Hone Harawira is all about triple constructions. Vini, vidi, vici; I came, I saw, I conquered and so on. One suspects he has taken his cue just as much from his mother, Muhammad Ali and Syd Jackson as from Caesar though. When he got on the stage in front of the audience for the inaugural Otago University VoteChat live stream, he was largely composed and calm; his tone unlike the boisterous heckling we saw during the now infamous Don Brash run-in. In fact, the man was full of clarity, he had his points and he ran with them easily outmatching Bryce Edwards’ jitters. But Harawira’s visit was poorly timed taking place during the mid-term break so few people were privy to his discussion of alcohol, the Maori Rights movement of the 1970s and the Hone Heke Tax. Here is a sample of some of the issues he elaborated on while talking to me after the interview.
I am interested in the effect your Mother had on your politics, you mentioned her role in Ngā Tamatoa?
She was a member of the original Ngā Tamatoa and she actually took me to a Ngā Tamatoa meeting when I was still at school. I went to a boarding school and the day I went I was dressed in my number ones, and I went “Oh wow!” I am seeing everyone from the TV. It meant when I got back to my school and I heard this teacher talking about Ngā Tamatoa. I got up and said, “Excuse me, do you know any of those people?” And she said, “No.” “Well, I think you should shut up. You should not make those sorts of criticisms if you don’t know what you are talking about.”
And how was that received?
Not well. Not in a boarding school, aye. I was fortunate to have an inside look into Ngā Tamatoa and to understand the forces at play, the talents in the room. A lot of them were very well educated, University educated, very strong-willed.
And they passed on the principles that formed the Maori rights movement?
In those days, they were the movement. There wasn’t a widespread Maori movement. In fact, Ngā Tamatoa was particularly liked within Maori circles because they were highlighting issues that they didn’t want to talk about – don’t talk about unemployment, please don’t protest. When I first marched to Waitangi, I had Maori people stop in cars and yell at me, “Get a f****n job”. Get off the road, you’re embarrassing us, you know that sort of stuff. Maori were embarrassed and you see it now and the support is widespread for Treaty rights but back in those days, it just wasn’t. Ngā Tamatoa, not me, the originals were the ones who led that struggle. They were also the ones who led the struggle for the language which led, of course, to funding being available for Maori radio stations which you can tune into all around the country and for Maori Television, all of that came out of Ngā Tamatoa back in the early days.
You talked about the power of the party line to subvert political talent and the personal politics of many of the politicians in the larger parties, what is your view on MMP?
When I talk to Maori, I say just think of it as More Maoris in Parliament and you will know how to vote. I don’t want to sit down and try and explain the technicalities of MMP, I just want to support it.
Were you a supporter of it when it first came in?
Oh yea. The strange thing is I have not relied on MMP myself. I won in 2005 my seat, and I won it again in 2008 and again at the by-election. I don’t actually rely on MMP, but I have seen the change in MMP in my time and have watched it since it was genuinely the old white boys club to having a few brownies and now there are 20 members in parliament who are Maori, there are those from the Indian subcontinent and from Asia, from all over the place. I think that can only help us as a nation to have a broader spread of ethnicity and a broader range of thinking.
You also said that John Key is a “smiling snake”, what is the poison in what he does to everyday New Zealanders?
Look John Key is a very nice guy, I will start with the smiling. He is easy to get on with. He is very personable. Even though I may have huge differences with him on policy issues that doesn’t stop us from being able to talk if we ever get the change. On the other level, the cuts he is talking about in terms of education, in health funding, cuts in benefits, and cutbacks in jobs, limited increase in wages and the increases in unemployment are poison to us as a society. They are hurting us hugely. I suspect some are dying as a result. You can’t have 270,000 children below the poverty line and cannot contribute some of those deaths to the kinds of politics that we have at the moment, that politics is being led by John Key.
You talked a lot your position on alcohol and drugs and you told the story of the Native American Indian who told you that you can’t be an activist part of the time, why is there no “Free choice” as you put it in drinking?
Because alcohol and the addiction to alcohol means there is no free choice. There is no free choice in the foolishness of the individual who is a drunk. There is no free choice in the sad eyes of the child who can’t get a kai because Dad spent all the money on alcohol. There is no free choice for the battered wife, you know from the Once were Warriors kind of background. There is no free choice to find out that his wife was killed by a drunk while she was out doing the shopping. There is no free choice in that, aye? That is just acceptance of unnecessary pain, suffering and death. That is what alcoholism is about, no free choice at all.
Have those beliefs been incorporated into the Maori party policies?
How I talk about it is to paint a picture of how damaging alcohol and alcohol-related damage really is. Those sorts of principles are incorporated in our view of the world in terms of tobacco, in terms of alcohol, in terms of drugs generally. In terms of the bill, the 18 – 20 year old thing, I take the very simple position that if they are old enough to die for us, they are old enough to drink with us. It seems crazy that we can send an 18-year old to Afghanistan to die, but when he gets home we are not going to let him to come to the pub with us.
That seems to be offloading the issue onto another stance on war though?
