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Muriel Newman: "Have We Gone Too Far?"

ACT MP Dr Muriel Newman's weekly political commentary

"Have We Gone Too Far?"

New Zealand has formed a reputation as a great country to make movies. This lucrative standing is being placed at serious risk. While most New Zealanders greeted the news that The Last Samurai was to be filmed on the slopes of Mt Taranaki with enthusiasm - we do love seeing our own country at the movies - others appear to have a different agenda. Some Maori in Taranaki seem hell-bent on the commercialisation of their spiritual and cultural values. Some local Maori have expressed displeasure that there was no financial recognition of their interest in the mountain. One local spokesman went so far as to demand a $6,500 greenhouse.

While some Maori are opposed to the mountain being shown in the movie, it is important to remember that Mt Taranaki existed long before Maori and is owned by the public. Surely, in the interests of increasing New Zealand's prosperity through tourism, this National Park icon should be proudly promoted to the world. It is simply foolish to require the producers of The Last Samurai to superimpose images of Mt Fuji (in order to appease local Maori) instead of showing our own mountain in all of its splendour.

This trouble comes hard on the heels of another small but vocal Maori group near Mercer claiming that a major state highway development was upsetting their taniwha. The result has been not only a delay in improving a very dangerous stretch of road, but also major road re-alignment costs of more than $20,000. Meanwhile, the Resource Management Act, recently identified as one of the country's biggest impediments to business, is increasingly being used to condone exploitation and blackmail through the iwi consultation process. Just recently, Contact Energy paid local Maori $1.6 million to prevent opposition to their water rights renewal application, and Moutoa Gardens protestors held Genesis Energy to ransom for an undisclosed sum.

The Historic Places Trust is now taking an activist approach, with its recent declaration that 180 hectares of private land in Welcome Bay is wahi tapu. The Treaty of Waitangi claims settlement process, with more than seven hundred claims in the pipeline for cities, towns, flora, fauna, mountains, rivers, the sea, the air, emblems and, it seems, anything else that can be thought of - physical or metaphysical - has now become a charade for the biggest wealth redistribution this country has ever known. As a result many New Zealanders are saying enough is enough. They are disturbed at the commercialisation of spiritual and cultural values, and are questioning how far a Government needs to the moral responsibility for redressing past grievances and reparation.

In light of this, it is interesting to turn our minds to an overseas comparison: according to Jamaican media last week, Queen Elizabeth II has written to the Jamaican Public Defender, rejecting a claim from Jamaican Rastafarians for compensation for slavery, and repatriation to Africa. Although she claimed that the slave trade was barbaric and uncivilised, it was not considered a crime against humanity at the time the United Kingdom Government condoned it.

The letter said that "Under the statute of the International Criminal Court, acts of enslavement committed today... do constitute a crime against humanity. But the historic slave trade was not a crime against humanity or contrary to international law at the time when the UK Government condoned it.

"It is a fundamental principle of international law that events have to be judged against the law as it stood at the time when they occurred. We regret and condemn the inequities of the slave trade, but these shameful activities belong to the past. Governments today cannot accept responsibility for what happened over 150 years ago."

She then went on to explain that the UK Government was "looking at ways to commemorate all victims of the slave trade. The aim is to express the profound regret we feel about slavery while looking positively to the future."

In comparison, New Zealand appears to have bent over backwards to redress historical grievances. The question is: have we gone too far?

Maybe it's also time to take a fresh look at our national day. As Waitangi Day is again gearing up to be another day of protest and trouble, is it appropriate to consider celebrating the anniversary of New Zealand becoming a fully independent nation - the 25th of November 1947, the day the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act was passed - rather than the 6th of February 1840, the day Aotearoa ceded sovereignty to Britain to become ruled by the Governor of New South Wales?

With the wisdom of hindsight, it is now clear that successive governments have been foolish and naive to enable small groups to hold private landowners, state agencies, and filmmakers to ransom over the commercialisation of cultural and spiritual values. Unless this creeping change is halted, the price our country will pay will be growing racial disharmony, slower progress, and less foreign investment. New Zealand cannot afford to allow this to occur.


Dr Muriel Newman, MP for ACT New Zealand, writes a weekly opinion piece on topical issues for a number of community newspapers. You are welcome to forward this column to anyone you think may be interested.

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