Last Monday, on Te Ao With Moana, Moana Maniapoto talked with Shane Jones, the unapologetically controversial New Zealand First deputy leader and Northland MP. Here’s an edited transcript of that kōrero.
Moana Maniapoto: Kia ora, Shane. Thanks for talking with me today. So you left Labour in 2014 and came back in 2017 with New Zealand First. What’s the big difference?
Shane Jones: Ran my race for Labour. I was a part of their problem because I refused to accept the kind of ideological frame they were working in. I had no personal animus, but I could see I was going nowhere there. The opportunity arose to go to work in the Pacific on a subject I actually know a lot about — fisheries. I took a bit of stick because I was appointed by Murray McCully and John Key and it looked as if I’d taken a kind of silky way out.
You love language. Is that an Aupōuri, Tarara, or Harvard thing?
I got a gift when I went to university from my Pākehā nana. It was the Webster’s monstrous dictionary and it was always a joke amongst the Māori at Auckland University. But no, I’ve always loved language. So I have to thank my mum and both nanas. There was my Pākehā nana who finished school at 12, 13, or 14 years old. On the Māori side, their main book was the Bible. And I’ve always had a really good memory for literature and te reo.
That te reo can get you into a bit of strife. (Laughs) It seems like there’s no filter sometimes. Would that be right?
(Laughs) I’m a politician? What do you think?
(Referring to his dig at Pania Newton) That was “putiputi”, right? You copped a lot of flak for that. People were suggesting it was quite patronising and dismissive. Any regrets around that?
No. I think I’m actually enriching the reservoir of language that’s used in public by using Māori terms. I know it hurts the feelings of the “woke” generation, but I’ve always detected a growing level of smugness and snobbery amongst the woke leadership and I’m just never going to tolerate that.
We were challenged when we were young, by our elders. Indeed, I remember being severely censured by Dame Mira and Dame Whina. So, if it was good enough in our time, the next generation can suffer that challenge as well.
Do you think that that term putiputi is quite a patronising term? That was the accusation that was laid.
Yeah. Moana, it’s a deliberate term that I used. If you come into the political sphere and you believe that you’re the new, fresh generation, then prepare for return fire. I speak as a New Zealand First politician and I don’t care if you’re young, old, Pākehā, Asian, Māori, whatever. It’s politics when you issue statements, and statements create consequences.
I had that “putiputi” directed at me about a hundred years ago and I took offence at it then. It was by a Māori woman actually.
The other interesting issue that you raised in there — and it wasn’t really picked up on — was that Ihumātao and what was going on there was going to “invert the architecture of the Treaty settlement process”. What do you mean by that? What were you concerned about?
Well, I’ve never seen Ihumātao as primarily a Māori issue. I accept that it’s an issue that there’s scarce land left in Tāmaki Makaurau that reflects heritage and perhaps some valuable physical features. But, in my view, I just have not encountered very many Māori at all from ngā hau e wha who have identified that Ihumātao is on a scale of Raglan or Bastion Point in my time.
The second thing is that I do not accept that, just because the SOUL movement ended up splitting a marae and dividing the tangata whenua, that somehow I should roll over and accept uncritically everything that they say. It’s politics. And, if I don’t agree, I’m going to tell them.
So that aside, how successful do you think the Treaty settlements are? Because one of the issues that they put back on the table, of course, was the fact that private land could now no longer be part of the Treaty settlements, which is a terribly unjust thing. What are your feelings around there? Is it possible to bring that back on to the table?
Well, there could be the take for a new generation. I have to be honest. None of us can see the future and I know that amongst a lot of the rangatahi, they want that revisited. And I accept that that’s their view. But as a — and I don’t say these things as a sort of Aupōuri Tai Tokerau self-proclaimed chief, I say it as a politician — I just don’t think it’s fair that, after having gone through the Treaty settlement process for Ihumātao, we should change everything just because of a public brouhaha.
But I do accept that future generations may want to revisit what we’re doing as we revisited what my own mātua did after the Second World War when they created the Tai Tokerau Trust Board.
Hmm. I don’t think I’ve ever met one negotiator who believes that “full and final” is full and final.
Well, you see, there’s a wrinkle in there for Ngāi Tahu and Tainui. They’re not full and final settlements. Ngāi Tahu and Tainui catch the fiscal cab every step of the way. I think they need to be very gracious about that. I’m really more interested in closing the chapter on these historical settlements and dealing to the other take that do afflict us in New Zealand. And where I think a bit differently is on immigration.
One thing that I think is a threat to our identity and our status is our unfettered immigration policy. I’m very partial towards us embracing refugees in a humanitarian way — and towards immigration that adds to the economy. But the fact that our population is now at 5 million means our percentage as Māori is shrinking. And I’m deeply opposed to that.
That, of course, is a numbers issue. So how do you work to ensure that the Treaty relationship is embedded so that it doesn’t matter how many people come in? That we’ve got some kind of leverage there in terms of a Treaty relationship at quite a high level, ‘cause that’s the only way we’re going to be able to deal with it.
