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2014 Rona Bailey Lecture: Robert Consedine – Suing Robert Muldoon and Doing Time: From Anti-Apartheid to Project Waitangi

In the 2014 Rona Bailey Memorial lecture, held at Toi Whakaari, Robert Consedine talked about Project Waitangi. In the later 1980s, Rona Bailey was actively involved in establishing Project Waitangi, a community organisation which sought to educate Pākehā around the Treaty, in light of the approaching 1990 sequicentennial of the Treaty’s signing. Over a number of years a network of Project Waitangi groups did much work in this regard. This work raised a number of issues in the broader context of progressive politics in this country. We are very fortunate to have Robert speaking on this topic, as he, like Rona, has had a long and varied involvement in progressive politics in this country, and for many years now has conducted his own Treaty education consultancy as Waitangi Associates.

The Rona Bailey Memorial Lecture commemorates activist Rona Bailey (1914-2005) and is held every two years by the Labour History Project.

Poster black and white with a picture of a man graffitiing and NZ National Party Building.  The text reads:
Labour History Project presents the Rona Bailey Memorial Lecture, 2014

Robert Consedine 'Suing Robert Muldoon and doing time': from anti-apartheid to Project Waitangi.

Entry by koha - Refreshments will be served.

Thursday 13 February 5.30pm; lecture begins at 6pm

Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School 11 Hutchinson Road, Newtown

Text of Robert Consedine’s Rona Bailey Memorial Lecture

E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o te motu, kia ora tatou katoa. Distinguished guests, old friends, warm greetings to you all.

I knew Rona Bailey only by reputation. I wish I had known her personally. We had much in common even though she was a communist and I was a Catholic. She also lived in a different period of history. She was born in 1914 —only five years before my father—and was 28 years older than myself.

As I read a profile of Rona by David Grant, I realized once again the extent to which our lives are shaped by our experience. She was described as a ‘legendary communist and activist’ and witnessed, as a child, a protest march of unemployed in Gisborne. She was influenced by her schoolteacher aunt and attended a Paul Robeson concert in Panama. Paul was an African American and a well known Communist. Rona also witnessed the hooded riders of the Ku Klux Klan and was active in the 1951 waterfront lockout, during which the police ransacked her flat. A conviction for having an unregistered Gestetner duplicating machine followed, and she was fined 14 pounds. Now that is a conviction worth having! She was also active in the ‘No Maori No Tour’ campaign, anti-Vietnam protests. the Springbok Tour protests in 1981, Project Waitangi and the foreshore and seabed hikoi.

She was a remarkable woman. Our passion for justice emanated from different sources, Rona with her communism and me with my Catholicism.

My Irish whakapapa is very relevant to my identity in Aotearoa. On my mother’s side I am descended from a long line of Irish revolutionaries. We are aware of three of them. One worked with Wolfe Tone who led the failed 1798 uprising against the English colonizers. Another was jailed in the land wars of Galway. The ancestor, Thomas Sweeney, who projected us to New Zealand was sentenced to hang in Tipperary on 1 April 1823 for ’felonious assault on a habitation’ between sunrise and sunset. Just before he was due to be hanged he and his fellow ‘urban guerrillas’ were given a choice between hanging and transportation. He chose transportation to Australia. Sweeney later married and his daughter immigrated to Hokitika in 1865 where she married another Irishman. That was the start of our family in New Zealand.

I grew up in Addington, one of the most interesting suburbs in the country. The entire district was working class. We were part of an Irish Catholic ghetto on the edge of Protestant Christchurch. The environment of Addington was unique. Looking back there were some global significant influences which began to shape my worldview.

One was Pope John XXIII who, in a very radical way, opened the Catholic Church to the global struggles in the world. Another was the Irish Catholic Kennedy family—particularly JFK.

In 1967 I was the youngest NZ delegate to attend the Catholic Church World Conference of the Laity in Rome. Capitalizing on contacts I had made in Rome and at the Vatican, I was subsequently hosted by families in nine US cities. I attended civil rights planning meetings; Anti-Vietnam War meetings, including meetings about the secret anti-Vietnam pipeline to Canada to avoid the draft; and a variety of other meetings held in slums and ghettos.

