May 16, 2012

Native Affairs on the Urewera "terrorists"

If you didn’t catch Native Affairs on Monday night, drop what you’re doing and view it here. Native Affairs sets the standard for current affairs in New Zealand and on Monday night the show raised the standard – again.

In an unorthodox move, well unorthodox for the MSM, Native Affairs dedicated an entire hour to the Urewera ‘terror’ issue. The show spoke to the Urewera four – Tame Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Urs Signer and Emily Bailey – and then Greg O’Connor. A panel discussion followed with Matt McCarten, Annette Sykes, Stephen Franks and Russell Brown. The quality of discussion was excellent and Julian Wilcox further cements his place as the best television journalist in New Zealand. Although most viewers would have applauded the exclusion of O’Connor and Franks, the fact that the two were included is a testament to the Native Affairs crew and their commitment to balance.


Interview with the Urewera four

The show opened with a discussion with the Urewera four. Julian asked Tame Iti, and quite rightly too, what he and the Urewera suspects were up to in the Urewera. It’s a legitimate question, but one without an adequate answer. Tame responded saying that they were “doing what Tuhoe do”. This is vague, but it suggests nothing sinister. Similar to most Tuhoe, Tame is very guarded about Tuhoe affairs. Although Tame acknowledged that he and others were engaging in “activities”, he disputed the Police interpretation and construction of those events. The activities were, it’s increasingly accepted, innocent in intention.

Emily Bailey described the activities as “wananga” which, to me at least, makes perfect sense. Bravado and silly buggers aside, what the suspects were engaging in is and was common practise in the Ureweras. Bailey also commented on the criminal group charge arguing that it was merely a tool to elevate the gun charges to something more sinister in the minds of the jury.

On the question of proof Kemara made the point that it's incumbent on those making the accusations to “make something of it”. In other words, the burden of proof falls on the Crown and those accused aren’t obligated to negate those allegations. Ultimately, and not unexpectedly, the Crown failed to prove their allegations, other than the relatively minor and strict liability firearms offences. The offences the four remaining defendants were convicted of fell well, well short of the original and outrageous terrorism allegations.

Urs Signer also made a number of insightful comments. Most interestingly for Maori, Signer labelled the terror raids and what followed another step in the colonial project. I read this as meaning it was a step to suppress tino rangatiratanga. As an aside, when will New Zealand accept that tino rangatiratanga is a legitimate and harmless political ideology? Anyway, Signer also claimed that it’s the intention of the Crown to seek a prison sentence despite a report from the probation service recommending community service.

In all, it was an outstanding interview with the four.


Response from Greg O’Connor

Following the four was Police Association President Greg O’Connor. Julians asked whether or not the Police owe Tuhoe, or more specifically the Ruatoki community, an apology. O’Connor didn’t think so, instead he claimed that the Urewera four owe the community an apology. This is silly for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Urewera four were not responsible for Police actions. After all, the Urewera four did not compel the Police to act as they did, for example illegally detaining community members and boarding a school bus. The Police made that decision – the Urewera four didn’t compel them to do that. Secondly, what the Police thought the Urewera suspects were engaging in did not justify nor invite action against the Ruatoki community, merely the suspects themselves. Thirdly, and as I alluded to, the Police acted illegally. Given they will face no judicial consequences, isn’t there a moral obligation for them to apologise?

O’Connor went on to say that the claims that Police acted illegally were “allegations” and not facts. Of course he would say that, it’s his job as the union spokesperson to defend Police actions. However, why would the community lie about the Police actions? There is no reason for the community to do so. In the school bus claim, the bus driver, and the school children for that matter, had no reason to fabricate the claims that Police boarded their school bus. On the other hand, the Police have every reason to deny it.

