I hate election year. I hate elections. They are the epitome of colonial control. A year when the height of white privilege is guaranteed to reign supreme in its effort to demean anything Māori. National elections are our constant reminder of the failure of the Crown as a Treaty partner to accept the tino rangatiratanga, the inherent sovereignty held by our hapū and iwi in Aotearoa. In fact issues of the failure to honour tino rangatiratanga, mana motuhake or Māori sovereignty is rarely even discussed in election year, unless asserted by those that the government then marginalise as ‘trouble makers’ ‘seditious’ or ‘haters and wreckers’.
In election year, anything and everything Māori is considered a target. There are the predictable issues, the Māori seats, Treaty Rights, Māori engagement with health, education, social welfare, justice. Then this year we can add the attack on Whare Wānanga by a bunch of overly entitled universities led by overly privileged white men who assume that white knowledge is the only knowledge worthy of transmission in a higher education context. We can add the ongoing attack on te reo Māori and the racist view that maintains only the colonisers language as requiring compulsory learning in schools, and the equally mono-cultural view that Māori perspectives on the colonial land wars are not important enough to be compulsory in the history curriculum and therefore we continue to graduate from our schooling system ignorant monolingual students for the next generation of Māori to have to deal with. It seems that everywhere I turn there is a upsurge of white supremacy expressed as white privilege.
But even more disturbing has been emergence in the past weeks of a kind of punitive, vindictive, mean-spirited media gang led by primarily privileged white men who have no idea what it means to live in a level of poverty that many in this country exist in every day. This is a media pack with a focus in the election year on destroying a Māori woman leader, Metiria Turei, for something she did as a young single parent mother. And like any other pack they have been driven to collectively hunt and devour. These entitled white male journalists have been relentless in their desire to affirm their pack behaviour and to prove that they are rightfully engaging in acts of journalism. They are asking questions, they are probing, they are seeking answers. And some of them even speak with lulled voices that give an illusion that they give a shit. When they don’t.
I don’t expect everyone, or anyone particularly, to agree with this view. But let me say this, when a major newspaper like the NZ Herald prints an article titled – ‘Fact or fiction: Do Green co-leader Metiria Turei’s sins compare with Bill English and John Key?’ (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11900227) that seeks to position itself as undertaking equitable reporting then we have to ask some serious questions about if that is really the case. One may conclude that the NZ Herald does ‘protest too much’. This type of self-validation on the part of mainstream media should have us all concerned. Lets look, as an example, at one of the claims and conclusions that the Herald provides to vindicate itself.
“Claim 3: That Turei was subjected to much more scrutiny than English and Key.
The Facts: English’s case was widely covered in the media in 2009 and English was the subject of attacks by Labour MPs in Parliament on the issue as well as being put through an Auditor-General inquiry. It earned him the nickname “Double Dipton” and cost him more than $30,000 as well as years of future accommodation allowances he could technically have qualified for.
A search through the archives shows the NZ Herald wrote a story in 2002 before Key entered Parliament on his plans to base his family in Parnell while buying an “electorate home” in Waimauku. A further story was written in 2005 when Key swapped his enrolment to the Epsom electorate and then Labour President Mike Williams said he would complain to the Electoral Commission about Key’s earlier enrolment in Helensville.”
Conclusion: English was subjected to as much scrutiny as Turei. Key was not, partly because he moved to address the situation and was still an Opposition MP rather than leader. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11900227)”
It is difficult at this moment to ascertain if, as the Herald states, English’s case was ‘widely covered’ but we can get some idea of the construction of the coverage when looking at some of the headlines related to Bill English’s accommodation allowance claims:
• Bill English buckles over housing allowance
• Bill English defends taxpayer cash for house
• Come clean on trust, Bill English told
Then lets look at some other headings relating to housing and in particular those related to people on benefits and the reporting related to Metiria Turei.
• Auckland emergency housing fraudsters rip off taxpayer
• Patrick Gower: Metiria Turei’s political fraud is ripping off the New Zealand public
• Metiria Turei explains silence on flatmates in fraud case
The Herald note that in English’s case it “cost him more than $30,000 as well as years of future accommodation allowances he could technically have qualified for.” So, in fact, the Herald assumes Bill English’s right to take accommodation funds by indicating that his repayment of those funds “cost him”, and then continue that assumption in regards to his “technical” ability to claim costs. This is not a 23-year-old single parent on a benefit raising a child. This is a middle class privileged white man using lawyers to defraud the system, albeit in a “technically” accepted manner, who was also the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance. In regards to John Key, the Herald justifies his actions as he “moved to address the situation” and was only an “opposition MP rather than leader”. Interestingly there is no statement that Metiria Turei also “moved to address the situation” and in fact her move was to address the situation not solely for herself (as was Key’s self serving actions) but to address the issue of poverty and systemic failure to provide for all people that have to survive on a benefit.
