This article was first printed on E-tangata.
I have a Māori nephew who holds independent views. He tends to float in the undercurrent. He and I differed over the efficacy of Covid vaccines and have similar differences about Julian Batchelor’s anti-co-governance campaign.
My nephew is of chiefly bloodlines and holds leadership positions in both mainstream and Māori organisations. His expressed views require respectful consideration.
My nephew holds that those promoting anti-co-governance views are not necessarily anti-Māori. Māori, he says, never asked for co-governance. In fact, he proposes, co-governance takes away mana from our marae and hapū and gives mana to government entities underpinned by trust deeds. He says this is not tikanga Māori and doesn’t have regard to the principles of the Treaty.
I must concede I have sympathy with some of his views. The Treaty machine’s absurd “large and natural entities” policies have led to great division in Ahuriri, a district in Napier.
Hapū have been marginalised and individual Māori beneficiaries have been aggregated under a post-settlement entity called Mana Ahuriri.
The Waiohiki hapū, Ngāti Paarau, has challenged in court the way in which the previous executive of Mana Ahuriri enriched themselves and conducted business in a way neither consistent with tikanga, nor fundamental obligations of trusteeship. The Māori Land Court is yet to rule.
I hear my nephew’s views. Yet, as a Pākehā, tangata Tiriti, I also hear what many of my fellows are currently saying about Māori aspirations. I’m astounded by what they believe. It makes me uncomfortable, uneasy. I find them difficult to reconcile with my mana whenua chiefly nephew’s interpretation of the state of play.
My whānau and I are currently cyclone refugees. For the moment, we’re living away from the pā at Waiohiki in a tidy Hastings suburb.
Last week, in my letterbox, I found a booklet and invitation to attend a free public meeting. Because of the booklet’s fonts and layout, at first glance I thought it was some sort of North American-sourced evangelical publication. Perhaps it is.
The booklet was titled “Stop Co-governance: What it is, why it’s wrong, why it must be stopped”. The author is Julian Batchelor. It seemed to be inflammatory in nature and intentionally divisive.
Perhaps prompted by my nephew’s views, rather than binning it, I was intrigued.
I had heard of Batchelor and recalled the 2015 drama that he became embroiled in when he wanted to develop and subdivide an area of his land in Rāwhiti that the local iwi had identified as wāhi tapu.
Clearly, the experience stung Batchelor to the degree that he might now be described as obsessive. This might be the driving force behind his Stop Co-governance campaign around the country.
The booklet is described by reviewer Bruce Moon as “well-composed and structured”. Moon says it’s been published in response to New Zealand citizens “discovering Māori influence in almost every aspect of our lives from signs in supermarkets and street renaming to vast changes underway in our schools and hospitals”.
“What on earth is going on?” Moon asked. “What is the truth? Where can we find out about it?” And lo, as Moon proposed, the answer was in the pages of the very document I held.
The booklet contains a muddle of misinformation and mischief. For instance, it claims that, by 1865, Māori had sold 90 per cent of Aotearoa to settlers. Wrong.
It promotes preservation of English as “our main language”. The intimation is that we should back off on the normalisation of te reo Māori.
It proposes that there are “special favours/handouts for one racial group only — Māori”.
It asserts that “private tribal companies, tribal representatives, and many politicians today no longer want New Zealand to be one. They want Māori to be an elite, separate and privileged race superior to everyone else.”
It refers to a document, the “Littlewood draft” of Te Tiriti which apparently “went missing and was found in Auckland in 1989. Forensic analysis confirmed it was the final English draft. However under pressure from activists, aided by politicians afraid of losing Māori votes, it was quickly taken out of sight by government officials and hidden away, to this day.”
For the life of me, I can find no reference to this document in Ned Fletcher’s The English text of the Treaty of Waitangi which in my view is the most comprehensive contemporary exposition of Te Tiriti available. Fletcher argues that the Treaty was “conceived, written and affirmed in good faith”.
I accept that proposition. It’s galling to encounter a writer such as Batchelor, who debases research and scholarship with fiction.
Attached to the booklet was an invitation to “an eye-opening and inspiring public lecture”. “Invite friends and family. These events are free!” it proclaimed. It listed five events in Hawke’s Bay, one in the Ongaonga Community Hall, two at the Good News Bible Chapel in Havelock North, and two at the Meeanee Hotel.
The chairman of Ngāti Kahungunu, Bayden Barber, having learned of the distress caused by “hateful rhetoric” at the “lecture” in other rohe, invited Batchelor to an open conversation on co-governance.
“When you come to Ngāti Kahungunu, come in through the waharoa, the front gate, and we can have an open dialogue. My door is always open for an open conversation about co-governance, about working relationships, about moving communities forward. Nau mai, haere mai.”
Batchelor said he would agree to an open discussion “only if it’s live” and on a specific media channel. And here we get the first twist of a very twisted plot. It turns out that Batchelor’s idea of a public meeting is not so public.
There was to be a guest list that determined who was to be allowed inside. Others could “object to what I’m saying somewhere else, not inside my meeting. It is a private meeting.”
I had originally intended to attend the meeting at the Meeanee Hotel. I like the pub. It’s a good crew who drink there and I thought that the likely lecture audience and the locals and the topic would provide an interesting juxtaposition.
I mentioned my intent to a mate. Oh, he told me, once the manager found out who Batchelor really was, she rang him back, told him that this was a Māori business and to go hither and fornicate with himself, or words to that effect.
