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Karl du Fresne

Karl is a freelance journalist living in the Wairarapa region of New Zealand. He write about all sorts of stuff: politics, the media, music, wine, films, cycling and anything else that piques his interest . He has been in journalism for more than 40 years.


OPINION: Let me see if I've got this straight. The Hawke's Bay winery Craggy Range spent $300,000 creating a walking track up the eastern side of Te Mata Peak.

It owned the land and did everything by the book, which included securing the necessary consent from the Hastings District Council. The council's planners waved it through without requiring public notification, as they were entitled to do (although it could be argued they shouldn't have, given Te Mata Peak's status).

It was only after the track had been built, zig-zagging up the spectacular limestone escarpment overlooking the Tukituki river valley, that people started objecting.

A petition was launched. One resident melodramatically declared that Te Mata Peak had been "butchered". Someone else said it looked as if it had had open-heart surgery.

The man who designed the track insisted that regrowth would soon mask the initial scar, but no-one seemed to take much notice. People were too busy being indignant.

Later, the busybodies of the Environmental Defence Society got in on the act with threats of legal action. But the killer blow was landed by the local iwi, Ngāti Kahungungu, who were offended because Craggy Range didn't consult them beforehand.

Why the winery should have gone cap-in-hand to the tribe wasn't entirely clear, since the land belonged to Craggy Range and, legally speaking, it was none of Ngāti Kahungungu's business what the company did with it. But property rights count for little when they conflict with the assumed right of an iwi to have a say over the affairs of others.

According to the tribe, the track disfigured a sacred site which is said to resemble the reclining figure of an ancestral chief. Iwi leader Ngahiwi Tomoana said seeing the track was like a stab in the heart. The tribe demanded that it be removed.

Of course all this happened after the track had been built. It would have been helpful if the whistle had been blown earlier, when work began. I'm told it was initially assumed that it was just a farm track – but even so, wouldn't that too have been a scar on the sacred slope? Or was it perceived as different because a wealthy wine company was paying for it?

It's strange, too, that the eastern flank of Te Mata Peak should be considered sacrosanct when there's a road up to the peak and multiple walking and cycling tracks on the other side. Perhaps these are considered a lost cause, having been built in the days before Māoridom learned how to exploit Treaty-era politics and Pākehā guilt.

At first the winery mounted a half-hearted resistance against demands that it restore the hillside to its prior state. Then, notwithstanding CEO Michael Wilding having declared himself "thrilled" and "excited" when the project was first announced, Craggy Range suddenly caved in, as companies often do these days when they are panicked by noisy activist campaigns.

The U-turn seemed symbolic of the state of capitalism today – so cowed that it has lost the confidence to stick up for itself, and jumps with fright at the sight of its own shadow.

In hindsight, perhaps Craggy Range made a mistake when it ingratiated itself with Ngāti Kahungungu by inviting the iwi to give the winery its blessing when it was opened in 2003. That gesture apparently entitled Tomoana to say his iwi felt "betrayed" when the track was built without its permission.

"We gave our mana to that place and now it's shattered," he said. There may be a lesson there for companies that think they're doing the right thing by being culturally sensitive and engaging with the mana whenua.

Of course the iwi gave Craggy Range a pat on the head for capitulating. You can afford to be magnanimous when you've browbeaten your opponents into submission. But in the meantime, a project lawfully undertaken for the benefit of the community has been derailed. We have a political climate in which companies can be intimidated into backing down when they have nothing to feel guilty about.

So where are we now? Predictably, people who want the track kept intact have started their own petition, which at last count had 17,500 signatures. And it seems that removing the track would not only cost as much again as building it in the first place, but would itself require a resource consent which is bound to be opposed. That would open a whole new can of worms.

In short, it's an unholy mess for which the council, the iwi and Craggy Range itself – if for no other reason than its timidity – must all share responsibility.
But perhaps we shouldn't blame Ngāti Kahungungu. They're simply exploiting the desperate desire of well-meaning Pākehā to avoid being condemned as racist. And the lesson is, it works.


In the eyes of his critics, Brash’s stance makes him a racist. But how do you define “racist”? A racist, to me, is someone who believes some races are inherently superior or inferior to others and discriminatory treatment is therefore justified.

By that definition, Brash could more accurately by characterised as anti-racist, since he opposes special treatment for a racial minority.