As chair of the Canterbury Youth Council I was a New Zealand delegate to the World Assembly of Youth Conference in Liege, Belgium. This involved listening to fiery speeches, witnessing dramatic withdrawals of delegates and meeting with members of liberation movements. I listened to and sometimes met members of the PLO, ANC, PAC, ZANU, MPLA, Sinn Fein. I subsequently found out that this gathering was funded by the CIA.

In 1973, while working for New Zealand’s international aid agency CORSO, I went to six Asian countries with John Curnow and was exposed to radical new thinking about aid. We were both NZ delegates to the UN training conference on Peoples Participation in Development. The overall theme was that aid has failed and that people need to be the authors of their own development.

Nobody can do anything alone. We all operate in groups. I have never done anything alone.

I am often asked ‘how do you decide what to get involved in.’ My answer always is ‘do what’s in front of you.’ I have never consciously looked for something to do. My strategy has always been to empower others. That is, to start by forming a group and then assessing the ability of individuals to act. Setting achievable goals; teaching strategies; developing a plan; training to build confidence; leading from behind; evaluating, celebrating and having fun; keeping morale and our convictions grounded.

In 1972 I joined Halt All Racist Tours. As part of preparation for the rugby tours, HART leaders attended a three-day training course in nonviolent direct action. We engaged in realistic socio-drama and roleplay scenarios which enabled us to learn how to take over buildings, block roads and bridges and create other civil disobedience activities. The target of our training at that time was the 1973 Springbok Tour of New Zealand which was subsequently cancelled by prime minister Norman Kirk.

In 1976 CORSO acquired a 16mm film, Last Grave at Dimbaza (1973). We held showings for journalists, MPs, school teachers and civic leaders. Dimbaza was one of the first, and certainly among the most influential, films about apartheid. It was shot secretly in South Africa and smuggled out of the country, and had an enormous impact on global opinion at a critical moment in the struggle against apartheid.

As the 1970s progressed it became apparent that the police had infiltrated HART. Political actions depended on surprise, and we decided to set up a new group, Action Against the Tour, to avoid infiltration by the police. Our members all knew each other personally. We remained separate from and aligned to HART. I now began to train activists in civil disobedience for anti-tour political action. We eventually carried out two major actions which proved the value of good planning and training. After intensive training our group took over the Building in Christchurch on Soweto Day, 16 June 1981. During the occupation the group contacted and was interviewed by South Africa’s Rand Daily Mail and the Cape Times. The day afterwards, members of our group took flowers to the evicted staff and paid the toll bill, as part of our commitment to the philosophy of civil disobedience. This group subsequently had a jury trial and were found not guilty.

Just before the Springboks were due to arrive our team discerned that the antiapartheid movement needed a morale boost. The tour was going ahead. It looked as though we had lost the argument. We were worried about the potential for violence in the coming months and wanted to create a powerful model which demonstrated the power of non-violence.

Our group came with the idea, used extensively overseas, of using a jail, a hunger strike and the courts in a political action aimed at maximizing antitour publicity. We worked out that we needed two small criminal charges to get ourselves remanded in the Addington prison. Four of us would go to prison on a hunger strike and the rest of the team would engage in a range of external activities to support us and our families.

It’s not easy to get into jail when you really want to. Here’s how it played out. The detail is important. That’s why it was successful.

On the morning of 8 July 1981 our well-trained team of about 30 went to the Rugby Union headquarters. Four soon-to-be-incarcerated conspirators climbed the scaffolding and carefully chained themselves to the railings. We then threw the keys away. We raised the New Zealand and South African flags together and, having dipped them in kerosene, set them alight. It was a spectacular fire. Below on the footpath another member of the team was on standby with a fire extinguisher. Our ‘press officer’ had pre-warned the media, who were present in force.

Our team was all operating on the street with different roles and plenty of placards. We had an anti-tour leaflet to distribute. The scaffolding, unintentionally provided by the Rugby Union, made a brilliant platform from which to make fiery speeches.

