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The Contemporary Pacific 16.1 (2004) 158-163

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Maori Issues

Margaret Mutu
Department of Maori Studies, University of Auckland, New Zealand

The July 2002 general election delivered 20 members of Parliament who identify as Maori, out of a House of 120 members. Ten of them are in the Labour caucus of 52 that leads the coalition government. All 7 of the Maori seats went to Labour. Maori therefore expected to see at least 3 Maori cabinet ministers, with the same number or more becoming ministers outside cabinet. It was indicative of things to come that only 2 Maori cabinet ministers were appointed, along with another 2 outside cabinet. One of the ministers outside cabinet was Tariana Turia, who returned to the House with a very substantial 7,536 majority in the new Taihauauru seat. Turia has developed the reputation of being the only member in the House preparedto speak out fearlessly on behalf and in support of Maori, no matter how strident the media and opposition attacks on her become. Many Maori hoped she would be included in cabinet, as she had certainly earned such a posting. Her appointment as a minister outside cabinet sent a clear message that the Labour caucus is still uncomfortable with Maori who consistently support their own people.

However, Turia is no longer the only Maori member of Parliament able to articulate Maori aspirations accurately, clearly, and consistently. Metiria Turei, a first-time member in the Green Party, is showing considerable potential. Although the mainstream media ignores most of her press releases, her party does not appear to be censuring them. Georgina Te Heuheu of the conservative NationalParty, onthe other hand, has increasingly found herself having to contradict her party leader. After the party failed miserably in the general election, the National leader abandoned any pretence of supporting Maori aspirations and set out to attack any policy or program aimed at improving Maori circumstances. He called for the abolition of the seven Maori seats in Parliament; demanded that the government legislate to vest the foreshores and seabed in the Crown, effectively confiscating those areas from Maori; he argued that Maori should be given no special consideration in any matter and that all New Zealanders are the same (thus willfully disregarding all socioeconomic indicators that contradict this); heattacked the governmentfor setting aside money in the budget for a Treaty of Waitangi education program; [End Page 158] he attacked the Waitangi Tribunal for saying that Maori have an interest in the country's oil and gas resources; and he promised to stop Maori from making claims under the Treaty of Waitangi and to remove those aspects of the Resource Management Act and Local Government Act that protect Maori relationships with their ancestral lands (National Party website: <>). His racist outbursts have not improved National's showing in the opinion polls.

In April 2002 the government indicated that it intended to introduce legislation setting up a new Supreme Court to replace the London-based Privy Council. More than 90 percent of Maori who made submissions to the Select Committee hearings in 2003opposed the proposed legislation. Many called for constitutional reform to precede such a move. Such reform would have to entrench the Treaty of Waitangi in the constitution before many Maori would consider the introduction of a Supreme Court in New Zealand. Submissions often noted that the present judicial system discriminates against Maori, with Maori being convicted and imprisoned at a far greater rate than non-Maori. The Privy Council is perceived as independent of New Zealand and not tainted with the same racism that exists in the New Zealand courts. Many felt that a Supreme Court made up entirely of New Zealand judges would continue to discriminate against Maori.

In May 2002 a very successful Maori businessman was appointed to guide the setting up of the Maori Television Service. He managed to stop media attacks on the service and its personnel by refusing to speak to mainstream journalists. The media appeared to lose interest completely after having attacked the service continually over the previous twelve months. By January the budget...