Lessons from national day work just as well as traffic lights

The day was cloudy but warm. The hikoi against deep sea drilling waited quietly at the gate to Te Tii Marae at the appointed hour for the Prime Minister's arrival.

John Key's car, though, was circling Paihia like a plane in a holding pattern, or maybe it was parked in a secure place while he got on with some paperwork.

He wasn't coming to Te Tii until the hikoi went on to the marae. He wasn't going to run its gauntlet in front of TV cameras outside the gate.

So we waited: protesters, Cabinet ministers, visitors, media - waiting on the road beside the beach, mingling and chatting. I met Mary Ashby Green who I hadn't seen since we were kids. She was there with Dame Jenny Shipley, who comes to Waitangi most years.


Everyone waited while the hikoi and the officials had the Mexican stand-off. Steven Joyce received the latest employment numbers on his smart phone: unemployment down to 6 per cent in the final quarter of 2013. He was smiling.

Eventually the hikoi blinked and went into the marae for its formal welcome. They and the hosts took their time over it. We waited. Nobody minded.

Key's car arrived more than an hour past the appointed time and he made his entrance. Young waka crews lined his path, using their paddles as a barrier and giving voice to their waka chant at full volume, drowning any noise from the protesters behind them.

Inside the meeting house, two young members of the hikoi were given speaking time. They were impassioned and polite. Key asked them to come to Wellington and let him explain the drilling and its risks. If he couldn't convince them of its merits he would join their hikoi, he said.

Later that day the rain arrived and continued through the next: Waitangi Day. The festival was dampened but the spirit has never been better. As Hone Harawira said, there will always be a protest over something. It makes the day real. Both sides this year handled it sensibly and effectively.

The only annoyance for me that morning was the news that Auckland Council wants additional powers from Parliament to ban car windscreen washing at busy intersections.

Even that was good news in a way, for I thought the council's joy-germs had succeeded long ago. I haven't seen the squeegees for years. But somewhere in greater Auckland there must be enterprising young guys still scooting around at traffic lights, washing windscreens for a gold coin.

The first time I saw these swashbuckling characters coming at my car I was nervous. But a raise of the hand was enough to deter them. Immediately I was sorry I had. They were trying to earn an honest dollar and the screen can usually do with a wipe.

The more I saw of them, the more I admired them. They chose multi-lane intersections and worked out the red light phase to perfection. Just when you thought they had done all the cars they possibly could and the light was about to change, they'd do another, then another, working their way back to the kerb in time to finish the last and jump out of the way on the green.

It was a performance of pure art. And they knew it. You could see in they way they moved and flourished their brushes. They weren't begging or putting pressure on anybody that I could see. There were too many other cars to do and no time to waste.

Letters to the editor contradict this, of course. Some people are easily menaced. Others just don't like being approached, especially by sweaty youths in sleeveless shirts. Many others simply don't like saying no, so they don't say no. They sit there enduring it.

How bad is this for them really? Is it an ordeal so traumatic that there should be a law against it?

The Auckland Council already has a bylaw against it. That means the police are not obliged to enforce it though they can if they wish.

Generally, they have more important things to do. So the council wants Parliament to provide a law that would let council wardens issue infringement notices and possibly impose spot fines.

Parliament, too, has more important things to do. Many of its members know what it is to wait at Auckland traffic lights. The city has them set to phases that must surely be among the longest and least synchronised in the known world.

The latest figures show a steady rise in the percentage of 15-24 year-olds in education, employment or training. If some of the rest have the enterprise and energy to take advantage of Auckland's light phases, good luck to them. They at least are making themselves useful, unlike the Auckland Council that has nothing much to do.