The police arrived and blocked off Manchester Street at both ends and demanded that we descend. We informed them that we were unable to comply as we were chained to the scaffolding. The police—there were 32—then sent away for boltcutters and started to climb the scaffolding. We assisted them to prevent casualties. Mike Gillooly, Robin Woodsford, Malcolm Twaddell and myself were arrested, charged with ‘being in possession of a building’ and processed at the police station, then told to go home. We had lunch and then moved on the second part of our plan.

After lunch we all went to the National Party headquarters in Christchurch, blocked the street and proceeded to paint slogans and pour our blood on various sacred objects in the building – notably photos of PM Robert Muldoon. This time we were arrested for ‘wilful damage.’ There was a minor hiccup. I had been to school with both arresting officers and they simply didn’t want to arrest me. I demanded that they do their job and they eventually complied. We were taken to the police station where we were processed and held overnight for court the next morning. We were told by the police we could go home if we promised to behave ourselves. That wasn’t in the plan so we declined their kind offer. We appeared in court the next morning charged with ‘wilful damage’, and were offered bail of $500 on our own recognisance. We refused to sign the bail bond. They had to then remand us in Addington jail.

This action took place in the two weeks immediately preceding the arrival of the Springboks. The action created widespread domestic and global publicity. We were eventually convicted of ‘being in possession of a building’ (the Rugby Union) and the ‘wilful damage’ which we intentionally inflicted on the National Party headquarters.

At the time Addington Remand Jail was packed with Māori, mostly from the North Island. This was a huge shock to us. This was the monocultural Addington of my childhood. The old jail, which had housed Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi in 1882-3, was still housing large numbers of Māori. We started to hear their stories. My cellmate was a 29-year-old Māori man in on his third conviction. He had been in jail since he was 14. I needed to know more. This place was a shameful blot on the landscape.

Later that year, after the Springboks had gone home, we wrote a detailed report with the Canterbury Council for Civil Liberties on the appalling conditions at Addington Prison. We released it to the media and posted it to the homes of each of the 14 judges who lived in Christchurch. We are still waiting for a reply. The convictions were subsequently overturned by Justice Maurice Casey. From memory he ruled that ‘a scaffolding is not part of a building,’ hence no trespassing. We brought in a professional cleaner as a witness and the charge of ‘wilful damage costing $1800’ was overturned on the grounds that the blood could be cleaned up with a bucket of water.

The day we left jail Robert Muldoon announced on TV that the ‘hunger strikers’ had been ‘nibbling’ (ie. secretly eating while claiming to be on a total hunger strike). Rob Muldoon was the gift that kept giving. We decided to sue him for defamation. He had falsely and publicly accused us—on TV—of lying. Then another gift emerged. One of New Zealand’s most prominent QCs, Brian McClelland, offered to take our case pro bono. The case lasted eight years. We won. The (taxpayers’) money all went to legal aid.

There were many other courageous stories from 1981 reflecting the involvement and commitment of New Zealanders in the anti-tour protests. Ordinary people, with a passion for justice found that they could do extraordinary things. One story is about my friend and former PA at CORSO, Mary Baker.

The day before the start of the tour Mary was sitting in the Air New Zealand departure lounge in Los Angeles and she realized that the Springboks were on her flight back to New Zealand. With her heart in her mouth she promptly decided to tell these big rugby players individually that they were not welcome in New Zealand. The Air New Zealand staff told her to desist or she would be offloaded.

She finally decided that the smartest approach was to wait until the flight was closer to Auckland and she couldn’t be offloaded, and then act. She carefully wrote the word ‘SHAME’ in big letters on an aircraft sick bag. After waiting until the breakfast trays were down, for her own safety, she then paraded up and down the aisle, at 43,000 feet, holding the placard in the air. The only abuse came from the New Zealand passengers. The stewards finally told her to sit down. They arrived in Auckland to the sound of massive protests.

