The proposition that our Police are paving the way for a partnership in which former MP Hone Harawira and other iwi leaders police communities within the borders they define went unchallenged when put to press officers working for the Prime Minister and the Police.
The picture painted in the preceding paragraph was drawn from Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha’s statement on road blocks Harawira set up in Northland to check tourists’ health. He declared:
” … we want to model what it looks like when iwi, police, councils and other agencies work in partnership”.
But nether the Police nor the Prime Minister’s Office directly answered questions put to them by Point of Order about the legality of Harawira’s blocking public roads while policing the a border which he presumably established.
Our questions to the Prime Minister’s Office followed her announcing the State of National Emergency declared to fight COVID-19 and significant restrictions on New Zealanders’ movements.
Jacinda Ardern was quoted as saying enforcement would be provided by police officers and the military and the government urged New Zealand not to take vigilante policing measures into their own hands – “that’s our job”, she said.
This suggested she would be riled by events reported by Newsroom:
Overseas tourists venturing to the Far North risk being turned back by iwi who are manning “medical checkpoints” on the main highways.
Organised by former politician Hone Harawira, three checkpoints are operational from Rawene, in the Hokianga, to the top of the country, with more coming in the next few days.
Harawira said he had the support of iwi leaders and police, who had joined locals to man checkpoints in Rawene, Maunga Taniwha to the North of Mangamaku and South of Waiōmio.
Harawira said the North needed to “close its borders” as New Zealand goes into Level 4 of the Covid-19 alert phase at 11.59pm Wednesday.
We emailed four questions to the PM:
- What statutory powers legally entitle Hone Harawira to set up checkpoints with police support to close these roads and establish medical checkpoints?
- What is the Prime Minister’s advice to citizens who want to challenge Hone Harawira’s authority and ignore the checkpoints?
- How do checkpoints established by civilians differ from vigilante action?
- May any community define its own borders and expect to be given police support for closing them to traffic?
The press secretary’s reply was brief:
Please can you forward this to Police for an operational response. They are best placed to answer your questions. I’m advised there has been some inaccurate reporting on this issue and they will be able to set you straight.
We had already emailed similar questions to the Police:
- Have the Police officially confirmed that – yes – they have joined iwi in impeding travel on some Northland public roads.
- If so, what statutory powers have been invoked to enable iwi to set up checkpoints with police support to close these roads and establish medical checkpoints?
- What would happen to a citizen who ignored the checkpoints?
- Have similar checkpoints been set up with police support elsewhere in New Zealand?
In reply we were given a statement attributable to Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha:
This is about community policing to be protective. These are unprecedented times and we are working with communities across the country to restrict the spread of this virus.
We are working with Iwi who are taking the lead to ensure rural communities that don’t have immediate access to support services are well protected.
We are all coming to this kaupapa from the same place – out of a need to protect the most vulnerable in the community. Iwi are taking a strong leadership role and we want to model what it looks like when iwi, police, councils and other agencies work in partnership.
Our role is supporting this cultural response to COVID-19.
We referred the Police response back to the Prime Minister’s Office and sent a copy to the Police press staff, observing that:
- The claim that the Police are supporting Hone Harawira and his vigilantes in blocking public roads and subjecting the public to health checks was not rebutted or challenged.
- Our question about the statutory powers being applied had not been addressed, reinforcing our understanding there are none and that the check points are illegal, (a matter with profound implications for notions of law and order).
- Most significantly, the Police say they “want to model what it looks like when iwi, police, councils and other agencies work in partnership”. We infer this means they are paving the way for a future in which Hone Harawira and other iwi leaders do their own policing – a matter with profound constitutional implications.
- Whether the Prime Minister countenances this remains a matter for conjecture.
The Police did not respond to this second email.
The PM’s press officer did respond, advising us that the Prime Minister had spoken publicly on this matter (this link of her press conferences was provided).
The press secretary pulled out two points.
Media: What are your thoughts on Hone Harawira setting up medical checkpoints in the Far North and turning people away? Do you approve of that sort of thing?
