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Dr Muriel Newman

Intimidation and Fear in Coastal Communities

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Maori protest action has created a pall over the Far North community of Taipa. It’s the one that is in the news at the moment, but everywhere Maori activists have been allowed by the authorities to take the law into their own hands, the community has been forced to suffer the consequences. Invariably, the protesters bully and intimidate local residents, making their lives a misery. Fuelled by the government’s proposed foreshore and seabed law, which would see Maori gain ownership of vast tracts of New Zealand’s coastline, such radical protest action may well become commonplace. If it is not nipped in the bud, locals will be denied the right to the peaceful enjoyment of their community through constant harassment and threats from Maori sovereignty activists, and local businesses will bear the financial cost.

In situations of protest action, it’s unacceptable for officialdom to turn a blind eye. In a country that upholds the rule of law, bullies must not be allowed to take the law into their own hands – even if it is in the name of the Treaty of Waitangi. As Neville Chamberlain with his plan for “peace in our time” found out to the cost of Britain and much of the rest of the world, appeasement policies never work!

In New Zealand the principle of one law for all is a fundamental tenet of public order, necessary to protect law-abiding citizens from the illegal actions of thugs and bullies. That means the enforcement arms of government must be colour blind and treat all citizens who break the law equally.

If you or I tried to create a public nuisance by setting up camp on a public access-way, we would expect to be moved off immediately. Similarly if, as a show of open defiance, we tried to build a temporary dwelling to act as a headquarters for our protest, we should expect to be issued with a removal order from the local council almost before we had started!

In other words, the authorities would threaten prosecution and move us on almost before we had got ourselves settled. Why should it be any different for Maori?

In any on-going protest action there are areas that should be of huge concern to the authorities. Firstly, there is the fact that protesters are trespassing on land that doesn’t belong to them, camping illegally, and building structures without consents. Secondly, they are blocking access, intimidating locals and generally creating a public nuisance. Thirdly, they may be driving vehicles that are unwarranted or unregistered, and they might have dogs to guard their camp that might be unregistered. If they are unemployed, the serious question arises of how can they be possibly be protesting full time when they are meant to be out looking for work? If they have school-aged children with them, there are questions about their schooling, since it is illegal to keep children out of school. And then, there is the whole issue of the reason for their action – if they are protesting over the foreshore and seabed or Treaty of Waitangi settlements, then central government should accept responsibility, since it is their laws that have lead to the action – local communities should not be expected to pay the price.

And a significant price it can be.

In Papa Aroha, a small coastal community located on the Coromandel Peninsula, a protest went on for four long months before the authorities finally stepped in to end the occupation and give locals back their community. Maori protestors were claiming the foreshore and seabed as well as the surrounding lands. They blocked access to a public road and boat ramp, threatened to charge anyone using the area, and declared surrounding reserves “wahi tapu” in an effort to further block public access.

According to the court documents, the Maori protesters took possession of the Papa Aroha Beach Access Road in July – a public road owned by the Thames-Coromandel District Council.[1] Claiming the foreshore and seabed belonged to them, they proceeded to blockade the road and establish a camp with tents, caravans and illegal buildings. They placed warning signs across the road including “Trespassers will be Prosecuted”, “Private Property, No Access, Keep Out”, “Wahi Tapu – Keep Out”, and “Foreshore and Seabed – Unextinguished Native Title”.

For months, members of the public were denied access to the boat ramp, the beachfront, the adjacent stream, and Department of Conservation Reserves. In addition, protesters were abusive and violent towards anyone wanting to use the area, including those in the camping ground next door who had to put up with months of aggression and law-breaking.

On 24 September, the Council eventually served trespass notices, and on 18 October the matter finally went to court as the Council applied to have the protesters vacate the road, demolish all structures and take with them all personal property. In addition they sought full costs.

On October 20, the Judge ruled in favour of the Council, immediately ordering the protesters and their property off the road, but reserving the decision on costs. But for four months, the protesters were allowed to terrorise the community, before the authorities finally acted to remove them. However, the day after their camp was dismantled and cleared away, they were back! While they did not camp there again, the warning signs were re-erected, the graffiti re-appeared, and the threats and abuse continued.

The situation in Taipa has followed a similar pattern with protestors arriving, unlawfully camping, erecting illegal structures, blocking public access to the foreshore and seabed area, and generally intimidating and threatening the local community. They are directly responsible for driving away tourism, which is the life-blood of that community.