So, Yeah… Nah… NZ Herald, you did not come anywhere near giving justification for the unjust and inequitable treatment of Metiria Turei over the past weeks. And you never will, just as those privileged white male pack of journalistic hounds can never justify their unbalanced and toxic reporting that dominated mainstream broadcasters reports. As Green MP Julie Anne Genter highlighted in regards to the reporting
“the media’s focus on Ms Turei’s benefit fraud and calls for her resignation are “completely disproportionate to what she actually did”.
“I think the media’s focus on what happened 25 years ago in a kind of punitive way is a distraction,” she told media on Tuesday afternoon.
“Metiria told her story voluntarily in order to be able to raise this question of our welfare system and how it’s broken and it hurts people who are living in poverty. That’s what we should be talking about.”
And it is election year. A year when all of these issues and their reporting increase in impact significantly. As those voters that are yet undecided or considering changing their vote are looking for those policies or reasons that will inform their decision there has been a dire lack of journalism that actually deals with the issues that Metiria has raised. We have to ask why there has been such an obsession with Metiria and virtually no engagement by those same reporters, in the past weeks, on the underlying issues at hand, poverty, systemic failure to care, MSD and WINZ continuing to abuse those who are most vulnerable. The continued emphasis on fraud and virtually no focus on the fact that Metiria had commenced a process to pay back. The continued digging around the past of a 23 year old Māori woman single parent and the constant raising of questions that come from unknown, unnamed sources that comment on her whānau and life, where journalists imply that you can’t possibly be in poverty if you have not turned to prostitution or drugs, would take its toll on any one. And I have to say that no amount of asking that type of question with a softly spoken tone makes that any more valid a question.
What we have is a clear attack that is grounded in the fundamental right wing ideologies of race, gender and class that serve the interests of domination and which reproduce systems of inequality and disparities. Metiria Turei embodies all of those things that white supremacy seeks to destroy. She is Māori, she is a woman, she has been on a single parent benefit and she has done all she needed to do for herself and her child to survive, to live and to flourish. For many, she has beaten the odds and in any other context she would be considered the model of what we aspire all single parents on benefits to experience. However, in this context she is a direct challenge to the existing order. Metiria Turei has for many years shown that she can lead a party that can take down this right wing neoliberal government. She has been a threat for years, and she will remain a threat for many more. She is powerful and all of those in power, and those that hold privilege, recognise that. So, Metiria Turei does not get the opportunity to pay back the benefit and keep her leadership role, the way that Bill English got to pay back the $32k he took knowingly and through a technical loophole and then become Prime Minister. Metiria Turei does not get let off for voting in an electorate she didn’t live in the way that John Key was let off for standing in an electorate he never lived in, and become Prime Minister.
Those leading the right wing media attack were always going to ensure that Metiria Turei would never be treated with any level of respect because Metiria does not look like those privileged white male journalists that have made it their duty to ensure that she doesn’t ‘get away with it’. Everything about these past few weeks should serve as a reminder that racism, sexism and classism are alive, well and thriving in this current neo-liberal economic context and that we only need to look to what is happening internationally to know that this will worsen and deepen if we do not stand up and make change.
So it is election year. And I hate election year. But this year I will vote. And I will work to ensure that everyone I know makes their vote count.And I encourage anyone who sees their experiences in the experiences of Metiria Turei to also make their vote count. If we are to ensure that we have any hope of living in a country that works for the collective well-being of all, that seeks to honour the Treaty relationship that our ancestors committed to, that cares for our environment and the well-being of this land, its mountains and waterways for current and future generations, that will stop the ongoing commodification and exploitation of our lands and seas, then we must reject this current right wing government.
At the moment the only mechanism for that is this oppressive election process. One day that may also change.
The lack of meaningful reporting that highlighted the issues at hand has thankfully being filled through blogs, opinion pieces and social media outlets. Here are some links that engage the issues raised by Metiria Turei in more depth.
The sins of Metiria, Bill and John: sense-checking the fact checkers. Simon Wilson
Metiria Turei debate: It’s all about class, Dr Claire Timperley
The morality of poverty and the poverty of morality – The Political Scientist
The importance of what Metiria has done and why we should all support her
Political Roundup: In defence of Metiria Turei – Bryce Edwards
Martyria No Right Turn
On Whited Sepulchres – Brian Edwards