New Zealand’s “most racist law” under attack

One of New Zealand’s most notorious ‘Maori only’ laws could soon be scrapped as the government sets regulatory reform in its sights

Aspects of the Maori Community Development Act allowing officially designated Maori Wardens to evict drunken or disorderly Maori from pubs or gatherings and confiscate car keys, could soon be repealed.
The Minister of Regulatory Reform, Steven Joyce, has said parts of what has been deemed “New Zealand’s most racist law” should be struck off the books.
Joyce expressed his confidence that the government would look at the issue although it is unclear whether the laws will be scrapped as part of the Statutes Repeal Bill issued last October or not.
NZ Lawyer asked Nick Wells, partner at Chapman Tripp and head of Te Waka Ture the firm’s Maori Legal Group, about the background of the Maori Community Development Act and why it is taking so long to be repealed.
“The history’s an interesting one and it goes to show how far New Zealand has come since the 1960’s,” he said.
The Act also set up the Maori Council to look at the social and economic development of Maori. Maori Wardens and Community Officers were also assigned to keep an eye on community wellbeing.
“We haven’t had any Community Officers for some years now,” Wells said. “There just under 900 or so voluntary Maori Wardens now. They have always been seen as playing a positive role in their communities.”
The Maori Council has also played a significant role in the development of Maori in Aotearoa but its role into the future requires some thought, he added. This is due to the rising asset base, economic programs and social initiatives of the Iwi which could be seen to reduce the scope of the Council’s own activities.
As well as investigating the Maori Council’s role in New Zealand’s more contemporary environment, Wells suggested that the sections containing race-based offences be completely removed.
“They are an ugly historical remnant, and no longer fit with our values or sense of identity. Most New Zealanders would find these provisions repugnant,” he said.
The Act is also difficult to enforce because it affects all those descended from Maori, including those of mixed descent.
“How could a Warden in a pub figure out in this day and age that someone is descended from Maori? It’s beyond me and shows just how ridiculous and unfair the Act is.”
When asked why it has taken so long for the act to be repealed, Wells says the main reason is that it has simply been forgotten by most.
“No one’s actually enforced it for years. Because it’s largely been left alone, it probably didn’t come up into the limelight – not until someone pointed out these abhorrent bits.
“It would have only taken one person to protest – say one person to have their car keys grabbed or be ejected on the basis that they’re Maori – and all hell would have broken loose in the media. That would have brought it into sharper attention much sooner.”
Up until now, repeal of these offensive provisions has been delayed because the government has been looking at the Act as a whole rather than examining the individual parts, Wells says.
“While they’ve been thinking about the Act as a whole, they’ve had to consider the role of the Maori Council and the role of the Maori Wardens – as they’re still very active – and that has slowed down the reform process.
“In hindsight, they should have just repealed the ugly, unruly and offensive pieces right away.”

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