Maori and the Race Relations Act 1971

When Bruce Stirling, Wally Penetito and I put together The Treaty of Waitangi Companion: Maori and Pakeha from Tasman to Today (AUP) back in 2010 some material never made the final text, simply for reasons of space. The Race Relations Act 1971, passed into law on 17 December 1971, was one such topic. What follows is our unedited entry on this (compiled by Bruce):

The Race Relations Bill was introduced with some reluctance, with a view to implementing the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, signed by the government five years earlier. In its original form it was intended not so much to protect Māori from the racism they had long endured but to eliminate the Maori Affairs Department and all other special Maori agencies, furthering the goals of existing assimilation policies. That was how the government perceived its obligations to the UN, but Nga Tamatoa and the older leaders of the New Zealand Maori Council lobbied the government to shift its focus to the forms of racism affecting them.

1. The ‘best race relations in the world’ revisited

James Ritchie, ‘Race Prejudice – How much here?’, New Zealand Listener, 17 April 1970.

The problem of prejudice in New Zealand is the denial of prejudice. Our biggest problem is we do not know how serious a problem we have.

2. Maori reject assimilation and seek self-determination…

Dr Ranginui Walker and New Zealand Maori Council, ‘Manifesto of the New Zealand Maori Council on the Race Relations Bill’, 1971.

…the Race Relations Bill represents an opportunity to recapture the ideals embodied in the Treaty of Waitangi, and set the course for the future of our nation. … the New Zealand Maori Council submits that the urban migration has brought about a new challenge between Maori and Pakeha. The present generation of Maori youth is putting to the test our reputation for racial harmony and our ideal of racial equality. In order to survive that test, the New Zealand Maori Council has made an exhaustive analysis of the Race Relations Bill and reinterpreted it in relation to the [UN] International Convention [on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination] and the needs of the Maori people. Accordingly, the following principles are embodied in our recommendations:

1.             The Maori people regard their identity as sacrosanct. Although Maori share their country with a majority group they reserve the right to be different.
2.             Maori social and cultural institutions support their identity. Maori want self-determination within the framework of their own institutions.
3.             For the Maori, equality with the Pakeha means increased participation in the decision-making processes of the country.

3. …linking the Race Relations Act to the Treaty…

Pei Te Hurunui Jones, ‘Manifesto of the New Zealand Maori Council on the Race Relations Bill’, 1971.

If there is a Maori point of view emerging in our submissions, it is that which asks for a legislative recognition and support for Maori institutions, values, goals, organisations, and aspirations so that the rights which the Maori people now have be not eroded deliberately or unwittingly by legislation; legislation which affects all New Zealanders and is assimilative by nature.

... it is our considered view that the Race Relations Act be a charter of human relations at least as inspiring as the first Race Relations Bill, the Treaty of Waitangi. The Maori people still seek legal recognition of that Treaty, and a comparison of its intentions with those of the Bill under review would show that the parallels are in fact close. One of the intentions of the Treaty of Waitangi was to formalise relations between two diverse groups and bring them under the mana of one sovereign. Another was to protect those Maori interests which the Maori people did not want alienated.

4. …while a new generation of Maori express themselves more bluntly

Nga Tamatoa, ‘Submission of Nga Tamatoa to the Statues Revision Committee’, 1971.

The bill in its present form is sheer tokenism, a pusillanimous gesture in an area where bold and intelligent government is long overdue. At worst, it is a cheap and dirty insult both to the UN and the Maori people of New Zealand; a pandering to an international reputation in the field of race relations which widely departs from domestic realities.  … Why is there no cohesive Government policy in respect of the Maori people? … Integration is a non-answer…it is a screen for the practise of an ostensibly forgotten doctrine of assimilation.

…Nga Tamatoa is prepared to accept a Race Relations Act but we will challenge any Bill which may be camouflage to deprive Maori of their fundamental rights. This is such a Bill. ...We will NOT be assimilated, we will NOT be discounted by your policies, and we are tired of tolerating your political arrogance.

5. The first Race Relations Conciliator explains the 1971 Race Relations Act…

Race Relations Conciliator Sir Guy Powles speaking to the 20th Conference of the Maori Women’s Welfare League, Auckland, 1972, ‘Polynesians and the Law’, Te Ao Hou, no. 72, 1973, pp.25-34.

The principle of this Act is that it is unlawful to discriminate against any person by reason of his colour, race, or ethnic or national origins. …The Act applies to four specific areas. The first is access by the public to places, vehicles, and facilities. No one can, on the ground of any person’s race or colour, refuse to allow that person to use any place or vehicle which members of the public are allowed to use. Similarly, no one may, on this ground, refuse to supply goods, facilities, or services to any person: no one may, on this ground, refuse to employ any person: no on, on this ground, may dismiss him. Finally, in the area of the land, housing, and other accommodation, no one may, on this ground, refuse to lease or let any land, house, or shop...

Finally, there is the over-riding provision that nothing in the Act prevents anything being done if it is for the assistance or the advantage of particular racial groups. This…protects that wide range of the law…making special provision for the preservation and advancement of various Maori institutions.

6. …and considers race relations in New Zealand

…how much racial discrimination is there in New Zealand? Some think that there is not very much, and nothing to worry about, and others say that there is a great deal, much of which is under cover, not brought out to light and yet just as socially harmful and causing just as much personal distress, and that more publicity should be given to it. ...The Race Relations Act 1971 has been deliberately passed by Parliament with the object of uncovering discrimination if it exists, and of making a strong attack on it, if it does exist, so that the law had indeed now been brought into play to help us in the attainment of the ideals of a multi-racial society.

... Is there any racial discrimination in housing matters in New Zealand? I think you will agree with me that there probably is. ...I know of several cases, not only in Auckland but also in Wellington, and a few days ago I heard of a case in Invercargill.

7. Subsequently, many complaints to the Race Relations Conciliator come from Pākehā opposed to any special provision for Maori, but Maori defend their parallel institutions

Ranginui Walker, ‘A Maori Parliament’, Listener, 28 September 1979.

The conventional wisdom would no doubt condemn...a Maori Parliament as separatist, but this argument is merely a rationalisation for the status quo. It also exemplifies the intellectual bind of a monocultural person who insists on perceiving such an institution as separatist instead of as a parallel system. ...While there are critics who would abolish the Maori team on the grounds of separatism, they fail to perceive the contribution that Maori rugby has made to the national game. ... Maori rugby is inextricably part of New Zealand rugby.

During the Second World War the Army created the Maori War Effort Organisation to work with Maori tribal committees... to raise thousands of pounds for the national cause. An even greater contribution was made through the creation of a special unit known as the Maori Battalion. ... Maori rugby, the King Movement, the Maori War Effort Organisation and the Maori Battalion are examples of parallel institutions where the Pakeha permitted some measure of self-determination and reaped appropriate dividends.


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