He mounts perfectly cogent arguments against racial privilege on the basis that it runs counter to the principle that everyone in a democracy should have equal rights. The most obvious example of Maori being treated differently is the anachronism of Maori seats in Parliament, which become very hard to justify when there are 23 MPs of Maori or part-Maori descent representing general electorates.......

Read Karl du Fresne’s full article here > https://breakingviewsnz.blogspot.com.au/2018/01/karl-du-fresne-if-you-want-to-see-what.html


To those who feebly point out that virtually everything we do – the books we read, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the songs we sing, the language we use – is borrowed from somewhere else, I say: no excuse! It's all cultural theft and it's got to stop.......

Read Karl’s full article here > http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/87850787/karl-du-fresne-claus-out-for-cultural-appropriation


MY VIEW It’s hard to recall a more concerted gang-up against a public figure than the one that followed last week’s launch of former National Party leader Don Brash’s Hobson’s Pledge movement, which wants an end to race-based preference.

The mild-mannered Brash is no stranger to public kickings, but even he must have been taken aback by the sheer venom of the backlash.

Maori broadcaster Willie Jackson said he was crazy. Labour leader Andrew Little called him racist (now that’s original). Prime Minister John Key, Brash’s successor as National leader, belittled him by saying he sounded like a broken record.

Almost without exception, the media reaction was contemptuous. One political editor dismissed Brash as a jack-in-the-box – ‘‘wind him up and out he pops, shouting ‘boo’ over race relations’’.

Columnist Toby Manhire suggested Brash and his supporters should start a colony on Mars.

Hone Harawira labelled Brash a redneck – the default option for Maori activists stumped for a proper argument.

Media interviewers, including Radio New Zealand’s Mihingarangi Forbes and TV3’s Lisa Owen, were openly hostile. There was no pretence of the journalistic neutrality once required of broadcasters.

Some of the media coverage verged on dishonest. A headline on Radio NZ’s website, for instance, proclaimed that the Act Party rejected Hobson’s Pledge. This would have been damning, given that Brash is a former leader of Act and it’s a party that has consistently opposed entrenched privilege.

Only thing is, the headline wasn’t accurate. Act leader David Seymour faulted the way Brash’s group had gone about things, but he reaffirmed his party’s opposition to race-based parliamentary seats and other appointments – the issue at the heart of the Hobson’s Pledge campaign

In any case, it was in Seymour’s interests to distance himself from Brash.

Act may once have been a party that challenged the status quo, but Seymour’s precarious place in the political power structure depends on him not getting too uppity.

Two common threads ran through the overwhelmingly disparaging response to Hobson’s Pledge. The first was that Brash’s critics seemed determined to muddy the water with extraneous issues – anything to deflect attention from his core message. None of his critics made a serious attempt to engage with the substance of his arguments.

Little, for instance, raised the shameful matter of 19th century land confiscations and unlawful detentions, but that’s no argument for separate Maori seats in Parliament or on councils.

The issues are unrelated. Brash himself has repeatedly said he doesn’t oppose Treaty settlements.

Besides, as Brash pointed out on radio, Maori have demonstrated time and time again that they’re perfectly capable of getting themselves elected to Parliament and councils on their own merits. It’s patronising to assume the only way they can succeed is through designated Maori seats or the creation of nonelected positions that take power out of the hands of voters.

The other common line running through the anti-Brash invective was he should shut up and pull his head in because no one’s listening anymore – at least according to the critics.

But New Zealanders were listening in 2004 when Brash’s ‘‘one law for all’’ speech to the Orewa Rotary Club triggered such a dramatic resurgence in National’s popularity that Helen Clark’s Labour Government came within a whisker of being toppled.

I heard one academic on TV3’s The Nation contemptuously suggest that the people who supported Brash then are a dying minority. I suppose that’s one way to marginalise people whose views you don’t like. But have public attitudes changed so markedly since 2004?

I don’t believe so. In recent years, voters in several places – Nelson and New Plymouth among them – have overwhelmingly rejected proposals that would have created special Maori wards.

In any case, Brash isn’t expounding some fringe extreme Right idea, as his detractors would have us believe. All he’s doing is affirming the importance of equality before the law.

This isn’t something that changes according to whatever happens to be ideologically in fashion. It’s a fundamental principle of liberal democracy.

But make no mistake: Brash’s attackers want you to believe that we’ve ‘‘moved on’’ since 2004 and that Brash is just an irritating anachronism.

They all have their own reasons for wanting to shut him down.

For Key, the India rubber man of politics, it’s all about political practicalities.