In another erroneous call, O’Connor stated that the Police acted in accordance with the law citing that fact that the Police had obtained warrants. This, however, goes against the Supreme Courts contention that the Police acted illegally in obtaining evidence. O’Connor pressed on in an attempt to discredit the Supreme Court’s decision citing the fact that it was a split decision and contrary to the decisions of lower courts. This is hardly a convincing argument – some of the most notable judicial decisions are split and the Supreme Court’s decisions are just that, Supreme.

Towards the end of the interview O’Connor seemed to advocate a trial by media. If only New Zealanders were privy to all the evidence gathered he implied. This, as Urs Signer later pointed out, is silly as the Court, and by extension the public, in the Urewera four trial were privy to all the evidence as the Supreme Court had ruled it admissible in that case. Even in the event where all the evidence was available to the Court, the jury still could not decide on the criminal group charge. Given this, what makes O’Connor think the public would reach a different and more serious conclusion? Meaning why would the public find evidence of terrorism when the jury couldn’t even decide on a much lesser criminal group charge.

In a stupid and ill-advised move O’Connor also pulled a Don Brash and held aloft a still from the Police evidence showing some of the suspects in camo gear. It didn’t contribute anything other than to erode O’Connor’s argument. You know you’re in trouble when you need to resort to props to further your arguments.

Ultimately, O’Connor could not refute the fact that the Police allegations came to nothing but a few firearms convictions. A far, far cry from the terrorism absurdities. To be fair, I didn’t agree with anything O’Connor said, but the show was better for having his perspective and kudos for to O’Connor for fronting.


Cross to Parihaka

O’Connor’s interview was followed by a cross back to Urs Signer and Emily Bailey in Parihaka for the right of reply. Both labelled O’Connor an angry man and this is how he came across. Emily closed by saying that it was the Police who did the terrorist acts.


The Panel

Matt McCarten, Annette Sykes, Stephen Franks and Russell Brown joined the panel. A very good mix and all four had useful and insightful contributions.

Stephen Franks opened the discussion commenting that he was shocked with the scale of the, for want of a better term, ring. On the evidence that was supressed Franks believes that the four are terrorists, however this ignores the fact no terrorists acts were committed and in the trial of the four the jury could not even reach a decision on the lesser criminal group charge despite having access to all the evidence. Strangely Franks advocated for a trial by media too, despite his earlier comments indicating he is a man of legal principle. Franks also said the process should have been more open, but this ignores the fact that the suspects deserved to have their privacy and reputations protected until the Police could prove something. Furthermore, Franks claimed that all the evidence should have been heard, but it was in the trial of the Urewera four (as I mentioned how many times).

Matt McCarten’s comments were, as expected, excellent. Enough said there.

Annette Sykes was, true to form, fired up and made the point that the raids were used as a training ground for the SIS. This I agree with. It has been said often that the investigation, raids and so on were merely used to justify the existence of New Zealand’s anti-terror units. Annette also said the law has not been applied fairly to Maori. Again, I agree. Why are groups like the National Front still running around with guns in the South, but Maoris running around with guns in the North are targeted with force?

Russell Brown’s assessment that the Urewera suspects were just “dickheads” is a good assessment. Brown also labelled the media coverage as a mixed bag singling out the Dom Post for their poor coverage and James Ihaka from the Herald for his good coverage. The coverage was, according to Brown, fed by leaks. In this situation the initial coverage was bound to favour the sensational and bolster the Police claims. However, it was also pointed out that the defence had ample time to present their story and they did, for example through Operation 8.



In all, the show was outstanding. Some of the best current affairs I’ve ever seen. Julian Wilcox did brilliantly steering the discussions and, in my opinion, for keeping it together when interviewing O’Connor. The panel was excellent too. The show cemented my belief that the Police allegations were unfounded and unjustified. You can watch the show here if you missed it. The show was also trending on Twitter alongside Desperate Housewives and Game of Thrones. That, I think, is pretty significant and well deserved coverage.

Lastly, just a reminder that I’m on Twitter now. You can follow me here, but don’t expect anything great, unless you want to be disappointed.   


