Monday, November 14, 2005

Why am I not surprised?

While researching Parihaka, one of the things that caught my eye (in addition to the acts of attainder and effective suspension of the rule of law) was the process followed. It is clear from the Waitangi Tribunal report [PDF] that the settler government had decided from the beginning that they were going to seize the land at Parihaka by force and crush any suggestion of Maori autonomy or property rights. They then conspired to provoke a crisis which would justify such action, circumventing every check and balance in their way.

Chief among these checks and balances was the possibility of intervention from London. According to the Waitangi Tribunal,

The British Parliament had inquired about the suspension of the ordinary course of law in New Zealand and rumours that Maori prisoners had been mistreated. The Native Minister had replied evasively, attributing all fault to the fanatical support for Te Whiti and the unwholesome effect of the latter's 'evil eye', but the British Government was unconvinced and had sent a new Governor to review matters and report. Governor Gordon was more sympathetic to the indigenes.

The government's response was to wait until the Governor was out of the country. In mid-September, he departed for Fiji, and in his absence his powers were exercised by the Chief Justice as Administrator of the Government. The Chief Justice was far more cooperative, authorising a military buildup in Taranaki, and then, when the it was learned that the Governor was returning from Fiji early, taking extraordinary steps to act before he could intervene:

At 8 pm on 19 October, the chief justice, as administrator, issued a proclamation calling upon Te Whiti to submit to such reserves as had been proposed and for the others to disperse or suffer unspecified consequences. At the same time, Bryce, the former Native Minister, was sworn back into office. At 10.30 pm, about an hour after the Executive Council meeting ended, the Emerald, conveying the Governor from Fiji, dropped anchor in Wellington Harbour. Next morning, the Governor assembled the Ministers, but one was missing. The Native Minister had left at 4 am to assemble an armed march on Parihaka, as had long been his dream. He had decided to deliver the proclamation at the point of a bayonet and to take punitive action without waiting for a response. The Governor could not recall the decision; by a special arrangement, the proclamation had been published on the same evening it was made in a Gazette Extraordinary...

I dug through back-issues of the Gazette to find this proclamation (which is indeed quite extraordinary), and guess whose name was on the top of it? Who was the Chief Justice who conspired with the government to subvert the rule of law and authorise an armed attack on peaceful citizens going about their business? None other than James "simple nullity" Prendergast. Why am I not surprised...?