So, at the appointed hour last Monday, off to the Havelock North Good News Bible Chapel I went.
The last time I had been at the venue was in late February for a meeting between the New Zealand Police, Mongrel Mob and Black Power.
It was a very productive kōrero between groups who were not normally sympathetic with one another. I thought a discussion about co-governance in a Christian environment might produce similar outcomes.
When I arrived, the place was in darkness with a few people milling around the front. There was one police car. I presume Christ knows why this venue was cancelled.
I rang a media contact to find that the venue was now the Hawke’s Bay Racing Centre. Off I went again. Same thing. Lights off. Nothing happening. Apparently, the venue had been booked under false pretenses. Racing industry people are adept at uncovering cons and frauds, so that venue was denied as well.
Another phone call, another possible venue. This time it was, appropriately, the abandoned “Dollarama” shop in Heretaunga St, Hastings, access by way of a back alley in Market St.
There was a crowd of young Māori milling around the entranceway. Seeing that I fit the demographic of the expected audience, as a 71-year-old Pākehā male with invite in hand, I was ushered through to an unkempt, grotty, hall-type venue.
The ceiling sagged. There was rubbish in the hallway. There was no exit lighting. I am a regular event manager and I mused that the normal fire safety requirements and obligations must have been suspended for the night. Pākehā privilege?
I took a seat. There were about 70 people in the room. An image was projected onto the screen in front of us. The image was a 1960s type billboard advertisement of a holiday beach scene with a scantily clad woman on a hammock stretched between two palm trees. In perhaps a “woke” moment, I remember thinking: “This guy is tone deaf.”
I’d come in a little late. A young Māori man, Ariki Haira, was already talking to Batchelor. Ariki was polite and considered in his kōrero. “Julian, can you please tell us what your definition of co-governance is?”
Batchelor was bellicose and arrogant in his response. He said this was his meeting. He was making the presentation and wasn’t going to answer questions put by other people. He was in charge.
Batchelor could have easily and immediately provided his definition of co-governance. It’s set out on the back cover of his booklet.
Co-governance is code for the takeover of New Zealand by tribal companies and their representatives, the end of democracy, the installation of apartheid and separatism into everyday life, eventually leading to full blown government by tribal rule.
A more sober, less inflammatory definition of co-governance is contained in the Auditor-General’s “Principles for effectively co-governing natural resources”, which was presented to the House of Representatives in February 2016 during the reign of the National government. It’s hardly a fresh pudding.
Arrangements in which ultimate decision making authority resides with a collaborative body exercising devolved power — where power and responsibility are shared between government and local stakeholders.
Batchelor is a tall, thin man. He continued to project like an uptight headmaster. He seemed to take the view that Ariki was clearly insolent and misbehaving and not worthy of respect or a considered answer.
I think it’s in my Irish social-justice-seeking-DNA, but I have a low threshold when I encounter bullying. I should have kept my mouth shut, bitten my tongue, whatever, but I spoke out.
I was neither rude nor aggressive but years of projecting voice across the marae ātea means that, in a confined space, I’m loud.
That was it. I was to be excluded. The police were to be called. I suggested that this might be a waste of police time and distract them from chasing rangatahi ram raiders. Batchelor became incensed. Nothing more was to be said. I was to go. I was trespassed.
Batchelor conferred with two surly looking blokes. I was aware that Chris McCabe of Havelock North — a self-described racist and a former, possibly still current, member of the far-right white nationalist organisation, the National Front — was Batchelor’s Hawke’s Bay organiser and chauffeur.
I wondered if these blokes were members of the National Front team. They made as if to approach me, but perhaps saw the glint in my eye and, as the Scots might put it, “had cause ‘tae think again”.
In the silence, my phone rang. It was Claudette Hauiti from Radio Waatea. It was hardly like reporting from Odessa under a Russian bombardment, but I took the opportunity to broadcast live from the cauldron of New Zealand’s racialised politics.
In a voice that could be heard in Auckland, I described the demographic of the audience, the less than salubrious environment, and the reality that the police were about to enforce the trespass.
In a comedic moment, Batchelor attempted to drown me out by playing something loud from his laptop-driven sound system. An advertisement for foot fungus popped up on his screen.
Excluded from the meeting, I milled among a growing crowd of Ngāti Kahungunu on the street. It was cold. The iwi was beginning to find voice. Mana Māori Motuhake. An impromptu concert, haka and waiata began.
This performance was repeated the following night in a quiet Havelock North cul-de-sac outside a private house where Batchelor’s presentation was again delivered. I’ve heard from police that the roopu waiata were respectful, peaceful people and that the neighbours enjoyed the waiata and had no problem with the gathering.
I think that’s the right approach. Respond to “anti-Co-governance” with waiata and good grace. Recognise that Julian Batchelor is hurting and angry and is possibly irreconcilable. Recognise that just as in the Covid protests at parliament there are many other players at work in the undercurrent. Some of them wish to see us divided and at each other’s throats.
Ned Fletcher proposes that the Treaty was “conceived, written and affirmed in good faith”. Let’s act on that together, as tangata whenua and tangata Tiriti, to fulfil the promise of Te Tiriti.
Then with the perfect timing my wife tends to have, she texted me dinner was ready and it was time to go a warm home on a cold Hastings night.
Denis O’Reilly, is a lifelong member of the Black Power and lives at Waiohiki, Hawke’s Bay. He is the chairman of the Waiohiki Community Charitable Trust.
This article was first published in E-Tangata and republished with permission.