are too expensive, including free lunches in schools, free tertiary education and universal free health care. So when something quite simple and cheap can be done that would bring enormous benefit to a large number of people, it should be done. Not everyone will be able to get themselves across town to farewell their former home at short notice, but that doesn't mean those who can should not be given the chance.

* * *

Think you've got problems? There are problems coming your way you haven't even thought of. One of the advantages named in an advertisement encouraging the elderly to downsize their family homes for something a little more bijou is that they will no longer have to worry about airing rooms that are never used. Imagine the relief.

- Herald on Sunday

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