We face times that are more difficult than we acknowledge

Protesters rally against Covid-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates in Wellington on Wednesday....
Protesters rally against Covid-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates in Wellington on Wednesday. REUTERS
Dear Uncle Norm,

I’m alarmed by the diversity of ratbaggery at the anti-vaccine demonstrations.

Gathered under one umbrella were a coalition of the demented. It wasn’t just about Covid. The protest signs ranged from idiotic Donald Trump slogans and swastikas, to health and free-choice anti-vax messages. All further confused by New Zealand, Confederate (what??) and Maori flags.

Lumped together — and surely alarmed by each other — were bikie gangsters, nurses, teachers, small-business owners and all manner of right-wing diehards.

It’s worrying that PM Ardern is now surrounded by noisy protesters at public appearances. In my younger years I protested (rightly) against both the Vietnam War and the Springbok tour. I suspect the current demonstrators aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer. But why this astonishing diversity of fools?

George P.


First, George — put your scorn aside. Scorn prevents you understanding.

But you are right to be concerned. Protest movements gather momentum when underpinned by some collective sense of injustice. Scorn for people who shared such a “collective sense” was the main reason Britain and the United States were caught with their trousers down by Brexit and Trumpery.

These were bandwagons to which a host of scorned underclasses brought their resentment of that ruling class called “them”.

“Them” are the politicians, bureaucrats, academics, corporates and media. The collective crimes of the “them” are part imagined, but mainly real. They are the sins of the corporates who pay CEOs millions and won’t answer your customer phone calls. The “thems” include the new Jesuits of wokery. The spin-meister politicians, the scientists against other scientists, the obfuscating resource consent departments, the ... Well, it’s endless, isn’t it?

The reasons for the host of conflicting banners are not worlds apart from the reasons Trump and Brexit triumphed via the “up yours” vote of the underdogs.

Too often we blind ourselves with the arrogance of imagining New Zealand society possesses some kind of moral superiority. The fact is we are part of a nasty global cooling of trust and consensus.

These days “Uncle Norm” (and doubtless yourself) is on the receiving end of a surge of protesting social media and emails. Much of it is invented rubbish. But much is not.

The surge covers many issues but there are two resentments which absolutely dominate. First, anger over the management of Covid, and second, deep suspicion about the Ardern Government’s plans for He Puapua, most colourfully led by Three Waters.

Covid will soon be history, but meanwhile, we’re to endure our worst months of it. When Auckland’s gates open, the rest of New Zealand will be confronted by Covid in the neighbourhood.

The worst hit by Covid rule are the Kiwi thousands trapped overseas by the cruel inadequacies of MIQ. The only grain of sense left to it has been that Kiwis coming home from infected areas would be going to all parts of the country. But so will Aucklanders, come Christmas.

And He Puapua? Cabinet commissioned the He Puapua report in 2019, and ministries sat on its startling recommendations for 10 months (through 2020’s election), until the Opposition stumbled upon them. The report’s first words sum up the more than awkward issues it raises.

“He Puapua” means “a break”, which usually refers to a break in the waves. Here it refers to a breaking of the usual political and societal norms and approaches. We hope that the breaking of a wave will represent a breakthrough where Aotearoa’s constitution is rooted in te Tiriti o Waitangi and the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

PM Ardern says He Puapua’s concepts of separate Maori sovereignties aren’t Government policy. Yet it has launched what seem like He Puapua-inspired reforms in Maori representation on local Government, separate Maori health and control over water infrastructure.

Again, a chunk of the problem lies with deceptions and secrecy. Winston Peters states He Puapua was hidden from him before the 2020 election because he’d have stopped it. Think on the ramifications of that particular concealment — Peters was (only) the Ardern Government’s then deputy prime minister.

The “flannel” around He Puapua and its policy spin-offs is that it all reflects the true “spirit” of Waitangi. But they are radical interpretations which hide behind a nervous, weird protection — challenge them and you’ll likely be accused of racial dog-whistling.

The Waitangi Tribunal, established in 1975, is designed to be our interpreter of the Treaty’s modern meanings. However, it can only deal to Treaty claims made by Maori. A local council worried about race-based governance of water couldn’t approach it.

The essences of racial harmony are communication, moderation and tolerance — all the very opposites of Treaty radicalism.

The breadth of the “strange” agendas bobbing up in the 2021 demonstrations hints at a growing number of citizens who know they aren’t listened to. We face times that are more difficult than we acknowledge.

 - John Lapsley is an Arrowtown columnist.