New Zealand First Santa Claus Shane Jones has slammed the door to his Provincial Growth slush fund on the Waitangi National Trust until it sorts itself out. This comes in the wake of a former financial manager being charged with defrauding the trust of $1.2 million.
At stake is the proposed new national museum honouring the World War II, 28th Māori Battalion, which the trustees planned to build by February 2020 alongside the historic Treaty House.
I must confess that until Jones' outburst, I hadn't realised that the financing of this museum had been slipped into the $1 billion a year regional development lolly-scramble that New Zealand First leader and loyal Northlander Winston Peters had included as his price for putting the Labour Party into power a year ago.
But now that Jones has turned the spotlight on the project, it provides a belated opportunity to ask the basic question, is it appropriate to squeeze an unrelated army regimental museum onto the site where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840?
Land bought and gifted to the nation by a far-sighted former Governor-General, Lord Bledisloe, in 1932, specifically to celebrate the birth of our nation.
Oddly, this debate has not occurred. Indeed New Zealand First seems to have agreed to fund the project while it was at no more than the "good idea" stage.
So it's a bit rich of Jones to be berating the trust board for its lack of business acumen, when his party has committed the Government to a project with, as far as I can ascertain, no budget.
As for support, the project seems to have buy-in from those representing the "A" company soldiers who came from the North, but there's a question mark over the rest of the country.
What, for example, would happen to the C Company 28 Māori Battalion Memorial House opened in Gisborne in 2014 with more than $1 million in Government funding.
The Waitangi proposal involves more than just a new museum. The resource consent application lodged earlier this year with the Far North District Council indicates that the museum is just the opening stage of a mini-Disneyland of proposed non-Treaty related entertainments.
There are plans for a carving and weaving studio, a wildlife walkway with kiwi and tuatara enclosures, a high canopy suspension bridge through adjacent bush, an eel pool and café extensions.
All of which is great tourist fodder. But to clutter with a smorgasbord of extraneous extras the place where two peoples came together to form one nation, seems wildly inappropriate.
The application insists the new museum has to be sited on the upper Treaty grounds near where the annual Waitangi Day celebrations take place because to locate it "further away … or at a lower elevation, would reduce the mana held by the museum".
To me, placing these new projects on and adjacent to the treaty grounds, has exactly the same effect in reverse.
It reduces the mana of what the trust board admits is one of the country's most important historic sites.
A couple of months ago, when Jones was promoting the project, he justified the siting of the museum because it was where Sir Āpirana Ngata made his famous speech at the 1940 centennial celebrations telling Māori Battalion representatives who had been brought in as an honour guard, that going to war was the "price of citizenship".
However, Ngata said a lot more in that speech. In particular he called on the government to "wipe out the mistakes of the last 100 years", saying it must settle all land grievances before Māori could "close their eyes to the past" and "go forward confidently, side by side with the Europeans".
To me, if there's to be a new museum on the site, that should be its focus. Backgrounding the treaty relationship and how it has developed over the years.
A good start would be to take up trust chairman, Pita Tipene's call for the original Treaty of Waitangi document to be permanently housed at Waitangi. Better there than leaving it in some vault in Wellington which could be swallowed up and disappear forever when the big earthquake strikes.
As for a battalion museum. Why not at Waiouru within the impressive National Army Museum?