Hobson’s Choice spokesman Don Brash (a former leader of the National and ACT Parties) is not alone in challenging the justification for tribes claiming to have closed roads to protect their people against Covid.
Deputy Prime Minister and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters – his remarks apparently ignored by other media – told Waatea News unofficial tribal militia throwing up checkpoints were more likely to hinder than help the Covid-19 response.
He was interviewed at a time when hapu and iwi on the East Coast were organising such road-blocks and Hone Harawira was arranging checkpoints on roads into the far north.
Peters said the government didn’t need Harawira to ring-fence Kaitaia.
“That’s what the Government is seeking to do now. That’s why there’s a lockdown. That’s why they’re saying don’t travel. That’s why the Government is saying stay at home, look after each other.
“If you ring-fence Kaitaia, it sounds good until you have essentials coming in that are desperately needed for life to continue, food and other resources like that. So you can’t have a bunch of militias standing by the side of the road without any guidelines enforcing a lockdown.”
It was up to the authorities to make sure essential supplies could get through and enforce the end of no-essential travel, he said.
Vigilante checks were not the answer.
This contrasted with the bland response (perhaps it was a caring response) from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, when she was asked for her thoughts on Harawira setting up medical checkpoints in the Far North and turning people away.
She had warned people against taking vigilante action during the emergency, too, but when asked about Harawira’s vigilante action she said:
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.
At first blush, Peters seems to be alone among political leaders in speaking critically about Harawira taking the law into his own hands.
Newspaper editors appear to have been indifferent to this attempt to establish some sort of iwi sovereignty in the Far North and saw nothing untoward in reports such as this one posted at Stuff which said:
At least three groups of tourists have been banned from entering the Far North after being stopped at one if its locally-manned checkpoints.
Former Tai Tokerau (Northland) MP Hone Harawira said by stopping tourists from entering they were doing their bit to protect locals from the spread of coronavirus.
But David Farrar, at Kiwiblog, said what others chose not to say about Harawira’s vigilante action.
This is the last thing we need. Only central or local government should be enforcing restrictions on travel. The Government needs to ensure vigilante actions are not tolerated.
The concerns of those up north are warranted. But the answer is to pressure the Government to take more effective measures, not to set up vigilante road blocks.
In the Hobson’s Choice press statement, Brash expressed the same concern:
“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.
Newspaper columnist and blogger Karl du Fresne noted that the police, whose statutory duty is to maintain law and order,
” … appear to have meekly gone along with this brazen usurpation of their authority by a failed MP (he was tossed out by his own Maori voters in 2014) with no legal mandate whatsoever.”
Du Fresne went on:
“While the eyes of the country and the media have been on supermarket queues, toilet paper shortages and prime ministerial press conferences, Harawira appears to be using the health crisis as a smokescreen for an opportunistic grab for power – and he’s getting away with it.
“Some commentators have rightly highlighted the risk that new rules imposed to control the spread of Covid-19 will lead to an abuse of state power, but an even greater danger to civil liberties is posed when Maori activists take it upon themselves to limit people’s freedom of movement.
“Politicians can at least be punished at the next election if they get things wrong or overstep the mark, but who is Harawira accountable to? No one.”
Du Fresne acknowledged that concerns about the threat posed to Maori health in the Far North by thoughtless overseas tourists might be entirely valid.
“Elderly Maori are especially vulnerable.
“But no one, Maori or otherwise, gave Harawira the right to take matters into his own hands (with the help of his rugby league-playing mates, whose presence at the roadblocks can be counted on to intimidate travellers into complying with their instructions/requests).
“This is a classic try-on: a direct challenge to the authority of those who are supposed to be in charge, such as the police and district council. And far from resisting him, they’re cravenly waving him through.”
Du Fresne noted that RNZ “predictably” had not asked Harawira the obvious questions, such as who appointed him as “local commissar” or where he got his authority.
He mused on whether Harawira fancies himself as a local version of the Middle Eastern and North African warlords who exercise total authority within their own domains and are answerable to no one.
“The disgrace is that the people we rely on to uphold the rule of law are standing back and letting it happen.”
Those people include Prime Minister Ardern and Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha,
They also include Far North Mayor John Carter (another former MP). He said in principle he backed any Covid-19 precautions but it had to be done correctly.
Harawira had assured him he was planning checkpoints rather than road blocks.
”Food and medical supplies have to come through, and there’s all sorts of people we need to have come into our district to make sure it continues to function. It’s more a matter of checking people have gone through the right process of isolating themselves and are informed about the need to stay 2m away from others,” Carter said.
And the difference between a checkpoint and a roadblock?
When American police stop a motorist— during a routine traffic stop or at a checkpoint—it’s considered a seizure for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, which protects against “unreasonable searches and searches and seizures.”
Elaborating on this, an article on Lawyers.com says:
Roadblocks and Checkpoints
Police use checkpoints (also called “roadblocks”) for various purposes …
But all checkpoints have one thing in common: law enforcement officers stopping vehicles without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. So how then are checkpoints legal? The courts have basically said that—in certain circumstances—the government’s interest in having a checkpoint outweighs the inconvenience to motorists.
In this country the government and police seem to have extended this (without reference to Parliament) to say a self-appointed health officer’s interest in having a checkpoint outweighs the inconvenience to motorists and to the tourists who are so important to the economy of the Far North.