The first, painful debate concerned Te Aute College. Te Aute is a boy's Anglican boarding school and it is in serious trouble. A series of unfortunate investment decisions, falling rolls, troubles with staff and governance have all contributed to an ongoing crisis. At our last General Synod in 2010 in Gisborne we granted assistance to the school which has now run to almost 3 million dollars. The school has made heroic efforts to change: there is now a board of governors of some of the most notable people in Maoridom. Huge energy has gone into the myriad and complex issues which discourage so many Maori parents from sending their sons there. Plans are in place for upgrading some of the infrastructure and the board is optimistic that Te Aute can regain much of its former glory, but it will run at a loss for some time yet and Professor Whatarangi Winiata asked us to underwrite a solid portion of that loss. The immediate cost would be another million or so, with further commitments for at least five years and probably longer.
The matter was discussed in tikanga and it wasn't long before we all realised we had arrived at an impasse. The difficulty was in the tension between a particularly Maori and a particularly Pakeha approach to the problem. For Maori, Te Aute is not just another school. It is the place where some of the most notable figures of recent Maori history have been nurtured. The history and mana of Te Aute form an irreplaceable part in modern Maori self understanding. For Pakeha, the figures simply didn't stack up. There are many excellent state boarding schools in the North Island offering first rate education in Te Reo Maori. All are associated with large secondary schools and are based in centres which offer a range of sporting, social and cultural opportunities for students, and it is increasingly to these that Maori parents are looking. Given the continuing decline in church based Maori boarding schools across all denominations, the ongoing fiscal problems of Te Aute, and the other not yet resolved issues at the school, the board's projected roll increases and fiscal surpluses seemed wildly optimistic. It seemed to me, and I think to others, that the greater goal of excellent Anglican Maori education could be fatally compromised by the ongoing needs of Te Aute. We Pakeha said "no." Polynesia and Tikanga Maori said "yes". It was a painful and difficult moment, which in a way provided the basis for our next decision.
Prof. Winiata also moved a motion asking that we set up a body to look at the issue of tiro rangatiratanga with regard to the assets of the St. John's College trust board. This is not a grab for half of the church's assets as has been luridly and crudely reported in some sections of the media, but something far more subtle and profound. The debate on Te Aute had been,in reality,the church as one body making a decision on funding for one of its constituent organisations. What it felt like, to both Maori and Pakeha, was Maori coming cap in hand to beg money from Pakeha who, for reasons not fully explained, and in seeming contradiction to a stated enthusiasm for Te Tiriti o Waitangi, chose to withhold it. Neither of us liked that, not even a little bit, so suddenly the idea of tino rangatiratanga started to make sense. Now, like most Pakeha, I do not fully grasp the subtlety of tino rangatiratanga but this is what I think it means: what is being asked for is not ownership; after all, we all already own the asset. What is being asked for is the ability to make decisions regarding spending and investment of the half of the assets in a way which is particularly Maori. In dollar terms this will make very little difference indeed to the way in which the money is actually spent, and may in all likelihood result in a smaller number of dollars going to Tikanga Maori. But what it would allow is for Maori decisions to be made in a Maori way on the issues which impact them most. The motion was passed with enthusiasm and a sense that we had passed a significant milestone on the journey we embarked on with the passing of our new constitution in 1992.
We finished with a dinner under the stars and with final conversations and the sound of Fijian music. I was privileged to propose a motion, passed with a standing ovation, thanking Tony Fitchett for 30 years of service as a member of General Synod. Tony is stepping down now to spend more time with Bronwyn and the 8 acres they live on near Dunedin. I doubt there is anybody in the country with a more thorough knowledge of the church's processes than Tony. On our Diocesan Synod, at General Synod and latterly on the ACC, he has saved us all countless hours of confusion by gently but firmly untangling the knots in which we are prone to tie ourselves. His deep commitment on matters of justice and equality, his decency and his intelligence are rare assets and he will be sorely missed.