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Maori and the State: Crown-Māori relations in New Zealand/Aotearoa, 1950-2000

The Third Labour Government and Rangatiratanga

The Third Labour Government and Rangatiratanga

In 1972, Norman Kirk’s Labour government entered office under the slogan ‘Time for a Change’. Expectations were high, and Maori noted with approval some early statements about biculturalism. They applauded Kirk’s elevation of the Treaty to ‘the foundation stone of our nation’. With Matiu Rata appointed as Minister of Maori Affairs, there was much appreciation of the new Prime Minister’s insistence on having a Maori presence in his Cabinet. Widespread public confidence over the possibility of improved relations between Crown and Maori was epitomised in an iconic photograph of Kirk walking hand in hand with a Maori boy across the Treaty grounds at Waitangi in 1973. He announced that Waitangi Day would henceforth become a public holiday, renamed ‘New Zealand Day’ to symbolise ‘bi-cultural togetherness’. Developments in Maori policy gelled with a rapidly growing pakeha awareness of Maori culture, history and customs, a period when a scholarly work of history, Alan Ward’s A Show of Justice, published in 1974, could become an ‘historical landmark in its own right’ and ‘a guide to mediating future race relations’. A general history of New Zealand dates the full beginning of the ‘Treaty revival’ from that year.16

In three crowded years, the government did a great deal on many fronts. This included – after years of campaigning and much consultation with, and pressure from, the NZMC and the Maori MPs – a major reconstitution of the detested Maori Affairs Amendment Act in 1974. The new legislation rescinded suchpage 163 highly unpopular processes as ‘conversion’ and the enforced recategorisation of Maori land as ‘European’, and consolidation schemes for regrouping uneconomic interests in land would no longer be forced on Maori. It was now realised, in any case, that such practices had not only ‘disenfranchised’ many Maori landowners but could also never have provided more than temporary solutions to the problems of title fragmentation and land use. The changes the legislators introduced were not piecemeal, but occurred within a new policy framework: remaining Maori land could be, and indeed should be, retained and used for its owners’ benefit and in accord with their wishes. Key Maori demands had been interpreted as consonant with ‘the public good’.

Greater involvement of Maori owners in the use and development of their land was applauded by conservative and radical Maori alike. A Maori Land Board would delegate functions to Maori Land Advisory Committees in each district, and all such institutions were to have Maori majorities, appointed by the minister after seeking Maori advice. Official dominance over Maori lands held for consolidation or development was now a thing of the past. The reforms were hailed as a major breakthrough in Crown recognition of rangatiratanga. At the same time, the Maori Land Court was beginning a journey that would eventually end with its chief registrar declaring it ‘the vehicle that re-establishes the link between te iwi Māori and their whenua’.

There were many other developments introduced by the Minister of Maori Affairs, often prompted by advisers in the Maori communities, that were much appreciated by Maori. Electoral legislation, for example, was reformed. The 1956 Electoral Act had been heavily prescriptive as to who qualified for the Maori electoral roll, with those of less than half ‘Maori blood’ obliged to register on the general roll. Under the Electoral Amendment Act of 1975, a ‘Maori’ was defined permissively as ‘a person of the Maori race of New Zealand; and includes any descendant of such a person who elects to be considered as a Maori’. All adult people with any Maori heritage were given a five-yearly option of registering on the roll of their choice, Maori or general. In other reforms, there would be large subsidy increases for marae development and, given its ‘principal obligation’ to assist Maori, Rata determined that the Department of Maori Affairs should actively promote Maori culture and language. Along with some like-minded ministers and their advisers, he did a great deal to update the Labour/Ratana legacy to suit modern times and address the concerns of the Maori Renaissance.

The legislative package on Maori issues during the Labour government of 1972–75 (headed by Prime Minister Bill Rowling after Kirk’s death in 1974) took its cue from an anti-paternalistic official ‘White Paper’ which has been seen as ‘represent [ing] a major philosophical shift in the administration of Maori affairs in New Zealand’. The thrust of the policies clearly reflected longstandingpage 164 Maori wishes, and there was greater and more meaningful consultation than in the past. The legislative and official activity of this period ‘corrected, to a considerable extent, earlier legislation which had disadvantaged Maori’ and ‘inaugurated a more tolerant attitude towards Maori social and cultural integrity in Maori affairs policy’. Direct Maori community participation in planning and management of departmental programmes began. The official message was that full assimilation was at last no longer on the Crown agenda. Instead, the government was willing to listen to Maori aspirations and to implement at least some of their goals.17

16 Jeffries, Bill, ‘Kirk’s Prime-ministership 1972–1974’, in Clark, Margaret (ed), Three Labour Leaders: Nordmeyer, Kirk, Rowling, Palmerston North, 2001, p 111 (for ‘bi-cultural togetherness’ quote), p 114 (for ‘the foundation stone’ quote); McLeay, Elizabeth, ‘Roles, Rules and Leadership’, in Clark (ed), Three Labour Leaders, p 82; Anderton, Jim, ‘Kirk and Rowling: Recollections and Significance’, in Clark (ed), Three Labour Leaders, p 51; Orange, The Treaty of Waitangi, p 246; Ward, A Show of Justice, back cover (for ETJ Durie’s ‘historical landmark’ quote); Mein Smith, Philippa, A Concise History of New Zealand, Melbourne, 2005, ch 10 (p 226 for ‘Treaty revival’ quote).

17 McHugh, The Maori Magna Carta, p 357; Hazlehurst, Political Expression, p 35 (for ‘person of the Maori race’ quote), p 47 (for ‘a major philosophical’ quote), p 48 (for ‘to a considerable extent’ quote); Maori Land Court, ‘Shane Gibbons – A New Direction’, Te Pouwhenua, 8, Nov 2001, available online: http://www.justice.govt.nz/Maorilandcourt/pdf/tepouwhenua8.pdf [accessed June 2008], p 3 (for ‘the 314vehicle that re-establishes’ quote); Butterworth and Young, Maori Affairs, pp 109–110; Butterworth, ‘Men of Authority’, pp 42–5; Hayward, Margaret, Diary of the Kirk Years, Wellington, 1981, pp 39–40.