Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

War veteran 'making a stand' after pension cut

Selwyn Clarke was reduced to begging at the Kaitaia market at the weekend after his veteran's pension and disability allowance were stopped. Photo / Peter Jackson
Selwyn Clarke was reduced to begging at the Kaitaia market at the weekend after his veteran's pension and disability allowance were stopped. Photo / Peter Jackson

Northland iwi Ngati Kahu has vowed to keep paying war veteran Selwyn Clarke for as long as it takes after his war pension was stopped because he failed to respond to an arrest warrant.

Iwi chief executive Anahera Herbert-Graves said a Facebook page called "Restore Selwyn's War Pension" raised more than $200 on its first day yesterday.

Maori TV reported that Mr Clarke, 88, was reduced to begging at the Kaitaia market at the weekend after his veteran's pension and disability allowance were stopped on November 23 because he did not respond to a warrant for his arrest over a trespass charge arising from a protest occupation of Kaitaia Airport last September.

"He hated doing this," Ms Herbert-Graves said. "He has basically gone through all his savings. It's just demeaning, but at the same time he does have a political point of view and that is that he was on his own land and he doesn't recognise the legitimacy of anyone to come into the courts."

Mr Clarke said he had no intention of appearing before the district court so his warrant to arrest would be withdrawn and his veteran's pension restored.

"Attending the court is not in my kaupapa," he said.

"It's not in [the court's] kaupapa to attend the marae, but we need to get together to sort this out. We will do that eventually. When this has blown over a bit I will invite the judge to sit down and look at how we can address it."

Mr Clarke said he was making his stand for all other New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha, who could be in jeopardy from the same government policy in the future, and were not aware of it.

"If I don't make a stand it will affect thousands of other people, Maori and Pakeha," he said.

"If I give in now it will affect them later on. This is affecting people who don't need to be affected."

The only contact he had had was from the Ministry of Veterans' Affairs, which he understood had made contact with the police. He had had no warning from the Ministry of Social Development that he stood to lose his pension if the warrant to arrest was not withdrawn.

He lost the pension, which he said was worth around $300 a fortnight, in November, but had only discovered what had happened when he couldn't pay his bills. He was still receiving a war pension of around $500 a fortnight.

His initial response had been to sell his tools, but he didn't get much for them and could not raise enough money to live on. So he began begging in Kaitaia.

"What else can I do?" he asked.

"I'm beyond working; my war injuries are playing up more than they used to."

Meanwhile, he lived a simple life on the Ahipara gumfields, where he had spent most of his life. And he was receiving significant support, including financially.

His predicament had now gained international attention, even in Britain's House of Lords, he said, that institution's response being to "wait and see what happens".

Iwi chair Professor Margaret Mutu said Mr Clarke took his case to the iwi runanga or "parliament" at the weekend and won the iwi's full backing.

"He takes the view, which quite a few of our people take, that under the Treaty we never acceded our sovereignty, and therefore he does not come under the jurisdiction of the Crown," she said.

The Ministry of Social Development said that Mr Clarke was "in full control of his situation and knows what he needs to do to resume payments".

"When he clears his warrant, we are happy to help and will resume payments," the ministry said.

The law was changed in 2013 to stop all pensions and benefits for people with outstanding arrest warrants. Previous reports have said 14 superannuitants had their pensions suspended because of outstanding warrants up to early last year.

Northland MP Winston Peters said Mr Clarke's pension should be reinstated because the law under which he was arrested for trespass in the airport protest was "highly questionable".

"You have got a law being applied to Selwyn Clarke that, at its foundation, may well be proven to be specious, and therefore an invalid application of the law where he is concerned," he said.

"If his protest was about the valid ownership [of the airport land] and therefore was proven on investigation to be meritorious, then how could the bureaucracy be applying a law in the way that it is applying it to him? It is not a clear-cut case at all.

"The first thing they should do is reinstate his veteran's pension and put some unbiased work into the validity of the claim."

Professor Mutu said Ngati Kahu appealed to the High Court last year to seek a ruling that the Waitangi Tribunal should have issued binding recommendations on the settlement of the iwi claim over Treaty grievances.

The court ordered the tribunal to hear the issue again, but both sides have since appealed to the Court of Appeal on points of law. No date for the higher court hearing has yet been fixed.

- additional reporting Peter Jackson of the Northland Age

- NZ Herald

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