Mary later reflected that the Springboks appeared to have no idea what was ahead of them in New Zealand. Along with Bishop Tutu and Springbok captain Wynand Claassen, Nelson Mandela said a few times that New Zealand’s opposition to the Springbok Tour was the single biggest external factor in bringing ‘apartheid to its knees.’ Although history may decide differently, those of us who heard this directly from Mandela at a post-apartheid gathering in Auckland received it as a magnificent compliment. The irony is that had the tour not proceeded, the impact on apartheid may have been negligible.

The connection between my time in jail and the evolution into Treaty work was an obvious next step. The shocking impact of meeting such a large number of Māori in prison stayed in my mind. Whilst Māori protest had begun to impact on my consciousness, it was not until Māori activists challenged Pākehā, that we began to take some responsibility for our colonial history. In this generation Māori had been active on these issues since the 1960s. Nga Tamatoa, ACCORD, the 1975 Māori Land March, Bastion Point, Raglan Golf Course, Māori Language struggles, Waitangi Day protests and then the beginning of Crown responses —Waitangi Tribunal, the SOEs case—to name a few!

The public backlash against Māori activism was strong. The changes in the Treaty relationship were being driven by Māori. The big question? What was the role of Pākehā?

Three ideas emerged;

1) Pākehā were responsible for tackling Pākehā ignorance. There was to be accountability to Māori BUT not a Māori responsibility.

2) Māori had their own work to do.

3) Pākehā were challenged to ‘create the space’ in the system for Māori.

In 1985, after accepting an invitation to became a member of Te Runaka ki Otautahi o Kai Tahu, we began to face the challenge. Pākehā needed to learn their own history and begin to confront the history of colonialism in New Zealand. We needed to develop our own cultural identity and values by understanding who we were in a cultural and historical context. It was crucial to take responsibility for our own lack of awareness of New Zealand’s colonial history, and in particular the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Māori activists knew that the key for Māori was their own empowerment. Therefore, if Māori were to receive justice, the majority culture had to change, and for that to occur, Pākehā had to educate themselves and those around them.

The challenge to educate the majority culture was a calling too strong to ignore, and so I embarked on a journey to relearn the history of New Zealand. I began listening to Māori activists more closely and reading everything I could lay my hands on. I spent hours at night poring over books—a practice I continue today —trying to cram in years of colonial history that I had not been taught.

What I found out about New Zealand’s colonial history shocked me profoundly. The colonial history of New Zealand since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi was a history of dishonoured promises, fraud, theft and violence against Māori through a process of systematic colonisation. At every level of the political and economic systems Māori had been marginalised.

This journey was tremendously liberating as I came to see, feel and experience issues with a new clarity. I realised how hugely disadvantaged I had been, growing up in a country where the media and the education system had been feeding me either misinformation, or as at school, no information at all. Like many Pākehā, I had to learn to distinguish between truth and political propaganda.

I became increasingly aware of the information gap that existed between the general public and specialist historians. I knew this information needed to be transformed and delivered in a process, which could be understood and integrated by the general public.

However, as time went on, members of Project Waitangi became divided over how Treaty education workshops should be run. The classic dilemmas of the left—the conflicting ideologies of feminists, Christians, Marxists and trade unionists—came to the fore. People who brought a feminist or socialist perspective argued that without that agenda anti-racism work would be futile, and so on. The challenge was to find a common purpose.

Each leader had an unfailing commitment to the kaupapa, but a different view on how to carry it out in the workshop content and process. I have always believed Marxist, socialist, feminist and globalisation perspectives are all relevant, valid strands of the whole; however, I came to believe that the challenge in Treaty education workshops was to keep the focus on racism, colonial history and the failure by governments to honour agreements with indigenous peoples.

By the late 1980s this debate was affecting relationships and creating paralysis. I decided to withdraw to the periphery of the Treaty network and form Waitangi Associates.

The person who helped me make this decision was Elsie Locke. Elsie and I used to swim at the same pool in Christchurch. Elsie generously helped me sort out the tangle of conflicting ideologies about the Treaty and helped me clarify my own way forward. I began to develop a highly interactive, accelerated two-day workshop model. The process evolved from my psychodrama and sociodrama training—action methods of teaching. I have never stopped refining the process and the content.

