Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mike Butler: Sharples seeks Maori Council revamp

The New Zealand Maori Council is known for going to court to squeeze financial favours out of the government. Wardens patrol liquor outlets to extract Maori drinkers who have become abusive through over-indulgence. Both exist under the Maori Community Development Act 1962 (1) that Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples this week announced a review of and sought submissions.

This Act, known as the Maori Welfare Act until 1979, was a response to more Maori moving to the cities after World War II, and replaced tribal committees that were recognised through the Maori Social and Economic Advancement Act 1945.

The Maori Welfare Act brought into being the Maori Council which tops a four-tier bureaucracy, with neighbourhood committees on the bottom tier. Executives supervise the bottom tier committees, and district councils based on Maori Land Court boundaries supervise the executives. Elections at three levels are held every three years. Each district council sends three delegates to the national council that elects a president.

The Maori Council has exerted significant pressure on successive governments to implement policies that further partnership, protection, consultation, and compensation for Maori.

A few years after it was created, the Maori Council opposed Prime Minister Keith Holyoake’s National Party government move to bring idle Maori land into production through the Maori Affairs Amendment Act 1967, which enabled the compulsory conversion of Maori freehold land with four or fewer owners into general land, while enabling the Maori Trustee compulsorily to acquire and sell uneconomic interests (a share worth £50 or less) in Maori land.

One Maori Council member called this the “last land-grab”.

At this point the Maori Council’s Legislative Review Committee began to advocate biculturalism, called for law changes to allow Maori self-determination, and demanded new law to support retention, use, and management of Maori land by the tribe. This started land protests and the Maori sovereignty movement. (2)

After the State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986 was passed, but before land and assets were transferred, the Maori Council sought a declaration to stop the transfer until arrangements were made to deal with Maori claims related to those assets. The Treaty of Waitangi (State Enterprises) Act 1988, enabled asset transfers to State-owned enterprises subject to claims before the tribunal.

Maori Council opposition to the State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986 helped create the notorious Section 9, which said: “Nothing in this Act shall permit the Crown to act in a manner that was inconsistent with the principles of the treaty.” It also resulted in the first written version of the nebulous treaty principles that spell out the doctrine of partnership, protection, consultation, and compensation for Maori.

The Maori Council, with the Tainui Trust Board, the Ngai Tahu Trust Board, and other tribes lodged a comprehensive injunction to suspend the fisheries quota management scheme in October 1987 that ultimately resulted in the 1992 commercial fisheries settlement creating a $170-million financial benefit for tribes.

Since then, the Maori Council has been involved in partnership, protection, consultation, and compensation claims for the Maori language, broadcasting, and most recently, for the 4G spectrum, and for water rights.

Because the Maori Council, a government-funded lobbyist for Maori interests, has had a substantial impact on non-Maori as well as Maori, it is in the interests of both non-Maori and Maori to have a say in the Maori Council and its activities.

Submissions are being sought from Maori communities and "other stakeholders". Consultation will take place in 19 marae meetings throughout the country. The discussion paper on proposed changes to the Maori Community Development Act 1962 may be viewed at (3)

Submissions are sought on the role and structure of the New Zealand Maori Council; on the roles and responsibilities, governance and administration of Maori wardens; and whether there is any need for community officers that have existed since 1993.

Two choices are offered for the Maori Council -- whether a new refocused national Maori organisation that concentrates on social and economic issues for Maori should be created or whether there should be no change. If streamlined, whether its structure should be outlined in legislation. Respondents are asked to reflect on whether such a body is needed.

Questions to ponder regarding Maori wardens include whether their role should be local, national, or a mixture of both; whether their role and governance should be defined in legislation; and whether there should be a new independent body responsible for the wardens.

The proposal for community officers is simply that provision for them in the act should be repealed because there is no longer any need for them. Their functions have been taken over by tribes, Maori urban authorities, and community-based groups.

The underlying push of the discussion paper is to strengthen the national advocacy role of the organisation under the Maori council, align the community roots of the organisation with the new tribal corporations fostered by the treaty settlement process, and embed the set-up in legislation.

You’ve seen what the semi-organised advocacy of the Maori Council has achieved. Watch out for a streamlined body. And remember, you are paying for it.

Submissions may be sent to or Mäori Community Development Act 1962 Consultation, Freepost 157031, P.O. Box 3943, Wellington 6140, by 5pm on Monday September 30, 2013.

1. Maori Community Development Act 1962,
2. Ranginui Walker, Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou Struggle Without End, Penguin Books, 1990, p247
3. Proposed changes to the Maori Community Development Act 1962,

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