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HARD NEWS: Talkback Means Never Having to Listen

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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ... Following a recent pattern of government ministers getting into strife more for their words than deeds - come in, Michael Cullen - the associate minister of Maori Affairs, Tariana Turia, this week made a speech to the New Zealand Psychological Society.

If you read the speech - and most of those who set sail on the sea of outrage plainly didn't - you'll see that she suspected there would be trouble afterwards.

The problem was less what she said than how she said it. She linked the societal problems among Maori - much in the news lately as the result of several horrifying assaults on children - to colonisation. She is hardly the first to do that.

But she came up with an outrageous bit of psychobabble - "post-colonial traumatic stress disorder" - and she compared the trauma of Maori after colonisation to that suffered by the Jews as a result of the Holocaust. She probably ought to have known she'd be quoted out of context, and chosen other words.

I have met Tariana Turia twice over the years, and she has impressed me as a serious, decent and dedicated person - a cut above quite a few of the chancers who find their way into Parliament. I don't think she deserves what's happened to her this week.

The letters flooded in, the talkback ran hot and the Herald found it worthy of two front-page stories, a sanctimonious editorial and the lion's share of the week's letters columns.

Just about every MP able to string together a press release rushed to either dissociate themselves from the speech, lest they be tarred by it, or to issue a ringing condemnation.

The reptilian Roger Sowry - taking the high road as ever - issued a statement making fun of Turia confiding that she sometimes consulted her kai tiaki, or spiritual guardian, for guidance. This is "off the planet" according to Sowry. Curiously enough, consulting with Jesus - a spiritual guardian repeatedly namechecked by the leader of the National Party - is not only normal but a key source of political mileage. Freedom of religion apparently applies only to approved belief systems.

Local Jewish community leaders, proprietary as ever over the word "holocaust" - note the small "l" - were outraged. Turia actually said in her speech that she wasn't trying to enter an "our holocaust was worse than your holocaust" debate, but, as I've noted, this wasn't a speech that many people read.

Look it up. We're talking about a people whose population plummeted by 80% between the years 1800 and 1900. I don't think it's unreasonable to describe that as a holocaust.

You might well note that some of that attrition was inflicted by Maori on each other. The Musket Wars were symptomatic of a people who didn't mind slaughtering and occasionally enslaving each other.

And when, on December 5, 1835, 900 Maori walked into Moriori settlements in the Chatham Islands, enslaving the occupants and butchering those who objected, it was basically genocide. It was worse than Parihaka.

That doesn't, as some people seem to believe, mean the generally more subtle means of dispossession under colonialism were somehow alright. Theft of land by government edict, denial of access to the courts, banning of the language and death by disease all contributed to a breaking down of social organisation in a people who defined themselves by their social organisation.

The alternative to accepting that that ensuing vacuum has helped create a situation where Maori women and children are far more likely than non-Maori to suffer violence and other harm is believing that the horror is somehow the fault of the people it happens to.

You may cringe at the psychobabble. But if you accept that children were loved and nurtured in pre-European Maori family groups - and the evidence certainly points to that - then, clearly, something terrible has happened.

So I don't really have a problem with Turia's diagnosis - but I can't entirely go along with her cure. Coming as she does from the close and historically-aware group of tribes that line the Wanganui River, it's understandable that she should believe that embracing history and the nurture of iwi and hapu will fix everything.

But iwi couldn't reach into the house in Massey where a little boy was beaten to death by his stepfather - not now, not in the short term and maybe not ever. Domestic abuse is so urgent a problem that it needs to be addressed directly, as what it is. And I don't think you can do that by averting your eyes from the statistics.

I do find it odd that the same people so keen to condemn Turia for allegedly telling Merepeka Raukawa-Tait of Women's Refuge to "pull her head in" on the issue of child abuse are so keen to have Turia shut up.

The message this week has been that that's what she should do. Shut up, keep her thoughts to herself, deny the beliefs of a lifetime - become, basically, like Donna Awatere-Huata, whose views are not all that different from Turia's, but who is muzzled for the political convenience of the Act Party.

As a European New Zealander - English, Scottish, Irish and a dash of Danish, which must be where my liberal streak hails from - I don't mind confessing my frustration with modern Maori leadership. With the power plays while the money drains out of Tainui, with the vested interests in the fisheries commission, with the stupidity of Dover Samuels - and with those who lead at a lesser level.

I still get annoyed when I recall a member of a certain high-profile Maori couple insisting a while back that it was fine to hit the kids - and that trendy white liberals had no business telling him otherwise. Well, I believe I do.

Phew. That's enough of that, save to direct you to read Brian Edwards' column on Taffy Hotene in this week's Listener. Brian has stopped writing about his fucking cats and begun exercising his brain. Nice work.

Onto lighter matters - like a terrorist plot to blow up Sydney's nuclear reactor during the Olympic Games. Oh, yes, it looked so good with all those stock pictures of Osama Bin Laden on the front page of Saturday's Herald. New Zealand cops stumble on Afghani terrorist cell in the rogue state of Mt Albert! Or possibly, New Zealand cops upset a little old amputee who likes to go to garage sales ...

I have no real idea of the factual merits of the story. But the Wednesday Herald editorial headed 'You can take our word for it' was the funniest thing I've read in ages. Don't believe politicians or Australians, it said, trust us. When this was discovered, back in March, it was really serious. "Overexcited" politicians in on "part of the secret" are just trying to "inflate their own importance" by denying what the Herald - and only the Herald - knows to be the truth. Oh ye of little faith, blah blah, etc, etc ...

The Herald, of course, could never be accused of inflating its own importance - no more than several times a week, anyway. The paper deserves a pat on the back for hammering away at the name suppression of the pot-smuggling billionaire - who is Peter B. Lewis, as anyone with an Internet connection and half a clue knew months ago. Whether it deserves self-congratulatory coverage of its own achievements across pages 1, 10 and 11 of Thursday's paper is another matter.

Speaking of congratulation, many people have been keen to point out to me this week that Hard News is officially "hot" in this month's Metro. Time was when an appearance in Metro's "Hot" column was the signal to fold up the tent and slink away. Plainly, the end had begun.

But these days, with Ralston at the helm, it's an honour. Especially in what is probably the best news-you-can-use issue for Aucklanders in ages. Even the Ferret's in form, going into print with what has been by broad agreement the year's best item of media gossip: The Horny Newspaper Editor. Oh dear. Oh dear, dear, dear. One can only hope there haven't been any unfortunate emails sent on the firm's account or somebody might demand an explanation - G'bye!


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