Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

< Columns

TV One's Beat-up and the King's Hui


Last Friday night, TV One's lead item on the 6pm news was a story by reporter Te Aniwa Hurihanganui. She had scored a leaked piece of advice not yet considered by Cabinet that was intended to warn ministers in the new government that they would run into trouble with Maori if they backed David Seymour's planned legislation to define in law the oft-mentioned principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. Coming the day before a major hui at Ngaruawahia called by King Tuheitia, Te Aniwa was intent on maximising irritation among Maori about the new government's Maori policy. TV One told the nation that the government intended to "re-write" the Treaty, a gross over-dramatisation of anything signalled by Seymour. Integral to her story were inflammatory statements from Tainui's Tuku Morgan, he of the $89 dollar pair of silk underpants, and from Professor Margaret Mutu who loves nothing more than a stoush with authority. Little evidence was supplied to support Te Aniwa's claims about government policy or to justify the inflammatory rants from Morgan and Mutu.

What Seymour had done was to try to distil the essence from the 157-word Treaty as translated in 1986 by Sir Hugh Kawharu from the Maori version signed by the Crown at Waitangi in 1840. Seymour's reason for doing so was that over the last few years, and especially during the Ardern-Hipkins government, a small group of Maori agitators have been messing around with the words of the Treaty, re-interpreting them regularly, and claiming that the simple document justifies any extravagant demand they wish to advance. From Kawharu's translation, Seymour concluded that Article One meant that the New Zealand Government has the right to govern all New Zealanders. Article Two meant that the government would honour all New Zealanders in the chieftainship of their land and all their property. And in Article Three, all New Zealanders are equal under the law with the same rights and duties. Any reasonable person with Kawharu's translation in her/his hands and a modest understanding of the English language would realise that this, in essence, is what the Treaty is about. It was that pre-eminent Maori scholar Sir Apirana Ngata's understanding of the Treaty in his widely circulated 1922 comments on the subject. And it was King Tuheitia's mother, the Maori Queen, Dame Te Atairangikahu's understanding, when I chaired the 1990 Commission and gained her approval of Sir Hugh Kawharu's translation in her capacity as the Commission's patron.

What this all means is that government bureaucrats in the relevant department, plus Te Aniwa Hurihanganui, TV One, Tuku Morgan and Margaret Mutu et al were engaged in a deliberate beat-up before King Tuheitia's hui. They might well have helped swell the crowd at Ngaruawahia on Saturday, but so far as I could see, little enlightenment seems to have emerged from the speeches. Indeed, a fair degree of confusion was the order of the day. Some claimed the new government was "underpinned by white supremacy". Others abused the Prime Minister for not showing up to the hui, ignoring the fact that he'd had a session with the King earlier in the week, and had sent his Maori Development Minister, Tama Potaka, and the chair of Parliament's Maori Affairs Committee, Dan Bidois, to the hui, both of them Maori, and both of them well positioned to influence any legislation when it emerges.

After hours of speechifying, the King wound up proceedings. It was intended that he should read his speech signed off by Tuku Morgan. But he adlibbed so frequently, taking a pot shot at Morgan along the way, that nothing of substance emerged except that the King didn't want any legislation from Seymour. King Tuheitia said "There's no principles" (despite many pieces of existing legislation referring to them) "the Treaty is written. That's it. What I want is the Treaty to be engrossed [sic] in the law...so they can't change nothing [sic]. Don't look at the courts to understand the Treaty, look to the marae." In other words, the King means that any amplification of the meaning of the Treaty should come from Maori, and no one else. It was yet another version of the dictum imposed by the Ardern- Hipkins government, without any authority given them at election time, that 17% of the population are allowed to control the other 83%. No mention that at the recent election the wider New Zealand public roundly defeated the idea of co-governance weighted in favour of Maori.

No doubt the mischief-making by Te Aniwa Hurihanganui, the bureaucrats, and the likes of Morgan and Mutu will continue through the festivities at Ratana Pa, the opening of Parliament and Waitangi Day. If Te Aniwa has her way, she will misuse the publicly-owned TV One to fan hot spots until someone in the new government has sufficient fortitude to face down stirrers within the bureaucracy and the media. The Treaty is NOT the plaything of radical Maori. These small islands are home to one nation, not two. We are all members of one team. Unless Maori leaders cease their recent attempts to re-write the Treaty which belongs to ALL New Zealanders, then some form of legislation or even a referendum is inevitable, and necessary.