Hone Harawira was the toast of Alice Springs last night as he shook off criticism of going walkabout in Australia to support Aboriginal opposition to a draconian new regime in the Northern Territory.
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The Maori Party MP was feted at a Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association function in Alice Springs before going on a night patrol of the town's Aboriginal camps.
The ramshackle villages on the periphery of the town of 30,000 are known for their poverty and social problems.
The Australian Government will take over the camps and administer them as town suburbs under the initiative which is expected to be passed by the Australian Senate today.
The action includes enforcement of bans on alcohol, new anti-pornography measures and tying welfare to good parenting.
Harawira batted away any suggestions he had gone walkabout last night.
"I don't know about walkabout. I notified the chairperson of the electoral committee that I was coming. I notified my party that I was coming. I'm under no obligation to notify anybody else.
"I decided only at the last minute to come up here by World Indigenous Peoples Day, August 9th. It was appropriate that I take this opportunity to come up here and be seen to be supporting their fight against what is clearly a land grab."
Harawira said he had paid for his own fare to Alice Springs, and his accommodation.
He had been mindful not to be overly abusive of Prime Minister John Howard this time "because we've been down that track and now it's time to get focus on the issues".
He caused a storm when he labelled Howard a "racist bastard", but his comments were more restrained yesterday.
"But if I hadn't said it back then, all the media would not be here. I'm glad I made those comments because it shook the tree," Harawira said.
He said the Australian media had been keen to talk to him, particularly as he was a member of another country's parliament daring to suggest the issue was bigger than a local issue.
He would not be able to return to an official select committee visit to Melbourne and Canberra before it was over because the only flight he could get out of Alice Springs was at 12.30 today.
Yesterday, Harawira, a guest of the Tangentyere Council, an indigenous body which assists Aborigines in Alice Springs, toured the council's bank, housing and post office.
"They have been doing for the last 15 years what John Howard is saying must be done now," Harawira said.
"The problem is he wants to bring it in with a big hammer when really he should have been resourcing the people here who have been crying out for resources for quite some time.
"The Government has actually been de-funding a lot of those areas and all of a sudden a crisis develops and he comes in right over the top."
The veteran protester had advised his hosts to be unified in any opposition, and said he had just come to hear from them.
"To say indigenous people in Aotearoa are going through the same problems in terms of child abuse, and I shared with them what we are trying to do back here," he said.
"I'm not over here to look down my nose at anybody. Far be it from me to say Maori are great and you guys are in serious trouble because we are going through the same things."
Christchurch's New Zealand First list MP Ron Mark revealed in Parliament yesterday that Harawira had abandoned the official select committee visit to travel to Alice Springs.
He said Harawira had "gone AWOL" and "unleashed a tirade of abuse on the Australian authorities for the second time".
Mark said Harawira's actions required investigation.
"He is away on official select committee business and on that basis his proxy vote counts. The question has to be how many times has his vote been cast in this House improperly?"
Mark asked whether it was appropriate Harawira had used a taxpayer-funded, business-class airfare to travel to Australia and received payment for his time while on private business.
The office of Speaker Margaret Wilson confirmed yesterday that she had asked the Clerk's Office to investigate.
Harawira could be censured, be forced to repay the cost of his travel, or even face a contempt of Parliament charge as a result.
- The Press
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