No, no, no. What I am saying is that when you are talking about the 18-20 policy, very simply if we sent them to war at 18, shit we can’t say no to them drinking. It is just dumb. It is not just about being anti-war, it is about being anti-this ridiculous notion that a person can die for us but cannot drink with us. The whole thing about not being able to buy from a wholesaler, but purchase alcohol from a licensed premises. It is tweaking. It’s like Labour’s policy on GST off Fruit and Vegies. Take GST off altogether. Take GST off petrol, off the power bill, off food, off everything.
What you would replace that with would be what you have called the Hone Heke Tax, which is a Financial Transactions Tax. Could you explain it to our readers?
According to the Treasury in I think 2009/2010 financial year, I think New Zealand experience $9.3 trillion in financial transactions. That is a lot of money, we don’t see so much of it because a lot of that money is traded on the world financial markets with dollars floated here, there and everywhere, but $9.3 trillion. At the moment, our current tax regime brings in $55 billion. You wipe that out and you make one tax which is 1% on all financial transactions which is $93 billion. You see what I mean. So ordinary people are only paying a 1% tax and the Super Rich who are paying nothing, if they actually paid on the amount of money that is flowing around the place, we double the amount of money the government could have. So when I talk about GST off food, more money for education, more money for housing, more money for employment the money is actually there just that the Super Rich do not have to pay it.
This is one of the policies you list when you talk about turning the Economics of Profit into an Economics for People, what other actions fit into this plan?
Full employment. Helen Kelly who is the boss of the CTU (New Zealand Council of Trade Unions) told me the other day that the tax cuts to the Super Rich in 2010 was enough to put everyone on the Unemployment benefit in 2011 into full employment at the minimum wage of $15 an hour by Christmas. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing? The scary thing is that National is not going to do it, the scary thing is Labour won’t.
And Mana would?
At the drop of a hat. There is so much greater value to have all your citizens working than people sitting around on their ass doing nothing. You have got to look after those people who will fall through the cracks and that will always be the case. There are many people on the Unemployment benefit who don’t have a job because there are no jobs.
You were sworn in once again to parliament as the member for Te Tai Tokerau where you pledged allegiance to the Treaty of Waitangi instead of the Queen…
Not instead of the Queen, just before her, she came last.
Fair enough. Why would you not attempt to legislate the change as well though?
In fact, when I finally got to take my seat on August 2nd after I came in and finished off that pledge, the first thing I did when I sat down was I opened up my laptop and sent off an email to the Maori party and the Greens to say why don’t we get together to talk about how we can make this happen. I don’t want people to talk about this like it’s Hone’s baby because I know the Maori party has talked about it, I know the Greens have talked about it, and some in the Labour party agree with it. Why don’t we get together and do something about it?
Would that require some sort of Constitutional reform?
No, just a change in the legislation. There is a statute says you have to do it this way and any statute that is there can be changed.
In terms of the Constitutional reform which is going to be undertaken in the next few months, do you think we should become a Republic?
I don’t care either way, I just think the Treaty should be protected in our constitution. I don’t want it to be tossed into legislation and out of legislation like it is at the moment. I want it to be above legislation so that all legislation has to adhere to it. I don’t really care if that is under a Parliamentary style government like we have or a Republic like in the USA.
So you would be interested to see how this review turns out?
Hugely. Although, I am not particularly keen on the way the Maori party and the National party have structured the Constitutional Reform process that they are talking about because it is really about institutional reform rather than constitutional reform. It is about how many members of parliament we should have.
But surely, that inevitably accompanies Constitutional reform?
Yes, but the Maori party’s reason for Constitutional reform was about the Treaty and they allow the Treaty to be shuffled down the list instead of staying at the top. Now that is why there is a separate group under Moana Jackson who are going to be leading an Independent Constitutional Reform process.
What is the level of priority you are giving to your attendance in Parliament at the moment or are you more concerned and getting out among the people?
I will always be more concerned about getting out and being among the people although I will attend to my obligations to parliament as required by law. I understand that there is a Voluntary Student Membership coming up next week…
And your views are?
I will oppose it as hard as I possibly can. In fact, my speech is being drafted for the Maori Students’ Association and it is being circulated amongst other student groups to see what they think. I am trying to maximise in my speech what students actually want from this bill or what they want to be said about this bill. Student associations are the life blood of an independent student life. Without an independent student union, everything becomes very much the dictate of the structure, the cost of the course and the private entities who will then be encouraged to come in and provide services to students. Education becomes privatised. It is not consistent with the democratic process and I oppose it hugely.
What are some of the other key Mana party policies you think will interest students?
The simplest ones are feed the children, decile one to decile five for starters and all children by 2013. The second one is free the students in terms of free education. If we want our young people to stay here, we do that by investing and paying for that education. That is the way they did it in the old days and it worked. Third one is full employment, if you have full employment you have the ability to change people’s attitudes, to change the way they think about themselves, their family and those around them. We have the ability to do all that. And finally, a fairer tax regime so that everyone pays their share. If we have a fairer tax regime then feeding the children, free education and health for that matter are immediate possibilities.