Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

22nd September 1995

Copyright © 1995 Russell Brown

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Takahue ... in years to come, the name of that little Northland town will come to stand not for the place or its people, but for the bad craziness which spilled loose this week.

There is nothing good about what happened in Takahue. A community is split, the school which was to have been a marae is in ashes and only rednecks and racists will have taken any comfort from it all.

So what the hell happened? Well, the Te Paatu sub-tribe, some of whose members were represented among the occupiers, claim that their ancestors had gifted the little patch of land to the government for use as a school last century. As so often happened, the land eventually fell into the hands of the Ministry of Defence. It wasnıt right ­ and everybody knew it.

But this is no Bastion Point ­ there are no developers trying to bury ancestral land under yuppie subdivisions. The land was going back ­ it had been marked for return under the Muriwhenua land deal. It would be, everyone agreed, a fine community fixture and the base for a marae.

This is where it gets messy ­ and I make no pretence of fully understanding it. But traditionally, ownership of land and resources has been vested in hapu, or sub-tribes, and not the wider iwi. The government does not wish to deal with individual family groups ­ indeed, if it did, the process of Treaty settlement would become completely bogged down.

So the Crown has been dealing with Muriwhenua, often in the person of Matiu Rata. Rata - ³uncle Mat² ­ offered Te Paatu the legal formality of a peppercorn lease on the school grounds. Not good enough. They wanted title. Okay ... that can probably be achieved, if the right to the land is proved.

That wasnıt good enough for the protesters. They wanted to occupy the grounds. Which they did, for six months. Towards the end, it seems the protest became more important than the land itself. And madness set in.

The fire at the school was not the first in the town. The Takahue Town Hall mysteriously burned down last week. But there is no mystery about how the school buildings came to be destroyed. The occupiers shifted dozens of tyres and inner-tubes onto the site and stacked them in heaps around the property. They also stuffed them under the building, later dousing them with diesel.

What is so appalling is the gutless response of the people who did this. Protest leader Bill Perry has gibbered for a week about being prepared to die for his cause. In reality, he hasnıt even had the courage to accept responsibility for his and his whanauıs actions.

First, Perry told the press he personally hadnıt seen the fire start and didnıt know anything about it. He had, presumably, been aware of the truckload of tyres arriving and being stacked up, and of the construction of torches. As Thursday progressed, he began blaming the police who had come to remove the occupiers.

Perry said he had ³witnesses² who had seen the police throwing tear-gas cannisters into the school building and that had started the fire. Now, the New Zealand police are not always good and right, but they have never used tear gas ­ and no one recalls them doing so on this occasion.

Perry changed his story. He now had ³a witness² who saw policemen dragging burning tyres into the school building. No one else saw this, either, of course. Many people did see children, equipped with flaming torches ­ ³our warriors² according to Perry ­ running around setting light to piles of rubber. And a beautiful old building was burned to the ground in an act of mindless comtempt.

There will be many casualties of this weekıs events. The people of Takahue, of course. Perryıs own hapu - which is already split over the issue and now goes forward as a group of arsonists and liars. Matiu Rata, who seems likely to be destroyed by the petty jealousies of his own tribe. Ken Mair, Mike Smith and others, who should have looked more closely before they leapt in to support the protest. Doug Graham, who will find it even more difficult to make the case of reason to the racists in his cabinet.

Maori Sovereignty itself is a casualty here. The pan-tribal national body planned only last weekend at the hui in Turangi looks pretty sick when iwi bicker with each other and within themselves. Perry now says heıll be going to the United Nations. How bloody glamorous. For Godıs sake, he hasnıt yet been to a New Zealand court. This is sad and stupid.

Speaking of the courts, we saw the creepy provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act come into play again this week. A manıs Mt Eden house was seized under the act, because he had been growing marijuana in the loft. This is a dangerous form of state theft. Iıve seen no evidence that the house was bought with the proceeds of a dope growing business ­ there doesnıt seem to be any. The orthodox rationale for seizing assets ­ for compensation of victims, of whom there are none ­ simply doesnıt apply.

This kind of thing has gotten utterly out of hand in the US, where police manipulate the law to get themselves new boats and helicopters. Itıs police-driven here, too. The police claimed that the 140 seedlings they found were worth $50,000 ³on the street². Bollocks. 140 seedlings are worth 140 times bugger-all.

Had they reached maturity, they would have had a ³street value² of, wait for it, half a million dollars. What a load of crap. These would have been dwarf indoor plants - worth maybe $1000 each to the grower, if they worked out.

Yet a $300,000 house has been taken under a law which has been used almost exclusively to intimidate marijuana growers. If there is a penalty for cultivation and supply, let that penalty be applied. Letıs not have a law which allows the police to unilaterally impose fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Righto - after such an angry bulletin, hereıs a few things to look forward. Peace in Bosnia, hopefully. Ruth Richardsonıs political memoir, which ought to be hilarious. The Ranfurly shield game, which will be a monster. The local body elections, which promise to be rather less boring than usual. The rollout of the 1995 vintage of New Zealand wine, which is excellent in parts. Selakıs Marlborough sauvignon, a snip at 12 bucks, is the Hard News pick of the newbies, folks. And of course, summer, which is always a good thing.


    ==  ==      Russell Brown
  [ @ / @  ]                      
     /        ________________________________________
    (_)         "The views expressed on this programme
    ____)       are bloody good ones." Fred Dagg, 197?

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