It’s only a few years since National officially favoured the abolition of Maori seats in Parliament, but ssshhh – we’re not supposed to remember that.

For Brash’s Maori critics, the sentiment expressed by Captain William Hobson on the original Waitangi Day – ‘‘now we are one people’’ – must be resisted because if it caught on, it could undermine Maoridom’s increasingly pervasive exercise of political power through the back door.

As for left-wing Pakeha, their bitter dislike of Brash can be attributed to blind adherence to the prevailing ideology of the day, which elevates fashionable identity politics over long-standing democratic fundamentals that guarantee equal rights for all.

Nelson Mail  6/10/16
By KARL DU FRESNE Disclaimer: The writer has no association with Don Brash or any members of the Hobson’s Pledge group.


I've always thought democracy is a pretty good sort of system. Not perfect, of course, but as Winston Churchill said: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." In other words, it's the best we've got until somebody comes up with something better.

Well, it seems someone has. In Masterton, of all places. You probably thought, like me, that democracy works because it gives us the right to choose our representatives and to get rid of them if we don't like them. But Masterton District Council has decided that's flawed, or at least not appropriate for Masterton. The council wants to improve democracy by appointing iwi representatives with voting rights to two of its standing committees. Yes, you read that correctly. They would be appointed, not elected. But like elected councillors they would have the right to vote on matters affecting the rest of us.

WHATEVER THIS IS, IT IS NOT DEMOCRACY. It's something else for which we don't yet have a term. Perhaps we could call it part-democracy or near-democracy or almost-democracy until someone comes up with something better.

I don't want to sound alarmist. The appointment of iwi representatives to two council committees isn't likely to be the end of the world. The genuine councillors-the ones actually elected by the people of Masterton - would still be in the majority. And it's possible that iwi representatives would make a sincere attempt to make decisions in the best interests of the entire community.

But that's hardly the point. DEMOCRACY IS A PACKAGE DEAL. IT DOESN'T COME WITH OPTIONAL EXTRAS THAT YOU DISCARD IF THEY DON'T HAPPEN TO SUIT YOU. And the danger is that once you start subverting democratic principles, even with the best of intentions, anything becomes possible. If there's no longer a rigid rule that the people who make decisions on our behalf must be elected by us and accountable to us, reformers will soon find other ways to "improve" the system - all in the interests of fairness, of course. THIS IS HOW DEMOCRACY GETS UNDERMINED - BY INCHES AND BY DEGREES.

Ultimately someone might decide that voting is a clumsy and inconvenient process and that democracy would be much more efficient if we got rid of it altogether. It's happened in plenty of other places. Is it possible that 100 years hence, queues of international visitors will line up outside Masterton Town Hall to gaze admiringly at a plaque that says: "Masterton -the Place Where They Fixed Democracy"? Somehow I doubt it.

I understand the worthy intent behind what the Masterton council is doing. In an ideal world there would be more Maori in local government. BUT IT'S FANCIFUL TO INTERPRET THE TREATY OF WAITANGI AS IMPOSING AN OBLIGATION ON COUNCILS TO PROVIDE SEATS FOR UNELECTED IWI REPRESENTATIVES. In any case, democracy already provides the means by which Maori can stand for office. An obvious example is New Plymouth district councillor Howie Tamati, a former rugby league hero.

Tamati is standing down this year. He's reportedly disenchanted by the defeat of New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd's proposal for a separate Maori ward. But the irony is that Tamati has served 15 years on the council, which demonstrates that voters will support good Maori candidates. He's a living, breathing rebuttal of his own argument.

In Masterton, where I live, there are no Maori councillors. That's sad in a town where 16 per cent of the population is Maori, but it's dangerous to say it's a failure of democracy. There are respected Maori figures in the town whom I would happily support if they put themselves forward for election. And here's another thing. If I were Maori, I would regard it as patronising and offensive if councillors thought the only way my people could get a say in governance was by being given a leg-up. That suggests Maori still depend on Pakeha patronage. And I don't buy the line that Maori have no chance of being elected because Masterton is a conservative, racist town.

This is the electorate that elected Georgina Beyer - the world's first transsexual MP, a Maori and a former prostitute. So the argument that we're all unreconstructed rednecks here in Wairarapa just doesn't wash.

Perhaps-most alarming of all is the urgency with which the deal has been pushed through. A motion that the decision be postponed until after the local government elections in October was overwhelmingly defeated. The council was clearly eager to get the matter over and done with before those pesky voters get a chance to throw a spanner in the works.