  1. Hey Morgan,
    This is an excellent post. I enjoyed reliving good TV through reading it.
    I think that you might be revealing a bit of a bias by capitalizing the word police though.
    And I think that Mr Wilcox looked flustered when his conversation went off script with Mr O'Connor. The cameras did try to zoom in on the photo he held up, but nobody on camera was doing TV at that point. It felt, as a viewer, that the conversation had a personal edge to it.
    I think that's why I enjoyed the show as much as I did.
    Perhaps that's why I found your post so compelling.
    I haven't been in New Zealand long enough to know the history here, and if it weren't for this show's comprehensive coverage I never would have felt like I had a chance to understand what people were talking about on this issue.
    I finished watching thinking that those who'd stood trial were being publicly exonerated to some degree.
    Reading your post doesn't change my mind.
    I still disagree with the idea that "pub talk" or people just being dickheads excuses them from being guilty of a crime.
    But thank you for the analysis and for further contextualizing the issue.
    Much appreciated.

  2. Hi Hamish,

    Thanks for your comment.

    In my opinion, the Urewera four, having been convicted on minor firearms charges only rather than terrorism and criminal group charges, have already been exonerated to a large degree by the justice system.

  3. Kiaora Godfrey

    I agree - Native was excellent! Nice post.

    I remain troubled by what Tame and co were up to in the Urewera. But a point that wasn't made on Monday was this: Tame and co are entitled to their silence; They are entitled to a presumption of innocence; They are entitled to due process. They do not owe New Zealand an explanation at all.

    Stephen Franks and Greg O'Connor's responses were more troubling to me than what may or may not have been going on up in the Urewera. They were basically proposing a suspension of those mainstays of our Justice system to convict by Mob process and not Due process.

    I continue to believe this was a training exercise for the Police. I am troubled that cameras were able to follow the police on their various raids against Maori. This is a concerning 'americanisation' of police operations (and don't get me wrong - I like America for the most part - just not this part - and their horrendus tort system).

    If I was Tuhoe I'd be looking at this whole sorry episode as yet another breach of their Tino Rangatiratanga and would be seeking remedies via the Tribunal and or Courts.

    1. Kia ora anon, thanks for your comment. The community of Ruatoki deserve, at the very least, an apology from the Police. In my opinion, an apology and compensation, perhaps through the Tuhoe treaty settlement, is called for.

  4. While these 'terrorists' did not actually do any physical harm to anyone, there is good argument to suggest that they threatened the legitimacy of the New Zealand state (by flouting its laws, and declaring utmost contempt for it).

    In recognizing a threat to the legitimacy of the state, police were correct to bring these people to account before the courts.

    The issue I have, is that in doing this, the police invoked irreparable damage to other citizens - who were not involved - through their gross mismanagement of the situation. For the people of Ruatoki, particularly the children to whom a formative impression of our state apparatus will now be of the police waving guns at them and their families.

    Now the question I ask, is that where is the sense in arresting those who undermine the legitimacy of the state, if in doing so, the state undermines itself ten-fold?

    The harm caused by the New Zealand Police to the people of Ruatoki demonstrably outweighs any harm done by those who've today been sentenced. It is a abhorrent miscalculation of a police force that had, in recent years, been improving its relationship with the citizens of this country; particularly Maori - with whom there has been poor relations from the outset.

  5. kia ora nga whanau katoa o te motu o aotearoa,my opinion on what was hapening in the urewera forest, i think that if the new zealand government can have an army in our country and the crown can do what they did to our people over the last 200 years, then what tame and his people were doing, is good for our people, we are not the terrorist in our country, we are the ones who have been terrorised for 200 years, and as soon as we want to start having military style army camps, the government fear that we myt try take our country back and call us terrorist, we are the real victims in this country, its only alright for the pakeha to do what eva they want in our country but its not alright for us



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