Paul Holmes on New Zealand

Paul Holmes is an award-winning Herald columnist

Paul Holmes: Action against Tuhoe typical of NZ governments

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Tame Iti makes a point to the media outside the High Court at Auckland. Photo / Greg Bowker
Tame Iti makes a point to the media outside the High Court at Auckland. Photo / Greg Bowker

What was so uncanny and disturbing about that police action against the Tuhoe people at Ruatoki was that it was so typical of the way New Zealand governments have always dealt with them. The New Zealand government has always displayed a capacity for savagery and vindictiveness in their dealings with Tuhoe.

There is something special about Tuhoe. As a people they have held fiercely to their independence, right from the get-go. Trouble for Tuhoe came early. In 1865 an Anglican priest was murdered at Opotiki, not by a member of the Tuhoe nation. The priest was hanged and before he was cold his eyes were ripped out and eaten. The fellow who instigated that hanging fled up into the Urewera country and Tuhoe got the blame for the murder. As punishment, the government came in with a massive land confiscation. Tuhoe lost their best, most fertile land and their access to the sea.

Then came Te Kooti who took refuge in the Ureweras. Te Kooti waged a serious war.

There was a lot of killing. The government went in again with devastating force. Crops burned, homes destroyed, people locked up, the works.

By the end of the 19th century, however, everyone had had enough. Prime Minister Richard Seddon was talking about letting Tuhoe be what they wanted to be. He drew up the Urewera District Native Reserve Bill in 1896. The Ureweras would be "regionally autonomous". Seddon actually used the expression "self- governing" people. The bill passed into law. But then the Tuhoe were hit with frosts and famine and their population was decimated. They were on their knees. Seddon died and the self-governing idea went floating off into space.

But not for everyone. And that's why we cannot write off the aspirations of Tame Iti and his friends as crazy. Iti is a stylish man and a man of strong belief. I used to write him off as a cocky little bastard. But then I noticed that a lot of people wrote me off too as a cocky little bastard.

Anyway, the police seemed to have convinced themselves that Iti and his mates were contemplating armed and organised revolution. Well, I can't see it. Never could. The jury couldn't, either.

Nevertheless, what in God's name was going on up in the bush with all that military ordnance? It was odd, to say the least. Something was getting indecently passionate. Still, it was Tame Iti and Tame Iti has been stumping round that bush for years. He is an angry man but mainly, I think, theatrically angry. I don't think he would hurt a fly.

He is a character. And what he says makes perfect sense. If the police wanted to know what he was up to, they have his cellphone number, they know where he lives. And all they had to do was talk to him.

This is New Zealand, for God's sake. We don't do armed rebellion these days. We shoot a flag on the ground or we write to the newspaper or we ring talkback.

I felt for Nick Smith this week, as he quit his Cabinet posts. He was silly to interfere with the woman's ACC claim and to do it on ministerial letterhead, not once but twice. Goneburger. Cabinet ministers can't do that.

Nick Smith has given two decades of fine and cheerful service to Parliament at a senior level. That's the thing about him, really, his cheerfulness and pleasantness. Over the years, some Labour people whispered derisively of "medication" but I never took that too seriously at all. He was just damned good at what he did and in the house he was solid as a rock.

Mind you, I have to say, the best speech of the afternoon on Thursday was Tau Henare's. Henare thundered from the back row his list of Labour miscreants.

One forgets how many of our politicians have been dodgy. But he had a special place for Trevor Mallard, who had been to London recently to learn about, of all things, parliamentary process.

Parekura Horomia couldn't resist a point of order. Leaping to his feet, if "leaping" is not too vivid a description for the movements of Mr Horomia, he informed the speaker that Mr Henare is shortly off to Uganda to teach them parliamentary process there. Yes, admitted Mr Henare, but he was going with a Labour member and a Green member.

All very jolly and presided over with good humour by the consist-ently avuncular Dr Lockwood Smith.

- NZ Herald

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