Buddy Mikaere: I’ve tried them all — but I’m standing for TOP

by Buddy Mikaere
Sun 3 Sep 2017
8 min read
7
  • Mum and Dad, circa late 1960s'

Lately, the polls have been telling us that maybe only three or four parties will make it into parliament after the election on September 23. Or it could be seven of them. One of those vying to be in parliament is The Opportunities Party (TOP) that Gareth Morgan set up last November. 

TOP is a party with an unconventional approach, including the absence of an ambition to become the government. Its aim is to influence the new government on a range of issues. Like tax reform, immigration — "You're welcome if you can improve our standard of living" — and the environment. And the need for a UBI — that's an Unconditional Basic Income, for families with very young children, the over-65s and those aged 18-23. No questions asked.

Buddy Mikaere is a list candidate for TOP. Ahead of him are Gareth (the founder), Geoff Simmons (an economist) and Teresa Moore who trained as a marine biologist.

Here Buddy traces the path he's taken on the way to joining the ranks of TOP.

 

I made my debut in Coromandel in 1951. My mother’s labour pains began, so I was told, when she was bringing the horses down from the bush loaded up with bags of kauri gum.

I was born into a nomadic, tough life with my father working as a labourer. He was ditch digging, scrub cutting, fencing, shepherding, flax cutting — things that he began doing as a 12-year-old when his schooling ended.

We lived in a tent during the farming-related jobs. Dad finally found his niche working in sawmills in the South Waikato and then, in the 1960s, moving to Tauranga and a good job as a wharfie.

He was a “jack” Mormon, not fully committed to the Latter Day Saints. Mum was a Rātana adherent, but both were Labour supporters. I remember being taken to the Savage Memorial at Ōrākei in Auckland and trying to peer through the glass to see what was inside while Mum and Dad stood reverently close by with bowed heads.

When we moved to Tauranga I went to Matapihi Native School and from there to Mt Maunganui College. This was my next lesson in politics. My parents used the ability to capitalise the Family Benefit to put a deposit on a four-bedroom house.

That meant another trip to Ōrākei to the Savage Memorial where my father pointed out the dead prime minister’s tomb and said: “You will always vote Labour. If it wasn’t for this man, we wouldn’t have our house.”

I did reasonably well at school but preferred surfing. And I’d often wag school to work as a seagull on the wharf. Then I applied for and was accepted into the Fleet Air Arm at 17, but my father wouldn’t sign the consent papers. So I took my best T-shirt, jeans, jandals and surfboard and left home in a huff.

I ended up on the Chatham Islands as a radio operator in the Post Office marine ship-to-shore service. All the surf and kaimoana you could ever want. And, when it came to voting, sure enough I voted for Labour.

And that was where I had my first encounter with a live politician because, in one election, when Matiu Rata came down to the Chathams we had a great chat about harvesting and cooking paua. I tried to tell him about the rocky sea floor there being carpeted with paua but I could see he thought it was just the warm beer talking.

He was more attentive, though, when he found out that I worked at the radio station. He wondered if I could find out the results of the midweek race meetings in New Zealand. Which I did. Mat liked a bet on the horses.

Back in Wellington, I worked in the International Telegraph Office, which was New Zealand’s main communications hub at the time. It was also the last bastion of high-speed Morse code which, in those days, is how we communicated with the Pacific Islands and our base at Antarctica as well as the Chathams.

We were also the source of “wire photos” which we passed on to newspapers and TV. Two moments stick in my mind from working there. One was taking off the line the photograph of the little girl in Vietnam fleeing naked and terrified from a napalm attack — I was the first person in New Zealand to see that photo. And the other was receiving the picture taken from the deck of HMNZS Otago of the Mururoa Atoll nuclear test at the point of the explosion.

Politically, Wellington was an interesting place to be at that time. There was the rise of the Progressive Youth Movement with Tim “Jellybeans” Shadbolt, and there was what some saw as the menacing presence of the Social Unity Party with Bill Andersen. Also there was the hippy orientated Values Party of Tony Brunt.

The Wellington version of the PYM was the most fun. Lots of skinny Pākehā and Māori kids standing around in army surplus greatcoats and black berets smoking smelly French Gauloises cigarettes and trying to look like the Che Guevara poster that was on every flat wall.

The Values parties were smoky affairs full of marijuana, love beads and bottles of an atrocious wine called Cold Duck. Haight Ashbury was a late arrival in ‘70s Wellington. Everyone was called “Hey man”.

I floated from group to group but, when it came to ballot time, it was always what Dad had said: Vote Labour.

Later I had a taste of life in the Press Gallery in parliament as a telex operator for the Press Association. That was in the Norman Kirk years, then the Muldoon era, and through into the time of the Lange Labour Government.

That got me interested in politics, journalism and writing. Especially the writing because here was a group of people who made money from words. I thought that was a great idea and followed up on it in later life.

Dad came with me to parliament one night and sat out in the public gallery while I worked. He was fascinated and appalled by the house debate below. And he was particularly unimpressed by the behaviour of his local MP who was a cousin and a former wharfie workmate. He spent the whole bloody time reading Best Bets, according to my old man.