Yeah. I think that as multiculturalism grows, we have to definitively protect the foundation influences that created the nation through the Treaty. I mean, I’m very proud of the Treaty. I spend a lot of my time sticking up for the Treaty.
But it’s going to get hard if the demography changes and we see a growth in the current levels of activism coming from the Indian business community who, in my view, have come to New Zealand through a very soft route and they need to accept that they’ve got a long way to go before they can prove to me that they should have any view about the Treaty of Waitangi at all.
Is New Zealand First a Māori party, do you think? I mean you, Winston Peters, and Ron Mark.
Well, let’s take Ron. He feels very deeply about land. He’s got a number of unfinished issues in Kahungunu. Winston? Quite frankly, no one knows more about various land episodes in the law (I’ve found to my cost) than Winston.
So, yeah, I mean, we’re very proud of our Māori heritage, but you can’t, and we don’t, promote ourselves as being the Māori wing of New Zealand First. Just see it as an integral, powerful sort of feature of being in New Zealand First. But I’ve grown as I’ve wandered through the world of politics. I’ve become a lot more patriotic.
I think, when I was young, we saw things predominantly through the lens of the iwi that I belonged to and we were proud of Ngāpuhi nui tonu, Te Aupōuri.
But as I’ve sort of evolved as a politician, I’m very patriotic for the foundation influences on New Zealand. And I think a lot of Māori leadership need to wake up and stop being so binary in their criticism. Unless we get on top of immigration and a population policy, the next generation are going to be strangers in their own land.
So you guys get a lot of flak for your stance on immigration. How do you balance up a commitment to Māori with this kind of, well, some people would describe as an ultra-conservative wing that gravitates towards your party.
Well, I’ve come to the view that the spirit within te ao Māori is actually quite conservative. It goes through waves of militancy. It goes through waves of radicalism. But, if you scratch under the surface, they’re conservative with a small “c”.
And I think that’s why we’re really slow to react to a lot of internal problems. But I respect people that’s lived their lives. But the New Zealand First party does attract a lot of people that are Pākehā and various other folk who have very conservative views about gun law, welfare . . .
You’ve said Eco Bible Bashers.
Oh yeah. I’ve got absolutely no time for these friends of convenience from the environmental movement who don the cloak of Māoridom when it suits them. And they’re very sophisticated. I have to give them that. In many cases, they’re very connected internationally. But, in my view, they should be challenged.
Who are you talking about?
I’m talking about Greenpeace or whatever else. I’ve got zero time for Greenpeace, although I like Mike Smith. He is a relation and a longtime friend of mine.
Well, there is that. Do you believe in a climate crisis?
Oh, absolutely. The climate debate. See? Just that question, Moana, shows how distorted this debate has become. Scientific facts are beyond cavil. Okay. I don’t need to believe in scientific facts. But climate change amongst a small group of shrill scientists has become an article of faith. If I want to express my faith, I karakia. I believe in God. Now, do I trust the science around climate change? Absolutely.
So that’s why, as a politician, I want to get on with policies that actually enable people to adapt to live within a changing climate. But I’ve got zero tolerance for these shrill voices that continue to preach some sort of apocalypse.
You’re an acknowledged tikanga and te reo expert. You have that background. How does it work within New Zealand First?
Well, I’m a lot older in the sense that I regard that part of my heritage, my identity, almost in a kind of ceremonial legacy fashion. I don’t feel the need any longer to lead petitions like I did in 1978 about te reo Māori.
Have you mellowed?
Well, you grow when you grow older. You realise you’ve got X amount of energy for X amount of causes. And I encourage anyone. And I learn and I help. I do a lot of translating. So I remain, I will remain, an advocate, a patriot for bilingualism till the day I die. And I can’t predict how many mokopuna will follow it and how many of my own kids, but I feel that I’ve acquitted myself well in that regard.
Well, what do you stand for as a politician? Yes. What do you stand for?
At the level of the economy, I’m a pro-industry politician. So I’m very pragmatic. I’m not a doctrinaire sort of person. I am a bit of a stirrer. I’ve always been there.
Are you the hit man for New Zealand First?
No. I think no one can eclipse the leader Winston Peters for that. But then I find that, if people deliberately go out to smudge his name or the party’s name, there’s an expectation that I’ll stand up and return fire. That comes with risks ‘cause none of us have perfectly clean blotting paper.
So you’re known as the 3-billion-dollar man in charge of regional development. Some people have referred to it as a New Zealand First re-election campaign fund. Is that true?
There’s a lot of risk in being the steward of a $3 billion fund.
You get a target on you?
Yeah, you get a target on you. You’re going to be very careful about the decisions you’re making. Where necessary, you stand back so no one can suggest that you’re writing out cheques for your relations. I mean, we’ve got a robust process in place, but this is an election year and I accept that quite a lot of arrows are going to come in our direction for the stewardship of the fund.
