In 1981 Tom Poata was truly in his element. The Springbok Tour brought chaos to NZ’s cities and Poata and his friends were in the thick of it.
Initially Poata worked with Wellington’s, “Citizen’s Opposed to the Springbok Tour” organisation. He was elected to the COST Marshalls Committee after Alick Shaw (now deputy mayor of Wellington) was asked to recommend members. COST was completely controlled by Maoists from the newly formed, “Workers Communist League.”
COST consistently denied the charge of WCL domination but a list of COST officials and activists, with WCL connections includes Rona Bailey, Peter Beach, Eileen Cassidy, Martha Coleman, Campbell Duignan, Christine Gillespie, Richard Hellyer, Dave MacPherson, Lisa Sacksen, Alick Shaw, Ron Smith, David Stott, Roger Tobin and Simon Wilson.
According to the police “Red Squad’s” Ross Meurant, Poata was a COST marshall at the Wellington Springbok test and “could be clearly seen directing the activities of the mob who opposed Red Group on Rintoul St”
In August 1981 PM Muldoon released a Security Intelligence Service report containing a list of anti-tour radicals. It said Poata was a COST demonstration marshall in anti-Springbok Tour protests advocating violent confrontation with the police and had come to consider WCL tactics ineffectual.
The report stated “A radical element within COST is dissatisfied with WCL discipline. Tom Poata, Ted Nia and Barney Pikari have urged greater militancy and will now plan their activities independently of the COST marshalls’ committee. Both Poata and Nia were marshalls on July 29 when batons were used in Molesworth Street. Just as in Auckland the breakaway radicals hoped to take advantage of large demonstrations to confront the police.”
In the mid ‘1980s Poata returned to film to push his propaganda line. He wrote and was the associate producer of the film “Ngati”, which was fully funded by the Film Commission. Ngati was praised in the socialist journal NZ Monthly Review “It embraces a class consciousness (the awareness by the workers that they need to control the means of production) . . . It harmonises ethnic and class consciousness to fight the broader economic oppression.”
In November 1987 Poata himself told the “Public Service Association Journal” “Ngati was developed as a statement of struggle from the indigenous people of NZ.” Poata took the film to the Cannes Film Festival where it earned high praise. In 1988 “Ngati” received an award for Best Film in a film festival at Taomarina in Italy. At the presentation ceremony, a Russian director and jury president Nikita Mikhalkov, praised the film and said “It had everything, everything you look for in a film. . . There was no other film to come first.”
In 1988 Poata was appointed by then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Russell Marshall to his “Advisory Committee on Southern Africa”. The committee advised Marshall on African policy and was loaded with Marxists. Another prominent member was the old Maoist, Trevor Richards with whom Poata had founded HART in 1969.
It is surprising that Poata gained a security clearance, because in his SIS file (which Poata had obtained in 1981 while attempting to sue PM Muldoon for defamation) it stated “he had been involved in a plot to overthrow the government. The plot involved an arms store on Wellington’s Mt Victoria…”
Despite, or perhaps because of, his radicalism Poata was contracted to editing documentaries under contract to the Broadcasting Corporation. He was involved with several other films and documentaries right up until recent times.
Poata was also involved other related causes. According to an obituary by Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples “Tom was also a pioneer in the pursuit of Maori intellectual property, ensuring there was cultural protection long before others had even heard of it. He initiated the WAI 262 claim by calling together the original claimants, and lodging the original claim”.
According to the Maori Party’s other co-leader, Tariana Turia.“Tom was one of our quiet revolutionaries who changed our world for the better, in so many different areas….. Tom was at the forefront of the call for justice – he was instrumental in the planning of the Maori Land March in 1975, he took the test case which saw the 17 people arrested at Raglan walk free, and he is remembered for the extra precaution he took in trying to ensure the safety of people during the Molesworth Street clash with police over the Springbox Tour of 1981”
“The nation has lost a much-loved and well-respected advocate of Te Tiriti o Waitangi”
Tom Poata was a very brave and committed man. He was also a hard core Marxist-Leninist who used racial or “National Question” politics to fundamentally change this country.
He is an inspiration to many young disaffected Maori who strive to forfill his vision. Only by understanding Tom Poata’s agenda can we prevent the chaos it will most certainly bring if we are gutless enough to allow it.