Another ministry that wouldn’t be missed

The best question asked in parliament today didn’t pass muster with Mr Speaker, and hence was not answered.

It was raised during a series of questions and answers prompted by the Maori Party’s Rahui Katene, who asked the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage if it is Government policy to support the recognition of indigenous celebrations as being of benefit for all New Zealanders. And if so, why?

The answer from Christoper Finlayson, of course, is yes, it is.

Māori culture and celebrations of that culture are part of New Zealand’s unique international brand. The strength and vitality of that culture, and of celebrations of it, help to set us apart on the international stage. It attracts significant tourism income for New Zealand; it sustains thousands of jobs throughout Aotearoa. All New Zealanders benefit from the richness of Māori culture, and from celebrations of that culture. For instance, the Government supports Te Matatini celebrations.

The member may be interested to know that the winning group from that celebration, Te Waka Huia, was selected to represent New Zealand at the Venice Biennale, and its stirring performances attracted international media recognition and acted as priceless marketing for New Zealand, from London to New York.

But as with most questions, the real point of Katene’s interrogation became apparent with the follow-up query: Did Finlayson agree that supporting the Matariki bill would be an excellent way to make progress in achieving a distinctly New Zealand cultural identity; if not, why not?

It’s a pity Alf doesn’t have this portfolio.

He would have told her he was quite happy – thank you – with the New Zealand cultural identity we already have, and he doesn’t see much point in trying to march us towards whatever ideal Katene might have in mind.

Trouble is, he is not the Minister, and Finlayson can be a bit of an old fart on occasions. This was one such occasion. He earnestly replied –

The recent report on cultural indicators for New Zealand stated that New Zealanders identify with a distinct cultural identity, and that expression of that identity includes Māori culture. There are a number of ways in which we can make progress, and I believe we are making good progress already in achieving that distinctly New Zealand cultural identity.

Indigenous events on New Zealand’s calendar that are attracting increased interest and participation include Matariki, the Rātana celebrations, the Tūhoe ahurei, the Parihaka festival, and the Kīngitanga celebrations.

Good grief. Next thing you know, bloody public holidays will have been declared for each of these occasions and our dodgy standard of living will slip even further down the OECD ladder.

But hey. Did you note that stuff about a report on “cultural indicators for New Zealand” which somehow is measuring our march towards achieving a distinctly New Zealand cultural identity. Or is it a hikoi?

What a load of bollocks.

But there was more to come.

Rahui Katene: What reports has the Minister received that show that non-Māori New Zealanders have engaged with the indigenous people of New Zealand; and does he agree that community support for the revival of Matariki celebrations would be a fair indication of such engagement?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I recently received the report from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage entitled Cultural Indicators for New Zealand. The report noted that cultural celebrations enhance social cohesion within New Zealand, and I certainly agree that ongoing community support for Matariki is a fair indication of engagement between Māori and non-Māori.

ACT’s David Garrett then rose to ask if Finlayson was aware that Dr Paul Moon, a professor of history at the Auckland University of Technology and expert in pre-European history, was of the view that many of the claims about the festival of Matariki are tenuous at best, and that with regard to it supposedly being linked to planting times Māori had much better natural science to rely on and “did not need a three-month advance warning of when to prepare for kumara sowing.”?

No, Finlayson was not aware of that. And that’s all we needed to know. But for some extraordinary reason, he was impelled to tell us the history book he is reading at the moment is Richard Boast’s Buying the Land, Selling the Land, which he was pleased to say won the Montana award for history on Monday night.

Good for him.

Then came the question of the day.

Hon Sir Roger Douglas: When will the Minister consider closing down his generally unnecessary department, or at least reducing its size dramatically, so that his skills and the skills of the people employed in his department can be usefully used elsewhere?

Alas, Finlayson said he had been momentarily detained, and he apologised to Sir Roger. He had thought that ACT had had its quota of supplementary questions.

Would he mind asking the question again? “I promise I will concentrate.”

But Mr Speaker stepped in:

Before I call the Hon Sir Roger Douglas again, I point out that the primary question concerns whether it is Government policy to support the recognition of indigenous celebrations as being of benefit for New Zealanders. The member is drawing a long bow to—

Hon Sir Roger Douglas: Do you think I’m stretching it? I might ask a supplementary question on question No. 2, then.

Mr SPEAKER: Please make the question relevant to the primary question.

Hon Sir Roger Douglas: No, I am not sure I can.

Mr SPEAKER: OK.

And that was that.

Alf was pissed off. He really did want to hear Finlayson tell us what purpose is served by his department and explain why it shouldn’t be shut down, thereby saving public money for important portfolios, like that held by the Minister in charge of the Rugby World Cup.

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