PM: To be honest, I’ve seen some reporting but haven’t looked in detail. The only thing I would just say, as a general statement, people have to be able to isolate in their homes. If we want people to be successful, they have to be in a place they can sustain themselves for four weeks, and so that is an important part of this plan working.
Media: People have questions about whether from tomorrow, say, essential workers will need to present letters to police, or whether police will be at roadblocks from tomorrow. Why has the Police Commissioner not been outlining that sort of thing today? Are you able to answer to those questions?
PM: I had this exact conversation with the Police Commissioner this morning. My expectation, as we move into this phase across the country, is that New Zealanders will observe all of the expectations that have been laid out. So yes, people will need to go to their jobs at the supermarket; they will need to go and work at hospital facilities. Police will be monitoring and will be moving around the country, and they will ask questions of people as they move to essential services or if, for instance, they’re outside their homes generally getting fresh air. They will be able to talk to people, ask them about their activities. If someone is outside and has no explanation, they will remind them of their obligations, and if they believe they need to, they can take other enforcement actions.
The police have outlined it to me as really a four-step process that they can go through, with a range of options for them. Ultimately, if you work in essential services, many of those things will be obvious. The police, as you can imagine, are well used to questioning people under various circumstances, making sure that people can identify their purpose for being outside. But, of course, someone who is getting fresh air won’t be carrying a letter with them, so we do need to give some discretion and common-sense ability to the police to do their job. Ultimately, though, New Zealanders will want to do the right thing. We’re being as clear as we can on the guidance. It may take a bit of time for people to really, truly understand the expectations, but police will be working with them to help them with that, as we will.
While we were engaged in these exchanges with the PM’s Office and the Police, things were happening in the Far Norh.
RNZ reported that checkpoints in the Far North, running health testing stations and turning away tourists with no isolation plans,
… have been scaled back with organisers saying they have achieved their desired effect.
Organiser and former MP Hone Harawira was overwhelmed with the support from police, who he said offered their assistance on the condition that volunteers moved to a safer spot on the road.
“To have the support from police like this is just… We were parked up somewhere that wasn’t that clever, and then the officer said, ‘If I can find you a better place and give you my boys, will you move?’
“He told us to come down here and it’s been great because he’s been able to put his cones up and get his boys up that end.”
Thanks to “the boys”, Harawira said he had received no trouble from drivers.
In an earlier report, Harawira said the the checkpoints would be manned initially by activists, who knew the value of discipline, and players in the Tai Tokerau Rugby League freed up by cancelled games.
They would receive some training from former military officers and would wear standard dress.
Perhaps because of a deep respect for “the boys”, there has been scant challenge from politicians or commentators to Harawira’s actions.
An exception was Hobson’s Pledge spokesman Don Brash.
In a press statement headed “Brash: No Justification For Tribes ‘closing’ Roads”, he referenced Harawira’s announcement of his intention to set up ”medical checkpoints” at the main entry points to the Far North to halt the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
Brash also noted that Tina Ngata, who helped organise the anti-Cook ship visit petition, said a checkpoint was to be set up at Hicks Bay to dissuade non-essential travel into the Tairawhiti region.
“We’re entering exceedingly dangerous territory when some people in the name of Maori are allowed to decide who can travel on state highways, as is happening currently in both Northland and eastern Bay of Plenty,” Dr Brash said.
“All New Zealanders have the right to deny other people the right to enter their private property, but no New Zealanders should have the right to deny access to taxpayer-funded roads or other public property,” he said.
Brash reasoned that – under the level-four restriction – people should not be out on the streets confronting traffic, when they were supposed to be in lock-down.
He recalled that after the White Island tragedy, when a tribe took matters into their own hands and blocked off access to part of the Whakatane water-front. The Police did not intervene.
“This nonsense has clearly gone on for far too long. There is only one Government in New Zealand, and it is the responsibility of the Police to ensure that the law of the land is upheld, irrespective of whom the law-breaker is,” he said.
We await with interest his reaction to news that neither the Police nor the PM’s Office have challenged the proposition that the Police are paving the way for a future in which Harawira and other iwi leaders do their own policing.