My best memories from those years? The tangi of Norman Kirk when he briefly rested in state at parliament. The arrival of the hikoi Land March led by Whina Cooper. And seeing rotund, little Rob Muldoon in action dominating a room full of much taller men.

But I continued to vote Labour — except in 1978 when for the first and only time I voted for “Piggy” Muldoon and National because Bill Rowling presented as being so ineffective.

It was then that I also joined the Territorials and served in the Military Police as a weekend warrior. I needed these additional jobs because I’d got married and mortgaged and had a young family to support.

My next step was a move to Christchurch where I worked in industrial relations and human resources — and where I returned to my Labour roots, although I flirted briefly with Mat Rata’s Mana Motuhake Party in 1984.

I admired his decision to depart from Labour in search of an independent Māori voice. And I was impressed by him being the Māori politician who championed the Treaty of Waitangi Act which had led to the creation of the Waitangi Tribunal.

It was in Christchurch that I started using my spare time to begin a writing career. That mainly amounted to historical articles for the local newspapers and then features for national magazines.

They were stories on Māori topics, mainly around Canterbury and further south. But then I undertook a bigger project by writing a biography of a 19th century Ngāi Tahu prophet, Hipa Te Maiharoa.

That was a demanding and sobering task and I remain grateful to the descendants who trusted me with stories about their tipuna. I was also grateful to my good friend Michael King who stood aside from his own planned book on Te Maiharoa when he found I was already well down the track. He offered me nothing but support and encouragement and we had a strong friendship until his untimely death in a car accident 13 years ago.

In 1990 I returned to Wellington as the director of the Waitangi Tribunal. That had me riding herd on how claims were dealt with, and how the research and the hearings were organised.

Living in the capital and working as a civil servant, I was tempted to vote National, who traditionally did well by the civil service, but instead I opted for Jim Anderton’s Alliance Party.

Those years with the Tribunal were challenging but immensely satisfying. What I treasure was the privilege of working with many of the leading kaumātua of the day. Whina Cooper, Monita Delamere, Manu Bennett, John Turei and, in Te Wai Pounamu, Tipene O’Regan and Riki Tau — rangatira ma, ngā mihi aroha ki a koutou.

From Wellington, I moved to Auckland to join my cousin Joe Williams at his Parnell law firm, and spent some time completing research reports for the Tribunal and helping claimants organise their claims.

I gradually moved into the area of resource management as well, mostly to do with water and energy — and often helping government departments and local authorities to understand their Treaty obligations and the concerns of iwi and hapū.

Six years ago, I came back to Tauranga. That was a time when my political allegiances were with the Māori Party. I still wasn’t over Labour’s betrayal of Māori over the foreshore and seabed circus.

Then, in the early hours of one October morning in 2011, the MV Rena was negligently grounded on Otaiti or Astrolabe Reef, several kilometres off the northern end of Motiti Island in the Bay of Plenty.

Through my Ngāti Pūkenga ancestry, I whakapapa to Motiti and the local Ngāi Te Hapu people, and I was asked to provide advice as to how the whole matter should be dealt with.

So I took up the struggle to have the wreck entirely removed from our taonga reef. But, after years of effort, heartbreak, and tears, the Environment Court didn’t see it our way — and, while the wreck won’t be removed, the battle over monitoring and associated conditions carries on to this day.

That brings me to the present day and to my motivations for joining with The Opportunities Party or TOP. As you can see, I’ve been a political nomad of a “leftish” persuasion but I’ve become increasingly tired of the politicking of the established parties.

My epiphany moment came after being at our Tauranga marae with some of the volunteers who run a little programme that feeds the local homeless, gives them hot showers and the use of clothes-washing facilities.

I’ve seen people living on the streets and begging in countries overseas and, of course, in our larger cities like Auckland and Wellington. But I never expected to see that in Tauranga.

It came as a profound shock to me to be confronted with the reality of our own people being bereft of the warmth, safety, and wellbeing that should be their right.

I got home that day to question time on parliamentary TV and watched well-groomed, sleek almost, representatives of our major political parties slagging off one another and indulging in the meaningless rhetoric that masquerades as informed debate.

It was such a sharp contrast to what was happening on our marae that I thought to myself: We can do better than this. It seemed to me that all the political parties were complicit in this apparent willingness to let poverty and inequality grow and flourish in our country, along with hungry children, domestic violence and youth suicide, to name a few.

All well and good to say that the problem is recognised and this is what we’re going to do about it — but, for goodness sake, these issues have been building over the past decade. The time to act was years ago.

That is why TOP’s fresh policy ideas appealed so much to me. TOP has an approach that kills outdated concepts through rigorous research. It doesn’t defer to the ideology of either the political left or right. Instead, it keeps a focus on what’s good for the country.

If I’m fortunate enough to be elected, I want to concentrate on fixing the inequalities that blight the lives of so many. I like the saying “No one left behind” when I think about what the objective might be.

I’m also interested in enhancing the environment and the desperately needed reforms to our prison system.

She’s a big job and it won’t all get done in one hit, but I believe we have a good team to work with and I’m up for the challenge.

 

© e-tangata, 2017

 

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