It's hikoi time again
Other community newspapers have echoed The Aucklander's endorsement of the hikoi. The mayors of Manukau, Waitakere, and the North Shore have been photographed together wearing T shirts advertising the event. Pakeha callers to talkback radio have claimed that they will be marching on Monday.
On the surface, at least, the enthusiasm of wide sections of the Pakeha community for the hikoi is a little hard to understand. In the past, Pakeha have often seen the Maori desire for their own electoral roll as an example of a sort of 'separatism' that is unecessary in a modern, enlightened society like New Zealand. If Maori needs and interests cannot be served by representatives elected by majority Pakeha electorates, then it follows that Maori must have different needs and interests to those of Pakeha.
The 2004 seabed and foreshore hikoi mobilised huge numbers of Maori, but only attracted relatively small contingents of Pakeha, many of whom were left-wing activists. If tomorrow's hikoi draws large numbers of Pakeha as well as Maori, then it will mark a departure from the pattern of the past.
I think we can explain the enthusiasm of many Pakeha for tomorrow's march by remembering that the proposed Supercity promises to have drastic effects on Pakeha as well as Maori.
For many New Zealanders, the neo-liberal policies pursued by successive governments in the 1980s and '90s remain a vivid and unpleasant memory. The privatisations, cuts in social services, and corporatisation of the public sector which characterised those years drove up unemployment and poverty levels and fractured communities in both the urban and rural parts of the country. The longevity of the Clark government elected in 1999 stemmed in large part from the freeze it applied to many neo-liberal policies, and the election of National last year was made possible by John Key's strenuous denials that the party was still wedded to neo-liberalism.
Key likes to present himself as a 'fresh face' untainted by the politics of the 90s, but his Cabinet is dominated by the men responsible for policies like market rentals for state housing, hospital charges, and benefit cuts. Key's Cabinet also contains Rodney Hide, the leader of a party which is only too happy to associate itself with the worst excesses of neo-liberalism. As Minister of Local Government, Hide has disregarded the proposals of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance, which spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours consulting with Aucklanders to find the best way to amalgamate their local governments.
In the best tradition of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson, Hide is junking the findings of the Royal Commission and attempting to bulldoze through a hastily drawn up proposal that will see major cuts in spending and services. John Banks' recent prediction that forty percent of Council staff will lose their jobs as a result of the Supercity has only confirmed the worst fears of many Aucklanders.
If non-Maori outraged by Hide's autocratic and austere plan for Auckland are able to join tomorrow's hikoi in large numbers, then a powerful coalition could be formed.
If they are to act effectively against Hide's Supercity, though, the grassroots protesters will have to prevail over their self-appointed leaders. The Maori Party's MPs have identified themselves with opposition to the Supercity, but their coalition with National leaves them compromised. Mayors Brown, Harvey, and Williams are machine politicians whose opposition to the Supercity stems more from self-preservation than any genuine commitment to oppose neo-neo-liberalism in Tamaki Makaurau. Tomorrow's march is being organised by Iwi Have Influence (IHI), and the wider campaign against the Supercity is cohering around the Community Coalition for Auckland. Hopefully both groups will develop a mass membership and operate in a democratic manner, rather than as mouthpieces for career politicians.
IHI has produced a superb poster to advertise tomorrow's hikoi. The group's anonymous artist has based his or her design on the iconic photograph of Dame Whina Cooper and one of her mokopuna walking down the dusty road out of the far north settlement of Te Hapua on the first stage of the Great Land March of 1975. By setting the marchers against Auckland's skyline, the artist has asserted the unity of rural and urban Maori, and the continuity of the interests of rural iwi and tribes like Ngati Whatua, Ngati Paoa and Waiohua, who together constitute the tangata whenua of Tamaki Makaurau. In his 2007 Oedipus Rex exhibition Enquiries , Manu Scott presented a powerful revision of the famous 1975 photograph. Has Scott been freelancing for IHI?