The mayor, Lyn Patterson, says the proposal was discussed in last year's annual plan consultation, as if that discharges the council's obligation to give the public a chance to object. But hardly anyone reads the annual plan (I certainly don't) and the council's decision took most people by surprise. It looks, well, a bit sneaky. But voters will ultimately have their say - and as Mike Moore famously once observed, in a democracy the voters are always right.


Honouring those gentle, benign stingrays

I read recently that the New Zealand Geographic Board proposes to change the name of Frank Kitts Lagoon, on the Wellington waterfront, to Whairepo Lagoon.

Fair enough. Sir Frank Kitts, a long-serving Wellington mayor, is already commemorated in the name of a nearby park. And while Whairepo may not be the easiest name for non-speakers of Maori to get their tongues around, it has local relevance. Whairepo is the Maori name for the eagle rays – commonly known as stingrays – that are frequently seen basking and feeding in the lagoon.

So far, so good, then. But hang on a minute.

In a submission requesting the name change, the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust, which represents the original Maori occupants of the land around Wellington Harbour, said Maori believed the eagle rays acted as kaitiaki, or guardians, ensuring the safety of waka (canoes) and people in and around the lagoon.

This belief was solemnly cited in a Geographic Board press statement. At this point an otherwise unexceptionable proposal starts to look decidedly flaky.

Was this a practical joke, .....

Continue reading Karl du Fresne's blog HERE

When a whanau places itself above the law

In any case, all that is irrelevant. We have a judicial system that has evolved over hundreds of years to determine a just and fair outcome in complex situations such as this. It’s not perfect, but it gets things right most of the time.

Maori as well as Pakeha are protected under this system. Maori accepted British law when they signed the Treaty (in fact asked for it, because of the problems caused by unruly colonists) and have become adept at using it to their advantage.

But the law is not a game of pick-and-choose. The system depends on people accepting the decisions of the courts whichever way they fall. Maori cannot embrace the judicial system when it works in their favour and disregard it if they think their tikanga takes precedence.

It hardly needs saying that the rule of law is imperilled when people see a renegade group brazenly defying the highest court in the land and getting away with it. What’s to stop other disaffected litigants deciding to have a go?

There’s surely a simple, if unpleasant, solution. It’s ultimately the job of the police to enforce the law. Instead of timidly tip-toeing around the issue in the interests of cultural sensitivity, the police should guarantee sufficient force to protect those wanting to exhume the body. Anyone who interferes should be arrested for breach of the peace and contempt of court....

Read Karl's full blog HERE

Are there rorts we don't know about?

There has long been a nagging suspicion that taxpayer-supported Maori organisations are not always held to the same standards of accountability as non-Maori ones.

Along with that, there is a suspicion that there exists within Maoridom a mindset which holds that allegations of dodgy practices should be dealt with in the Maori way; that Maori are accountable only to Maori, even when public money is at stake, and outside institutions have no business poking their noses in. Keep it in the family, so to speak.

What’s more, it’s sometimes hard to escape the feeling that government departments and other bureaucratic institutions play along with this in the interests of cultural sensitivity, even if it means turning a blind eye to irregularities.

There’s the additional problem that conventional accounting systems are not set up to deal with practices such as koha (the customary payment of money or other gifts to one's hosts), where bookkeeping niceties are not necessarily observed. The potential for abuse is obvious.....

Continue reading the full blog HERE

First taniwha, now Ruamoko - what next?

Due respect for Maori culture is one thing. Expecting us to swallow primitive superstition is quite another – yet I heard a reporter on Morning Report this morning solemnly relaying a Maori warning that recent volcanic activity on White Island and Mt Tongariro was a sign that Ruamoko, the god of earthquakes and volcanoes, was unhappy about the way the government was proceeding with the partial sale of state assets.

This comes only a couple of weeks after the Maori Council’s lawyer, Felix Geiringer, invoked the Maori belief in taniwha at the Waitangi Tribunal hearing on water rights.

I suppose some people might see it as valid to cite taniwha as symbolic spiritual guardians of the waterways, which is what Geiringer was trying to convey. But then he went further: “People say ‘in this resource is my taniwha, my guardian spirit. He protects me, he protects my water resource. He’s not your taniwha so if you are going to use that resource without my permission, he will do terrible things to you’.”....

Full blog can be read HERE