On Hone Harawira, and Jafar Panahi at the Oscars

None of the recommendations from yesterday’s hui in the Te Tai Tokerau electorate are likely to delight the Maori Party leadership, but the one that will irritate them the most is the call for Hone Harawira to be allowed to go on a nationwide tour to gauge what members think of his views. Yeah, right. What that signals is that any outcome from the rift between Harawira and his colleagues can no longer be safely penned within Harawira’s own electorate. The battle is now on for the party’s soul and political direction.

Harawira holds all the important cards in that debate and any drastic action taken against him will seriously damage the people wielding the sword. Nor can the conflict be resolved by simply expelling Hone and leaving him to reap the electorate vote as an independent – while still expecting him to deliver the party vote to the Maori Party. That outcome – essentially the status quo in radical drag – would be ridiculous for both sides of the dispute.

If Hone Harawira does goes solo – either now, of when the Welfare Working Group unveils its punitive measures in late February – he would be a fool not to extract a high price for his endorsement for the party vote, both in Te Tai Tokerau and around the other Maori electorates. In that scenario, the Maori Party will be only one suitor, alongside Labour and the Greens. There is also the much mooted prospect of Harawira forming his own party.

Harawira was always sceptical of the deal with National, even before it was made. An interview in 2008 on Scoop included this exchange :

Campbell : Logically, your leverage [in coalition] would be more extensive under National.

Harawira : Ahhh, that could be true. In the short term environment. But were we to go that way, what might be the kickback from our people? Know what I mean? Whereas, if we were one of a number of players in an arrangement with Labour but with a long term strategy for achieving what we wanted to achieve, that might in fact be better.

And this :

Campbell : So, when you look at the desired direction of welfare policy for Maori, and you look at the desired direction of industrial relations policy for Maori – which of the two major parties offers you the better framework to work under?

Harawira : For our people, because they’re primarily in the lower socio-economic bracket? Labour. For the simple reason that Labour has always maintained a clear view of consistently raising the basic minimum wage.

Exactly. It’s about bread and butter issues, not ideological gains. As low income families continue to struggle in the wake of the recession, those longer run issues of welfare policy and industrial relations policy will be to the forefront for Harawira’s supporters, all around the country. Time is on his side. The high water mark for Tariana Turia was when the potential gains from co-operation with National were still potential – but now, the paltry reality of the gains on the foreshore and seabed legislation are all too apparent.

While Harawira points this inconvenient truth out on one front , Labour has been releasing policy – like this week’s exemption of the first $5,000 of earnings from tax, and the removal of GST from fruit and vegetables – that are not only food-on-the-table issues for Maori, but are variants of either the Maori Party’s own array of policies (which call for a larger exemption band) or are policies that have been advocated by its own MPs, such as Rahui Katene.

The ground is shifting under the Maori Party. As the year progresses, it will become virtually impossible for Turia and Pita Sharples to support a National-led government after the next election. Turia seems like yesterday’s woman – still fighting stubbornly against the Labour leader now in New York, and not engaging with the one currently in Parliament. Harawira is only telling her truths that she needs to hear, and – obviously – shooting the messenger would be the wrong response.


Panahi update

So Hollywood’s heavy hitters (Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Sean Penn) have now got in behind the Amnesty International campaign to free the great Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi – and the industry’s stars will be asked to wear white ribbons in support of him, on the red carpet at the Oscar ceremony n February 27. In Canada, the Directors Guild, Writers Guild, Pen Canada and Human Rights Watch have all approached Canada’s Foreign Minister on Panahi’s behalf.

Inside Iran, the signals are mixed. In late January, there was a curious statement from the Ahmadinejad regime saying that the decision to jail and silence Panahi had not been the government’s idea, but the judiciary’s – a bogus distinction, especially given that Panahi’s alleged crime was to ‘plan’ to make a film about Ahmadinejad’s fraudulent re-election in 2009. Still, the “we weren’t responsible’ line is an indication that the regime is aware of the outcry around the world against the silencing of Panahi.

Panahi’s last film Offside was – like much of his work – about the oppression of women under an authoritarian regime. Specifically, it was a funny and compassionate piece of guerrilla film-making (shot at the actual game) about the efforts of a group of female soccer fans to break into the stadium to watch Iran’s World Cup qualifier game against Bahrain. In mid January, news outlets reported that women in Iran have now been banned from watching soccer matches in the specially segregated cinema screenings of the national team’s major games. The claim of such a ban on women-only soccer screenings has now been officially denied by the Iranian government, so the actual situation remains unclear. For those able to read it, the official Iranian press release is here.

There will be protest screening of Offside at the Sydney and Melbourne film festivals in March, Basically, this is the same action already being taken in Wellington this Sunday night at the Paramount.

Offside : Paramount Theatre, Wellington, 6.15pm

Speakers : Bill Gosden of the NZ International Film Festival, Juliet Elworthy of Amnesty International, and Iranian/NZ film director Faramarz Beheshti. Admission by koha to cover event hire


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