Phil Taueki was back in the Levin police cells this week. It’s a place he has come to know well since he began a one-man protest occupation in the Lake Horowhenua Domain eight years ago.
Taueki has faced charges of assault, disorderly behaviour, indecent language, trespass, criminal harassment and – as on this occasion – breach of bail. Many of the charges have eventually been dropped or dismissed.
After each brush with the law, he returns to his makeshift home in a former plant nursery near the shores of Lake Horowhenua, where a now predictable cycle repeats itself. A confrontation occurs between Taueki and recreational users of the lake, which Taueki regards as sacred. Someone dials 111 and Taueki ends up in handcuffs in the back of a police car.
The 53-year-old former accountant is a member of the Muaupoki iwi that owns the lake, where his ancestors died in battle with Te Rauparaha. His dispute with the authorities that control Lake Horowhenua has a long and tortuous history, but it hinges on environmental degradation (in terms of water quality, the lake is one of the worst in New Zealand) and the right of recreational users to occupy buildings on disputed lakefront land.
Taueki is generally regarded as a lone wolf and admits his confrontational tactics have caused tension even within his immediate family. The local mayor, Brendan Duffy, says Taueki has no backing within the wider community.
Yet as The Listener reports in its latest issue, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the lake and its Maori owners have been treated shabbily. And the fact that the five bodies which control the lake recently entered into an accord to clean it up, after decades of neglect, suggest that Taueki may be getting some traction.
What’s more, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear his appeal against an assault conviction on the ground that he was entitled to use reasonable force against people he regarded as trespassers – and Taueki has attracted the support of a leading expatriate QC and professor of law who is returning to New Zealand to represent him pro bono.