In the late 1980s I teamed up with Irihapeti Ramsden from Ngai Tahu. Because of practical difficulties created by the polarised Treaty politics at the time, we developed the practice of a parallel process. Mixed, Māori and Pākehā workshops didn’t work. Those involved could be affected in various ways: fear and selfcensorship by participants in the groups; stories about loss and grief could be very painful; there was potential for intimidation and a general lack of cultural safety. In summary, participants had different cultural needs. Irihapeti Ramsden wanted to lead decolonisation workshops with Māori only.

The Treaty workshops I developed were designed as a starting point for Pākehā to address the widespread lack of understanding of colonial history, culture, cultural heritage, racism, sovereignty and self-determination for indigenous peoples, and to contribute to informed and reasoned debate.

My understanding of colonisation and the Treaty deepened as I saw it in the context of my history of studying world poverty—when I worked for CORSO. There are 350 million indigenous peoples in the world. Somewhere along the journey I began to see that all of the issues that concerned me—indigenous rights, poverty, racism, sexism—as rooted in colonialism and neo-colonialism —and the dispossession of indigenous peoples.

I would now describe decolonisation as the great challenge of our generation. I would compare the struggle to the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, the struggle for universal franchise, ‘feeding the hungry’, the abolition of war. Colonisation contaminates everything for the coloniser and the colonised.

For the first 150 years the entire institutional life of the country portrayed the Pākehā/English world as normal, superior. Pākehā were taught to be superior, Māori were taught to be inferior. Parliament, government departments, local government, town planning, the environment, resource management, health, education and justice systems were portrayed as culturally, economically and politically neutral. Tikanga and Māori were invisible. Like uncovering layers of an onion, I was gradually drawn into the chaos of the worlds we have inherited as a consequence of colonisation and empire—where most of the wealth of the world is owned and controlled by relatively few people, while millions of people starve. Waitangi Associates Ltd In 1991, when I first started delivering workshops on my own, there was no money. I would have to earn my way and learn how to run a small business. I was in serious debt for seven years and operated out of the equity in my house. Over time the business became sustainable. In 1994 my wife Trish joined this little business which, since the Christchurch earthquakes, operates out of a garage. Trish is a brilliant administrator.

The workshops have succeeded because I decided to make this the very best training experience participants would ever attend. All methods of teaching are used. Cultural safety is paramount. Two full-day workshops is the minimum.

What we discovered was that each participant brings numerous and varied questions to the process. Many of these important questions are subconscious and the process of the workshop enables them to emerge.

The workshop process uses a wide range of group skills: sociodrama, role play, sociograms, group reflection, poetry, timelines, sculpture, small groups, action methods, workbook, videos, audio and music.

The success of the workshop depends on the ability of the workshop leader to connect with each participant and make the Treaty debate relevant. Each workshop is completed with a written anonymous evaluation. Participant feedback is taken very seriously.

Since the death of my colleague, mentor and friend Irihapeti in 2003, my workshops have been mixed, with a good mix of Māori, Pākehā and other cultures. Treaty education has become very specialist. There are basic historical and contextual questions which don’t change, but a workshop full of scientists has different questions to one of teachers or prison officers, or health professionals, or police, or local government staff, or staff in psychiatric hospitals or community workers or engineers. The key challenge is relevance to the individual participant.

In 2014, after nearly 30 years involvement delivering Treaty education in over 200 institutions, involving more than 50,000 participants, I have never lost my enthusiasm for the work. There are many significant deceased activists whom I admired, who were influential on my journey and many who are still alive and committed to social justice. It’s a long list of extraordinary New Zealanders and it would be futile to try to name them all.

Finally, when I think about the Māori renaissance, I have never had reason to change the view articulated by the former slave Frederick Douglass nearly 200 years ago: “Power cedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” When I think about many extraordinary activists throughout our history, I remember that Douglass also said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favour freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men (and women) who want crops without ploughing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.”

I am very excited at the enormous impact that Māori are having on this country and what has been achieved so far. Māori, in my lifetime have gone from invisibility to the centre of political discourse. There is much to celebrate and more to do.