I was watching Rachel Smalley talk to Hone Harawira on The Nation this morning. This was a quite extraordinary interview for two reasons: First, Smalley is now without peer in New Zealand as a current-affairs and political interviewer, an accolade I would previously have given to the hugely talented Duncan Garner. I would go further. Smalley is up there with some of the finest television interrogators in Australia (not difficult), the United States (quite difficult) and the UK (very difficult). She is enormously well-informed; her questioning is challenging without being interruptive, aggressive or rude; her delivery is impeccable; her interviews are models of intelligent debate. Because New Zealanders have grown used to noise and impertinence as hallmarks of the effective interviewer, when in fact these are indicators of lack of real talent, Smalley’s brilliance has perhaps not yet been fully recognised. But I have absolutely no doubt that, with a little more experience, she will rank alongside interviewers of the quality of HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur.
Second, Hone Harawira is in my view the most effective political communicator in New Zealand. His reputation among Pakeha and some Maori is probably that of a loud-mouthed Maori shit-stirrer, a reputation he has from time to time deserved. And the name Harawira has not helped. His mother Titewhai, while liking to be seen arm in arm with white-skinned Prime Ministers at Waitangi, is to me the embodiment of anti-Pakeha sentiment in this country. And Titewhai is often in her son’s ear. This is how I expressed it in a previous post: “Many years ago I interviewed Hone’s mother, Titewhai Harawira. In the course of the interview I put it to her that she was consumed with hatred for the Pakeha. She vehemently denied it, but the language and tone of her replies merely served to reinforce the truth of my accusation.
“Titewhai’s blood runs in Hone’s veins. But I sometimes think he is conflicted. There is, I divine, a decent and warm human being in there, a nice person. The cognitive dissonance of the voices in his head may go some way to explaining his Jekyll and Hyde vacillation between belligerence and appeasement.” I think that was pretty well right. Have a look at Hone’s interview with Smalley on The Nation. What you will see is a quiet, considered, rational advocate for Maori. Chatting to him before the interview I encounter, as I have on previous occasions, an engaging, funny and, above all, warm personality. In debate he displays not merely high intelligence, but a rare dialectical subtlety that he uses to effect. Hone is not easy to beat in an argument about race relations in Aotearoa.
He has spent too long at the coalface, is too experienced, too sharp, too articulate, too driven by his concern for his people and his intolerance of injustice. Yes, I know, that seems over the top and it doesn’t seem to fit the man who could write: “White motherfuckers have been raping our lands and ripping us off for centuries, and all of a sudden you want me to play along with their puritanical bullshit.” But then, it’s pretty well right, isn’t it?. And maybe it makes my point that Hone is a Janus-like personality torn between conciliation and rage. So Rachel (image: private girls’ school, Pakeha posh) and Hone (image: radical Maori shit-stirrer) were always going to be an interesting mix. But, if you haven’t already seen the interview, be prepared to be surprised. This is wonderful television, intelligent and mesmerising debate at a level all too rarely seen in this country.