This week’s NZCPR guest commentary has been provided by a local Taipa resident who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. Because that’s what it is like when radical separatist bullies are allowed to dominate a community. In his article The Taipa Beach Occupation – An Insider’s View he explains:

“On the 5th November the protesters returned. They had obviously met their mentors and advisers within the Margaret Mutu and Hone Harawera camps. Over the next few weeks we saw ‘skilful structures’ built without consent, and the end of Taipa Point was fenced by a tea tree stockade. Sovereignty flags a plenty and nasty dogs chained at intervals around the boundary, the final insult was to fly the New Zealand flag upside down.

“The boat ramp was blocked again with very few boats launched. After a couple of days it was decided that they would man a gate at the ramp formed by 44 gallon fire drums. If you wanted to launch a boat you were stopped, you had to ask permission to enter ‘their’ land. As you can imagine very few locals accepted this invitation, instead driving to Mill Bay in the Mangonui Harbour to get out to sea. During this period a few of us were assaulted including a young woman who was pushed and bullied and had her mobile phone confiscated when she tried to phone her family for help. Whilst this was happening fewer and fewer people visited the area until they were left, pretty much, with their own private beach reserve and boat ramp.”

The situation in Taipa is a disaster. While the Maori protesters were eventually issued with trespass notices and moved off the Taipa Sailing Club and council reserve, they were back a few days later setting up camp on the private land next door. According to Dale Synott, the gutsy Manager of the Taipa Bay Resort who organised a community picnic as a sign of solidarity against the protesters, she has already lost $27,000 in cancelled bookings – a situation that is totally unsustainable.

Meanwhile the Ngati Kahu protesters – not satisfied with the more than $23 million that you and I as taxpayers are expected to fork out for their Treaty settlement – want the valuable Taipa Point land to be included as well. They claim that the Waitangi Tribunal says it is theirs. But other Maori leaders dispute this.

In his Breaking Views blog Tribunal’s Twisted History, historian Mike Butler raises concerns about the Waitangi Tribunal’s practice of re-writing history to favour Maori claimants. He states, “The government-paid officials who use this ideological history to justify the transfer of millions of dollars of cash, vast swathes of land, commercial buildings and so on to small private corporations dotted around the country in the name of healing the past are simply contemptible”. By rights, the Minister of Treaty Negotiations should be acting as an arbiter for taxpayers in the settlement process, but he has become an advocate for iwi, even instigating new “co-management” deals over our common areas – rivers, national parks, conservation lands and coastal areas – without asking the public whether we think such partnerships between Maori and the Crown are acceptable.

When questioned about the Taipa Point protest, the Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson made a big play of talking tough and washing his hands of any responsibility. But instead of grandstanding and saying the protesters can “go to hell” he should have had the guts to say that all Treaty negotiations with Ngati Kahu would be suspended until the protesters stop breaking the law.

What the Papa Aroha and Taipa protests have plainly demonstrated for all to see is that if the National government goes ahead and gives the foreshore and seabed to Maori, as sure as night follows day, some iwi will deny the public access – unless they are prepared to pay. The reality is that some of these groups have no respect for New Zealand laws and, given the difficulties local and central government authorities have had in stopping illegal protesters preventing the public having access to the coast, it will be virtually impossible to stop iwi owners, who want to charge the public for access to their foreshore and seabed, from doing so.

Further, Margaret Mutu, the University of Auckland Professor who is behind the Ngati Kahu protest action, has already argued that they regard the whole of Taipa Point as wahi tapu.[2] Again, contrary to the assurances given by the Attorney General and Prime Minister that iwi will not slap large wahi tapu designations onto coastal areas, preventing public access, there is every indication that this certainly will happen and again, the public have virtually no ability to challenge anything that is unreasonable.

To reiterate – the protest action at Taipa has been caused by a disagreement with the National government. It is up to the National Government to step in and sort it out – locals cannot be expected to put up with ongoing bullying and intimidation, nor bear the significant financial cost. The Treaty Negotiations Minister should step up and accept his responsibility to sort this out. All he has to do is say to Ngati Kahu that all Treaty settlement negotiations are suspended as long as the illegal protest action continues.

[1]District Court Decision CIV 2010-075-000176 Papa Aroha Occupation 
[2]Advocate, Academics swap history lessons on disputed land