Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Justice at Ihumātao?

I'm no more familiar with the situation at Ihumātao than anyone else, and certainly no less so than the Prime Minister (but at least I've visited the place), but it strikes me that two things said by two minor party leaders over a decade ago explain what’s happening out in Ihumātao more than many things I’ve read in recent weeks.
Let me start by framing why those two comments are important, and why the site's history has some importance.

Depending on the Team you bat for, Pania Newton's protest at Ihumātao has been explained as simply a standoff between uppity Maori and the property rights of Fletcher's (that should be sorted out by the police); or an argument between Maori that has already been settled by the Waitangi Tribunal (that should be sorted by the police), or an argument about culturally valuable landscape (that could be settled by the Prime Minister visiting, holding hands with everyone, and then taking away the title to Fletcher's property).

None of those positions acknowledge the importance of the two comments that have been, unfortunately, either dismissed at the time, forgotten or never heard.

The first was by Richard Prebble, who (trying to make amends for earlier serious blunders)went around the country in the early 2000s pointing out that while the Waitangi process was making lawyers and iwi leaders rich -- a top table aristocracy he called The Browntable -- ordinary Maori "haven’t even got a schnapper" out of the process.

And he was right. The Waitangi process was set up by the odious Doug Graham et al to deliver loot to iwi leaders -- often in the name of injustices to which several other iwi had legitimate claims -- which Graham et al hoped would shut them up. Is it any wonder that many of those who never saw a schnapper are up in arms at being ignored? 

Because when you look at in this way, Doug Graham's Waitangi process was never about delivering justice, but just about buying people off with money in brown paper bags (a process that "Inmate Graham" would possibly be familiar with in his other context as a convicted fraudster). 

But Pania Newton and her colleagues are not interested in money in brown paper bags. What they want, or claim that they want, is justice.
And that's the point of the second comment, which came, as it happens, from me: in my role (as I was then) as Libertarianz leader. We Libertarianz pointed out that Doug Graham's Waitangi process was all about rewarding grievance. But never about delivering justice. Why would you expect justice from a process not designed to deliver it? From one delivered like a welfare cheque, designed simply to buy silence? 

As we Libertarianz argued, the process was flawed from the start: if Maori had legitimate claims, then they could and should be heard in mainstream courts so that justice could be done, and would be seen to be done. And if they didn't, there was no need for the Tribunal (or for Doug Graham).

Instead, since justice was done, if at all, only by accident, many feelings of injustice still remain.  And those feelings have burst out now at Ihumatao -- where, let's be fair, many of the issues Newton has raised have never been properly addressed in any court of law. 

And since those feelings and many like them remain right around the country, whatever the Prime Minister does now with Ihumātao will set a precedent, and ramp up (or down) expectations right around the country.

I doubt she is up to it. But it is perhaps appropriate that Ihumātao is the place that (perhaps) could set a precedent, for good or bad, because Ihumātao is also the place of first human settlement in these islands.

We mark such places very poorly. I harbour neither hope nor expectation, but it would be nice if something could happen in the coming weeks appropriate to that momentous arrival. Something, perhaps, that could also reflect the coming to these islands of justice, and the rule of law.

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