But it’s been a privilege. It’s been a fantastic phase to go through. And look, to be honest with you, it’s probably a phase very few MPs in their entire careers go through, but I’m not downplaying the risks associated with being the public face of such a bloody big fund.
You must have a lot of people sidling up to you?
Yeah, just as many people trying to take you out. To stiff me.
What are you most proud about? Is there something that you can put your finger on, even though it’s only been a short time that you’ve been the steward of this? You know, what’s something positive that’s come out of this?
Well, if you look at the last couple of years, there’s the fact that not only did I return from a period of absence, but I’m totally proud that we’ve written New Zealand First back into the script. That meant a lot to me because they provided me with an opportunity to address unfinished business, to be really honest with you.
What’s that unfinished business?
I’ve felt for the time I was with Helen Clark and as a Labour MP, I never acquitted myself as well as I could. The public never saw the full range of the talents that I believe I have, that are beneficial for society.
I mean, the successes lie, quite frankly, in the rather boring areas — but in the areas of bringing back trains, planting trees, getting nephs off the couch, putting pūtea into the regions. And I reckon, by the time that I leave, whenever that might be, more Kiwis will know words such as pūtea and putiputi.
Some have said that you’re very talented and extremely bright — and that you’ve been cruising. How do you respond to that?
Yeah, that was a constant thing said about me when I was a Labour politician. But, you know, politics is a bit like the Book of Ecclesiastes. It’s all about timing. You can be a worry ant, you can wander around like an overworked honeybee and make no impact whatsoever. Or you can choose the right time with the right take and make a big impact.
And I think you’ll find that with a lot of political leaders, whether they’re international or not — a couple of people come to mind like Boris and Trump — that it’s all about timing. And no one lasts forever as we’ve seen with Merkel, the great German leader.
Hmm. Are you going to stand in the North again this year?
Well, I’ve got to receive the endorsement of the New Zealand First party, but I stood in Whangārei last time and I have no intention of standing out of the North. I would obviously go on the list and I put forward my credentials, but I can’t formally announce that I’m going to be the Northland candidate until such time the party moves through its constitutional processes.
There’s a lot of you from the North, a lot of northern MPs in the House. What’s the biggest challenge up there?
Well, they’re multiple in terms of a tātou te iwi Māori kaupapa. It’s predominantly economic. If you don’t have economic opportunity, if you don’t have economic resource, your choices are shrunk.
At the level of housing and education, there’s always room for improvement and I hope they get the right people. Maybe you should be involved with writing up the Māori history curriculum or the New Zealand history curriculum. But the basic necessities of life are still a challenge for the north.
There must be some big expectations.
Yeah, but they vary. There’s an expectation that New Zealand First will recover what Winston Peters had, i.e. the seat of Northland. There’s an expectation that we’ll continue to deliver on huge projects such as relocating the port out of Auckland, up to Whangarei and, of course, that’s been dismissed as a pipe dream.
But, you know, in politics, one of your major enemies is inertia and the way to shake inertia is to be visible, be vigorous, and take risks. But, having said that, there are always downsides to being a risk-taker in politics.
What’s something about you that no one knows, something that you’re going to tell me now?
No, no, no, no, no. No deep secrets. All the spots in my character have been well and truly laid out for people to sneer at and humiliate me with. But I’ve got the hide of a rhinoceros.
Yeah, when, I’ve got time, I still go with my mother and my whānau to church. You wouldn’t think so the way I career around with a big gob, but I come from quite a traditional background. So that’s still an important part of my kaupapa.
Yeah. Is there life after Winston for New Zealand First?
Yeah, well, no party in the history of New Zealand has lasted quite the way in which New Zealand First has. But, as I said the other day, Winston is the Tane Mahuta of New Zealand politics. So we don’t imagine he’s going anywhere in a hurry.
It’s pretty impressive, isn’t it? . . . But New Zealand First is under fire at the moment, isn’t it? I mean, you’ve got Simon Bridges not wanting to play with you guys at all. He’s been very upfront. And now you’ve got this investigation. Are you confident the party’s going to be around at election time?
Well, let’s not forget these squalls of political volatility. They affect all parties. The National Party’s facing charges at the moment. Well, people associated with the National Party were wandering through the statutory process. I’m very confident that we’ll come out the other side of it as a party in a very robust form.
Okay. Now, a question to finish off? My research team says that you’re a bit of a singer, Shane Jones. In fact, I think I can remember you bowling into parties when I was at university.
Yes. I think that’s how I first met you. Yeah. But no. I will never compete with your international singing ability. My best songs are the ones we sing in te reo. But no, I’m not going to sing in front of you, Moana.
It might be a New Zealand First thing, ‘cause Ron Mark has got a bit of waiata-styling going on too.
Yeah. I think he’s more of a Johnny Cash. But no. For fear of ruining our programme, I will not offer a rendition of He Putiputi. I’ll just leave it there.
Kia ora, Shane Jones. Thank you very much.
This interview has been edited for clarity. Te Ao With Moana is on Māori Television, every Monday at 8pm.
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