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

The Maori Affairs Amendment Act

The Maori Affairs Amendment Act

In line with the Crown’s desire to remove all kinds of legal differentiation between the races, the entire separate Maori land title system was, ultimately, to disappear. The proposed legislation was designed to hasten, therefore, something that many officials and politicians believed to be already underway: the ‘two races rapidly becoming one’. Specifically, the Amendment Bill incorporated a Hunn recommendation to double the value of compulsorilypage 159 acquirable ‘uneconomic shares’, a policy said to recognise a need by urban migrants to access relocation capital. The state would use its increased powers of ‘conversion’ to develop land in the ‘national interest’, regardless of the wishes of Maori. The Maori Land Court, moreover, would be able to declare any ‘Maori land’ owned by four or fewer owners to be ‘European land’, and such property thereby lost all protection against alienation. There were also provisions making Maori land subject to the same constraints as European land, one typical consequence being that ‘village communities grouped about a marae [could no longer] be set up on Maori rural land’.

From now on, the Crown could never rely automatically upon the support of its own creature, the NZMC, having underestimated Maori anger at what seemed, from a pakeha perspective, to be logical proposals. Working from a submission drafted by its Tairawhiti Council, the NZMC joined with the Maori MPs (headed by Matiu Rata) and very many other prominent Maori in leading the opposition to the Maori Affairs Amendment Bill. Rata, in particular, campaigned on the basis that multiplicity of ownership still reflected, however perversely this had been embodied in law, the ‘Maori tradition of tribal ownership and association with a specific area of land’. But the enormous amount of protest led to little more than amelioration of the Bill’s worst aspects, and Maori leaders continued to oppose it to the end. Finally, the much reviled 1967 Maori Affairs Amendment Act – the ‘land grab Act’ – was passed, embodying and expanding the state’s right to alienate Maori-owned land even against the wishes of the interested parties. The Maori Council declared, on behalf of the entire range of official committees, that it would be placing the government under great scrutiny.

While the NZMC helped lead the campaigns against the new legislation, many other Maori organised to voice their opposition. Some were willing to engage in dialogue within parameters set by the state, but others were not. The high degree of intransigence on the land issue was partly influenced by Maori disillusionment at being hit disproportionately during the first post-war recession. The legislation generated a campaign that proved to be a turning point in the Maori struggle for rangatiratanga. In focusing Maori attention on finding solutions to enormously complex issues, solutions which demanded recognition of rangatiratanga, the fight against the legislation helped stimulate both the formulation of more concretised positions and the unification of struggle across all significant sectors of Maoridom – radical and conservative, tribal and non tribal, young and old. The struggle thus produced a basis for future cross-sector action within Maoridom to protest against social injustice and further the cause of autonomy in its many actual and potential manifestations. Such united action began almost at once, in fact, focused around a campaign for repeal of the legislation. Activists like Tom Poata of thepage 160 Wellington Drivers’ Union secured considerable pakeha support – in Poata’s case, that of the New Zealand Federation of Labour in 1968.12

The government was much concerned that the NZMC had found common cause with the Maori MPs and with liberal pakeha. When, in 1968, the Maori Council made a bid to become a fully autonomous organisation, officials advised keeping it within the Crown’s sphere of influence so that pressure could be more easily applied (from 1972, it received an annual Crown grant, making it more accountable). There were, however, overtures towards Maori perspectives on land from within the state. The head of Maori Affairs stated that there would be a cautious approach to implementation of the Act, and this was confirmed by Hanan’s successor, Duncan MacIntyre, when he took office in 1969. Such concessions were, however, insufficient to prevent land from remaining the iconic rallying point for all Maori struggles for rangatiratanga. Nor could they prevent a loose Maori alliance from coalescing around another cause that very year: the ending of the institution of Maori schools. The implementation of this Hunn recommendation was also vigorously opposed, given that the schools – whatever their founding role as assimilation devices – had become an integral part of ‘the Maori world’.

As the new Minister of Maori Affairs, MacIntyre soon took stock of the damage that had been done in recent years to Crown–Maori relations by the government’s relentless pursuit of assimilation. He and officials, reacting to the incipient Maori Renaissance, sought to repair the Crown’s relationship with Maoridom through discussion and reform aimed at heading off autonomist activism. He placed more Maori (including an NZMC nominee) on the Board of Maori Affairs; he established committees which included Maori owners to manage land development programmes in each Maori Affairs district; and he encouraged community development in various ways. But a momentum had already built up, and the pursuit of rangatiratanga would not be deflected. Ratana leaders, for example, resuscitated the idea of a separate Maori Parliament in late 1969, and called for the pledges contained in the Treaty of Waitangi to be ‘revived’.13

12 Ballara, Proud to Be White? p 137 (for ‘rapidly becoming’ and ‘village communities’ quotes); Harris, ‘Maori Land Title’, p 148; Butterworth, ‘Aotearoa 1769–1988’, ch 9, pp 25–8; Butterworth and Young, Maori Affairs, p 106; Hazlehurst, Political Expression, p 46 (for ‘Maori tradition of tribal ownership’ quote).

13 Simon and Smith (eds), A Civilising Mission? p 258; Butterworth and Young, Maori Affairs, pp 106–7, 110; ‘Maori Proposal for Separate Parliament’, The Press, 8 Dec 1969, p 18; Butterworth, ‘Men of Authority’, pp 36–7, 40, 55.