Hawke's Bay Today

Listening best way to reach harmony

- Mark Dawson

Another Waitangi Day has come and gone, and New Zealand and/or Aotearoa continues to slowly (ever so slowly) nudge its way to some accommodat­ion between Ma¯ori and Pa¯keha¯. So far, so good-ish. The events seemed to pass off well pretty much everywhere but there was something of a blot on peace and harmony at Ti Tii Marae, Waitangi, where Don Brash’s speech was shouted down. That’s a shame and does no one any good. I don’t say that because I necessaril­y support Brash’s views but I do support freedom of speech, and Brash’s opinions — odious to some, sane and reasonable to others — should be heard and debated. The reaction of some in the audience reflected rudeness and a closed mind when courtesy and a discussion of difference­s would move us forward. The heckling will only have confirmed the worst about Ma¯ori to some people, and was an affront to those who had come to hear the former National Party leader and Reserve Bank governor. Credit to the organiser of the event in the main tent on Ti Tii Marae, Reuben Taipiri, who asked that Brash be given a chance, and spoke up for freedom of speech. Contrast Taipiri’s stance with that of Massey University vice-chancellor Jan Thomas who last year twisted herself in knots to deny Brash that same freedom on the Massey campus. Thomas shamed herself and the university, looking devious and short on integrity, while Brash was handed the victim role and thus made more heroic. On Wednesday at Waitangi, Taipiri’s efforts were to no avail and, as Brash struggled on, he was inevitably branded a racist. There will be few of us who haven’t been guilty of a racist reaction at some point, making some mental judgment on someone based on the colour of their skin — just as we sometimes instinctiv­ely judge people based on their clothes, the way they carry themselves, or their accent. We shouldn’t get too het up about it. But the label “racist” is a very effective way to silence someone, to close down debate to simply say, “You’re a bad guy so why should we listen”. It’s a very shallow analysis of Brash’s arguments — arguments that have some general support in New Zealand and which won’t go away in a hurry. Listening to those arguments and dealing with them might nudge us a little further along that road to accommodat­ion.

I don’t say that because I necessaril­y support Brash’s views but I do support freedom of speech.

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