Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Alas poor Trev's homework on moa goes awry

Trevor Mallard. Photo / APN
Trevor Mallard. Photo / APN

Taika Waititi recently said of his movie What We Do in the Shadows that everybody needs a bit of silly in their lives. Labour's Trevor Mallard immediately took his advice.

He gave a speech to the Wainiuomata Business Development breakfast. It began well. A lifelong Wainuiomartian, Mr Mallard spoke of his links to the valley, over the hill from the Hutt Valley. He made a good joke about being in the under 7s cricket team, which was all out for six runs against arch rivals Riverside. "We took our name too literally."

He spoke of the joys of the valley's microclimate, its community spirit, its need to attract more people and the low property prices, getting in a jab at the value to loan requirements making it harder for young families in the area to buy first homes "as a side effect of targeting Auckland house prices".

So far, so on message. Then he revealed he'd been spending quite a bit of time on Google and he had discovered the solution to Wainuiomata's problem.

He had discovered the science of de-extinction. He wanted the moa back in the bush around Wainuiomata.

Mallard's enthusiasm was such that he took a journey around the Press Gallery to deliver the speech in person, along with photos of himself cuddling a kiwi, and illustrations of the Spanish bucardo ibex and the gastric-brooding frog in Australia.

Attempts had already been made to bring these two species back from the dead, although one did die again rather swiftly and the other never resulted in viable foetuses.

Mallard had done his homework and believed such a development was like Rachel Hunter's hair condition - it would not happen overnight, but it would happen in 50-100 years. He would be 110 by then but expected to be alive given he was now, aged 60, only at the mid-point of his career. He pointed out his grandmother had lived to 99 and "medical science is improving even faster than de-extinction".

So when it happened Mallard wanted Wainuiomata to be first in line for its moa. Such a measure would be a boon for tourism in Wainuiomata, turning it into the Galapagos of the nation. But in the shorter term, it prompted an onslaught of jokes rather than tourists. Most were at Mallard's expense. There were the predictable observations about his surname. There were the predictable observations about Labour's chances of extinction and Mallard's. Steven Joyce observed only someone of Mallard's longevity would remember what a boon the moa had been for tourism last time round, before their extinction sometime in the late 19th century. Maurice Williamson thought a grand coalition with Mallard was a good idea: what magic Williamson's 3D printer and Mallard's grand idea could create if combined.

Only the Greens refused to be drawn into the fun. Gareth Hughes tweeted that rather than try to bring extinct species back, Mallard should instead be focused on saving the Maui's dolphin from the same fate. Even David Cunliffe couldn't resist a pun or two as he summarily chucked it out of consideration, by way of declaration that "this one's not going to fly" and "the moa's not a goer". Ba da boom! In two puns Mallard's scheme was gone by morning tea time. Finance spokesman David Parker didn't even have time to start hammering out costings.

It also prompted immediate tut tutting from Labour's more earnest supporters on Twitter. Labour was about to start launching its education policies and was heading into a critical election year congress. Mallard was a distraction, an attention hog. One tweeter accused Mallard of "derailing your party's comms and PR".

Mallard clearly had reservations about the prior assumptions in that statement for he persisted with his moa campaign.

He was thinking outside the box. He had a vision. He had a dream. He also had fine print. His great vision was confined to the small cute kind of moa, the ones he could pat on the head - not the giant moa - the ones "not much heavier than turkeys". Those listening to the speech possibly wondered which turkey he was talking about.

But as well as the tourism and scientific advantages, Mallard saw electoral advantages. If you can capture imaginations you can capture votes. He is contesting Hutt South and there is some concern that boundary changes will eat into his majority to the favour of National's Chris Bishop. How better to win the people than to promise moa! Look how well it worked for Key when he promised pandas (also yet to be delivered).

So he took the television cameras out to the bush and showed them the moa's future home. He had his handsome Australian shepherd Jeeves with him, determined to show he was ready for the moa muster or at least the dog lover vote muster.

Alas for dear Trevor, his research on Google put him at odds with Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand which states: "They will never be able to recreate a moa, as the DNA exists in small, damaged fragments and most is mitochondrial DNA, which only contains a tiny amount of the total moa genetic code."

So, like the moa, the story died off at least until 2064 when the world will find out who was right: Mallard or the encyclopedia.

- NZ Herald

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Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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