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Populist Poser Fools Nobody

It was an enjoyable visit to Te Tii Marae today – in contrast to media reports of “tense” standoffs and reporters’ fits of pique, those of us invited into the home of the hapu who had hosted the hui of those first Maori signatories, were warmly welcomed, enjoyed the very special ambience that only this very special wharenui can offer and as is customary, were welcomed to respond to the pōwhiri if we chose. 

In such a convivial setting, and with the harmonies of the numerous waiata soaring above the assembled group of hapu and politicians, it would not be possible to be touched by a very deep feeling of connection to those who first graced this site and then trudged up the hill to sign Tiriti O Waitangi in Busby’s house.

What was almost missing this year – and it was a blessing – was the posturing at the marae gates from those who in the past have revelled in the limelight the media have provided. Without the stage to amplify their antics to a national audience the occasion almost passed as it should. Of course the national impression of Te Tii Marae being the venue for nothing but trouble, derives primarily these days from what happens at the gates to the marae and outside rather than inside the wharenui.

By locking the media outside the gates to their home this year, the hosts were keen to see if that was an effective way to disarm the posers that over recent years have given the marae such a bad name and brought shame on this celebration. That so many politicians – both Maori and Tau Iwi – have been discouraged from attending this commemoration is not good for anyone. The Trust’s strategy, cobbled together in characteristic Maori fashion – often seen as chaotic by those of us watching from the outside – worked.

Without the media providing the stage, there simply wasn’t the opportunity to steal the limelight and send all the wrong messages about this important and historic powhiri from the original hosts of the event that saw our country’s founding document born.

Cringingly, there was one unsurprising exception. At first I thought it was Destiny Church march closing in on the marae gates, but then like a scene from Men in Black, and in front of his clutch of dark-suited, sunglassed MPs swaggering in to create his own stage between the Press cameras and the marae gate, Winston Peters materialised. On cue Mr Peters set about manufacturing a “scene”, an “event” to feed the story-starved scribes.

He “demanded” that the press accompany him on to the marae, and when politely refused, turned to the cameras to create a story around his “indignation”. The drama was enhanced by a marae official politely asking Winston to relocate. Chances of that? You guessed it – just more grist to his posing and pouting to camera.

What a farce – Peters huffing and puffing purely in an attention grab, the Press – with their noses already out of joint – sycophantically lapping it up and creating something out of nothing. So passes another year for the public’s impression of Te Tii Marae to be further poisoned.

The fact that Peters was welcome into the home of this hapu but lacked the grace to accept or turn down the offer respectfully, preferring to use the occasion to manufacture his own reality show, is just the latest display of this fellow’s substance. Neither did he turn up at the political forum at the marae – apparently because there were no Press there to amplify his personage – preferring instead to call the gathered public there a “mob”.

The methods of populist politicians are as transparent as those in any child’s game. And it’s about time the gullible public – and especially the serious Press, picked up on the script.

Here’s the standard recipe populists deploy. Find a grievance common to many (the annual antics at Te Tii marae), find someone to blame for it (the marae trust board), make up a good story to tell and then mix it all together. Tell the wounded (the Press) you know how they feel,  but that you’ve found the bad guys. Label and caricature them (the Trust) - as vermin, evil masterminds, haters and losers. Then paint yourself as the savior, defender of the aggrieved (this year not just the national audience but the Press as well). Capture the nation’s imagination. Easy.

It’s irresistable to populists because of the simplicity of the blame game. Along with the narcotic of conspiracy theories it allows your audience to forget about policies and plans, and instead become enraptured by your tale – a tale that starts with anger and ends in vengeance; a vengeance they can participate in. That’s the toxic politics of of the populist in a nutshell.

Should the Prime Minister attend Te Tii Marae? Of course not. So long as posers use that setting to play up for the all-too-willing cameras and can be guaranteed it’s their behaviour that is recorded as the ‘highlight’ of the event, then it’s inappropriate for the PM to attend. That is the challenge the marae trust board are trying to deal with. By removing the stage the Press creates, it would have worked this year if not for Peters.

Meanwhile at the powhiri itself, 177 years on from the signing, we were reminded by the speakers, that the talking between the signatories continues and always will as these two societies keep working on all the issues around the sharing of this land. This is what Waitangi Day is about – not the trashy antics of excrement throwers, dildo biffers or puffed up political posers manufacturing populist events.

I wish Te Tii Marae’s Trust Board all the best as it tries to restore the dignity that this occasion deserves.

Showing 9 reactions

  • Ngawai Robinson
    commented 2017-02-08 20:24:11 +1300
    I can see why some folk new to NZ struggle to pinpoint what you might consider to be kiwi values. That the discussion about the Treaty of Waitangi makes you feel uncomfortable? That you feel like others are being indifferent towards your historical viewpoint?

    That you don’t like that “we have to talk about this bilingualism all the time”? I have a simple question for you: how do you think Maori people feel when you invalidate our nation’s indigenous language?

    That you think its ok to attempt to silence TOP’s political voice by speaking out against support for bicultural language policies and the Treaty. It’s odd that you want your voice to be heard and your values validated but you don’t want to acknowledge the values of New Zealanders.

    You want to talk about the value of learning English—but you don’t want to give the same respectful consideration for New Zealand’s native language? Interesting?

    Bottom line: I want you to be uncomfortable. It means you’re being challenged mental growth, like physical growth, comes with growing pains. It’s not always easy. It’s not always fun. It’s going to hurt and you’re going to come out the other side bumped and bruised. It’s what happens when you don’t take the time to get to know the culture of the Country you’ve adopted. Welcome to Aotearoa New Zealand bro!
  • Donald Robson
    commented 2017-02-07 11:07:47 +1300
    So why would you have ever compared yourself to Trump, Gareth. I’m not sure Stuff would identify mischievousness when they see it but I’ve just had to attempt to get an intelligent friend to see past that unfortunate claim to anything TOP is saying. The proverbial stickiness of shit made that impossible. Distancing yourself from Trump might be at least as useful as pointing out The Preening One’s failings.
  • Andrew Burton
    commented 2017-02-07 10:55:21 +1300
    Well said Gareth.

    Te Tii Marae is actually someones house. It is not public domain. I don’t want the media in my house and I don’t want politicians in our house either – espousing their political viewpoint of the day. I wouldn’t put up a tent on our land to hold them either.

    I don’t understand why politicians believe they have the right to talk politics, their own brand of politics, on a marae which is someones home.

    Good on Maori for charging the press. Why not? The press makes money out of Te Tii/Waitangi anyway. The press is in business to sell news.

    Peters: A career politician living the good life along with Ron Mark and laughing like school children at Ratana. They’ve got their big secure income living off the taxpayer and living sweet. They can afford to laugh.
  • Martin Finkel
    commented 2017-02-07 10:26:49 +1300
    I have a question for clarification: was the media kept off the Marae by Te Tii Trust or did they boycott the event in protest over being charged a $10k fee to cover the event? I’ve now read two versions. Which is true?
  • Brent Rice
    commented 2017-02-07 09:40:00 +1300
    Thanks Gareth – good to see the ‘other side’ – so rare….
  • Sanz Cheryl
    commented 2017-02-07 08:08:22 +1300
    What a refreshing read.
  • Peter Jamieson
    followed this page 2017-02-06 21:43:36 +1300
  • Lindsay Curnow
    commented 2017-02-06 13:09:05 +1300
    Spelling correction: “saviour”.
  • Oliver Krollmann
    followed this page 2017-02-06 11:01:56 +1300