War memorial haste is unseemly

17:00, Sep 26 2012
National War Memorial Park
100-YEAR MEMORY: An artist’s impression of the new National War Memorial Park.

Today the Government is expected to pass an extraordinary piece of legislation to ''expedite the building of the National War Memorial Park'' next to the existing memorial in Buckle St.

The National War Memorial Park (Pukeahu) Empowering Bill over-rides all normal planning processes.

It removes the right to objection and appeal under the Resource Management Act, the Historic Places Trust Act and the Public Works Act and it creates a new ''dispensing power'' for individual ministers to use Orders of Council (rather than the usual Parliamentary process) to further fiddle about with consents or anything else overlooked by the bill.

The bill gives the culture and heritage minister and the New Zealand Transport Agency the sort of powers normally associated with a national emergency of the magnitude of the Christchurch earthquake.

The rush is on because the $80 million park needs to be finished by Anzac Day 2015, the centenary of the landing at Gallipoli.

But the centenary is not an emergency. It has now been impending for 98 and a half years and one might expect this timeline would have left the Crown and its agencies plenty of time to prepare, very carefully, for the planning, design and construction of a beautiful, sophisticated, challenging war memorial that showed sensitivity to the military history of the significant piece of Maori land on which it will be built.


Not so.

The pace at which the project and enabling legislation has been introduced is blistering.

There has been no time for public debate that moves beyond the most banal statements of support for further commemoration of 20th century war-time sacrifice.

The bill was introduced into Parliament on August 22 and was widely supported at its first reading on August 28. The Greens were in favour of the memorial park but had "fundamental concerns about the extraordinary powers granted by the legislation".

Public submissions were invited. Submissions were due with the transport and industrial relations committee on September 6. Twenty were received and although Wellington City Council and the Returned and Services Association supported the enabling legislation, many more groups and individuals expressed very serious concerns about it.

Parliament's legislation advisory committee chairman Sir Grant Hammond said,  in the committee's submission,  that the move was  ''very unusual, expedited legislation''.

''The legislation raises two concerns, both going to the principle of the rule of law.''

The committee said the bill, although well-intentioned and for a good cause, set an ''awkward precedent''. It was most concerned about the displacement of the normal planning process and by clause 24, which created unnecessary and troublesome ''dispensing powers'' via Orders in Council.

The Architecture Centre, the Mt Victoria Historical Society and the Wellington Civic Trust concurred. They supported the memorial park but were appalled by the process. 

Landowners in Buckle St and Tasman St were angry too. The Tasman Garden Body Corporate said it had not been consulted about any of the proposals, and Bernard and Milvia Hannah, who own the former Mt Cook Police Barracks building - New Zealand's oldest Pakeha military building - said they supported the park but urged caution over the legislation that empowered one group of stakeholders and disempowered others.

The Wellington Tenths Trust and Massey University co-own land in front of the Carillion that will be incorporated into the park.

The Tenths Trust and the Port Nicholson Settlement Trust supported the memorial park but they were ''extremely concerned'' at how the bill appeared to degrade Taranaki Whanui property rights and cultural rights. There had been a lack of time to consider the implications of the bill.

Pukeahu is already a war memorial for Taranaki Maori. The Mt Cook military barracks built there in the 1840s had its guns trained on Te Aro pa.

Later, New Zealand's largest group of political prisoners - the Parihaka ploughmen and fencers - were held here before being shipped south.

Parihaka men, possibly even Te Whiti himself, were among the prisoners who made the orange bricks that comprise the heritage-listed Tasman St Wall. Many bricks are marked with small prison arrows.

The mature pohutukawa that line Buckle St were planted by Taranaki kaumatua after World War II to acknowledge the sacrifice of Pacific Islanders who volunteered to fight for New Zealand. It's likely the trenching will destroy some of these trees.

Pukeahu is a subtle, powerful, significant site and this place deserves to be treated with more respect than this draconian empowering bill seems to allow.

Historian and journalist Dr Rachel Buchanan is the author of The Parihaka Album: Lest We Forget.

The Dominion Post