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David Round

Time to be offended

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‘White motherf*****s have been raping our lands and ripping us off for centuries….’

This is, it seems, the sincere personal view of Hone Harawira, a member of the New Zealand Parliament, and one, indeed, whose party forms part of our coalition government. He expressed it in a private e-mail to Buddy Mikaere, a former director of the Waitangi Tribunal who had ventured to inquire about who ~ Harawira himself or the taxpayer ~ was paying for a side-trip to Paris for sightseeing which Harawira and his wife had taken when in Europe on parliamentary business.

It seems that in fact Harawira had paid for the Paris trip himself, but he resented being asked about it. It also seems that on the day when he took the trip he should have been at official meetings in Brussels, and he had claimed that he was unable to attend those meetings because of illness. This untrue excuse might suggest an awareness that the Paris side-trip was improper. Although he paid for the Paris side-trip, nevertheless the rest of the trip to Europe and back was paid for by the taxpayer, and so in effect the taxpayer had contributed to the Paris trip.

There are several objectionable aspects to this e-mail ~ which, by the way, Harawira gave Mr Mikaere full permission to publicise if he saw fit. One, of course, is the bad language involved. A second bad word, not quoted above, may have passed the lips of many men from time to time, but the first one, mentioned above, is fouler and not so common. It is certainly not the language we expect of a Member of Parliament, who should behave with some dignity and self-control. It is highly insulting that a Member of Parliament should describe so many of his fellow-citizens in such abusive terms. Are white New Zealanders still expected to have any respect for a man who has publicly labelled them as rapist motherfuckers?

You will pardon my repetition of his bad language. It is offensive, but there are times, and this is one of them, when it is important to be offended. Some liberals seem to specialise in being offended by almost everything; a little righteous indignation on our part on this occasion is entirely justified.

The offensiveness is only very slightly mitigated by the fact that Mr Mikaere used the word first in his original e-mail. That was, also, a somewhat provocative e-mail, but he was most certainly entitled to write it. Both here and in the United Kingdom, after all, Parliamentary expenses have been much in the public eye of late. His question was a reasonable one. Having said that, many men, anyway, might be reasonably relaxed about an occasional bad word if the circumstances were appropriate (I do not know how well the two men know each other) and if the sentiments were otherwise reasonable.

Ah well, that’s the thing. For two reasons, surely, we would not consider the sentiments to be reasonable. There is the racism, for one thing, a point I shall come to shortly, but as well as that this is a case of a Member of Parliament enjoying a private holiday at the taxpayer’s expense. Rodney Hide has just been in trouble on a similar but actually less serious matter. Rodney, of course, is the perk-buster extraordinaire, and so is open to a charge of hypocrisy; but his and his partner’s trips were nevertheless perfectly proper and approved, whereas Harawira’s side-trip was at a time when he should have been elsewhere, and in fact when he had untruthfully claimed to be unwell in order to avoid his duties. And what does he offer as an excuse? Simply that because white people have (allegedly) been ripping Maori off for centuries, it is all right for him to rip off the taxpayer also. (It is possible to read into his remark an assumption that only white people work and pay tax; that for some reason or other his Maori constituents do not…..but let that pass.) Two wrongs, in other words, make a right. This is never a satisfactory argument. It is a race to the bottom. The second wrong-doer shows himself to be just as bad as the first one. He has no right to criticise. How can Harawira criticise white people when his own actions show that in their position he would do exactly the same thing?

But over and above these criticisms there is another, which has not, I think, received quite the attention it deserves. His analysis of New Zealand history is wrong. There have been unfortunate moments, certainly, but our history has not been all, nor even mainly, rape and pillage. Compared with many other countries our history has been one of pretty enlightened and humane attitudes. Some of our policies ~ the undiscriminating generosity of the welfare state, for example ~ have done at least as much harm as good, but at least we meant well. Efforts have been made since the late nineteenth century to redress wrongs done to Maori, and of course in the last couple of decades we have seen another very determined attempt to put an end to grievances and put the past behind us.

But as far as Harawira is concerned, we need not have bothered. He has noticed neither our attempts to be just nor the spirit in which we have made those attempts. We are still just white m**********rs who rip Maori off. On another occasion recently while actually speaking in the House he announced that he did not ‘give a shit’ ~ again, I’m sorry about the bad language, but it is important that you know ~ about any of New Zealand’s inhabitants rather than his own Maori constituents. As far as he is concerned harmony between the races seems to be an impossible dream which it is pointless even to try to pursue. And if that is the attitude of many Maori ~ and he is a Maori Party MP, and evidently a popular one, even a ‘superstar’ in his Te Tai Tokerau electorate ~ then it is pointless trying to pursue harmony. We will not be thanked, or even respected, for our efforts. So what are we doing it for?

Harawira is by his own admission a liar. He considers himself entitled to cheat the New Zealand taxpayer. He is a foul-mouthed racist bully. Some in the Maori Party are evidently unhappy with him. If he is not suitably chastised, though, we may recall a proverb about birds of a feather….

Where has the Race Relations Conciliator been while all of this was going on? He was heard on National Radio this morning (Monday 9th November) agreeing with Sean Plunket that yes, the words were offensive. He could do little else. Nevertheless his condemnation has been feeble and half-hearted. As far as I can see from my own googling, he had before then chiefly been concerned to stress that ‘the Act sets a very high standard in terms of freedom of expression’, and to claim that he had no jurisdiction to interfere. He did not display the same reluctance to interfere with freedom of speech when just a few months ago a Massey academic produced a well-researched report casting doubt on the wisdom of continued Pacific Islander immigration. Without having received a single complaint ~ without even having read the report ~ De Bres condemned it, and then instituted a kangaroo court of an investigation which confirmed his original opinion.

Having said that, we can be thankful that De Bres has reaffirmed that he has no jurisdiction over private e-mails. It would be a dreadful day for our country when any official had the power to censor private correspondence. But nevertheless a lack of jurisdiction to prosecute does not prevent him from making a public statement condemning what was said. Does he actually realise that some white people might justifiably object to being called rapist motherfuckers? I do. I think you may too. There are no prizes for guessing what his reaction would be if someone ~ oh, a member of Parliament, say, or a mayor of a provincial city ~ were to describe all Maori in similar general uncomplimentary terms. His obvious reluctance to condemn Harawira’s words reminds us again of the double standards of the liberals, and justifies the contempt in which the office of the so-called race relations conciliator is held.