Stephen Franks has written on the excellent Native Affairs discussion of the Urewera 4 trial on Monday Night, and he raises a few points that should be discussed in the Māori context. I have previously written articles on the trial, and you can find these here, and here.
Franks opens his article with the following comment on the decision of the four defendants to appear on national television:
It was odd that defendants awaiting sentencing were not persuaded by their lawyers out of appearing. What a dilemma they present for the judge, having publicly shown an absence of remorse in the case of the Tuhoe two, and defiance in the case of the Parihaka pair.
The collective decision of the Urewera 4 could well prove to be poorly made. No Judge is going to look to kindly on their actions, and comments on Monday night. And while jail sentences will no doubt harden their core support and prove to be a rallying point against the Crown, to think that this is what some people within Te Ao Māori consider to be martyrdom is deeply disturbing. To what end were these people seeking to achieve deep in the heart of the Urewera’s? There convictions did not arise because they were protesting some grand social cause, or occupying land that should rightfully return to Māori.
Which brings me to Parihaka. While I do not doubt the veracity of the claims made by Bailey and Signer that they have the support of some of the people of Parihaka, I find such support to be an insult to the memory of Te Whiti and Tohu and everything they stood for. Parihaka was founded as a bastion of peaceful resistance following a period of unprecedented bloodshed in Taranaki. Violence of any kind towards the Crown was strictly forbidden and even when the Crown marched on Parihaka on 5 November 1881, the people of Parihaka remained steadfast in their adherence to peace. Guns and molotov cocktails do not fit with the history, teachings, and traditions of Parihaka.
Ultimately, we appear to be forgetting the main cause of the grievance of the “terror raids” carried out by the New Zealand Police. It was not the arrest, trial, and ultimate conviction of the Urewera 4; but rather the callous, brutal, and insulting manner in which the Police conducted themselves on that fateful day. Insult upon insult was forced upon the people of Tuhoe, those completely innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever. From setting up a cordon on the confiscation line, to the full commando gear worn by the police, to the intimidation of whanau, and the complete isolation of a community, this was no ordinary police action. It was the misguided actions of a State enforcing its power and dominance over a community that had done no wrong.
Franks asks why no Māori lawyer could be found to argue the Crown’s case. It is not because we all believe that those convicted were correct in what they did. Far from it. He is correct in his assertion that many Māori were affronted by the actions and excuses of the defendants, but that does not change our utter contempt towards the Police and the State for their actions at Ruatoki.
Time For An Inquiry
With the legal proceedings almost at an end, it is time for an official inquiry. The reality is that a massive controversy has been simmering in this country for 5 years over what has amounted to a few convictions for firearm offences. What we have witnessed is a massive structural failure in our legal system. Poorly drafted legislation, an inefficient and secretive Court system, poor legal advice and advocacy, and an ill-informed and legally-inept legislature has eroded public confidence in the legal system. Both Crown and Defence Counsel exploited numerous technicalities to drag this case through four years of hearings; the Government has yet to repeal the Suppression of Terrorism Act despite being told by the Solicitor-General that it is simply unworkable in its current form; and the powers of the police to interfere in, and monitor the lives of, citizens continue to expand.
Franks believes that unless we can assemble a team as proficient as the one that designed ACC then any inquiry is doomed to failure. There is, however, at least one person still around who was instrumental in designing the world-class ACC system. Perhaps it is time for the Prime Minister to call Sir Geoffrey Palmer and ask him to serve his country one last time.