The government is currently consulting on proposed changes to the Māori Community Development Act1962. The Act is significant because it provides the legislative framework for:
- the New Zealand Māori Council supported by three levels of Māori Associations (Māori Committees, Māori Executive Committees, and District Māori Councils);
- Māori Wardens; and
- Community Officers.
The Māori Affairs Select Committee completed an inquiry into the Act in 2010 and made a number of recommendations for reform. The Select Committee also recommended that any legislative change be preceded by comprehensive consultation with Māori. The discussion paper therefore seeks views on:
options for the future of the New Zealand Māori Council;
- options to improve arrangements for Māori Wardens; and
- the provisions of the Act relating to Community Officers.
The discussion paper presents two broad options for the future of the New Zealand Māori Council
- A new refocused national Māori organisation – concentrates on social and economic issues that impact on community development for all Māori; membership, direction and priorities mandated by the community, with robust and transparent measures designed to ensure accountability to Māori; legislation will need to be amended to remove outdated statutory responsibilities; or
- No change – New Zealand Māori Council continues along with the existing statutory responsibilities as outlined in the 1962 Act to:
- consider and discuss matters relevant to the social and economic advancement of Māori;
- promote, encourage and assist Māori to conserve, improve, advance and maintain their physical, economic, industrial, educational, social, moral, and spiritual well-being; and
- collaborate with government departments on employment, education, training, housing and health.
The paper also present two broad options for the structure of the New Zealand Māori Council.
- A streamlined national organisation – membership drawn from across Māoridom; clear mechanisms to ensure members are accountable for delivering to Māori communities; or
- No change – current structure maintained: New Zealand Māori Council (national level), District Māori Councils, Māori Executive Committees and Māori Committees (regional and local).
The paper also seeks feedback on the roles and responsibilities of Māori Wardens and proposals to re-establish Community Officers.
However, it is the proposals relating to the Māori Council that appear to be provoking the most discussion.
A press-release from Council Co-Chair Sir Edward Taihakurei Durie identifies the significance of the statutory recognition of the Council and its purposes:
For a minority group, seeking to maintain its culture, statutory recognition of its function is required. Without it, the Council would not have had the standing to do what it did, in the Courts and institutions of the majority culture. It is important above all, to support statutory recognition.
Sir Edward makes an explicit link between these issues of representation and Treaty principles:
There are major issues for discussion. The immediate question is who should decide the issues and how. The conferral of official recognition is for Maori to seek and for government to decide, but in deciding, good faith will require significant respect for the Treaty. As for the shape of the organisation itself, and the process for deciding, that is for Māori to decide. That too is a Treaty principle. The present government led process, as directed by the cabinet, is inherently wrong. A Māori led process would require prior meetings with several interest groups, and the production of a plan for the people.
For those reasons the Council says:
- the Council should stay until a better structure is found.
- the structure should come from Māori, by Māori process.
- the process will take time
- good faith discussions with government, iwi leaders and urban groups should continue meanwhile.
The Council has also posted information on their website reporting on the first 12 consultation hui addressing the government’s proposals. Their key messages are:
- Council is heartened by the groundswell of support for the Council, for the role it plays in protecting the rights and interests of all Maori and for the Maori Community Development Act which gives Council its statutory powers.
- Over halfway through the nationwide Crown-led consultation, the vast majority of submitters have argued to keep the Act as it is and to keep the Wardens with the Council.
- In the first five hui held in Northland and Auckland submitters were unanimous in their support. This is significant because over half of all Wardens come from these regions. One speaker, at the sixth hui in Palmerston North called for a stand alone body for the Wardens. At the same hui, four speakers called for the Wardens to remain with Council.
- In the Palmerston North, Wanganui, New Plymouth and Hamilton hui, fewer than 14 percent of submissions were in favour of removing Wardens from Council.
- Given that Council and the Wardens have been shut out of the planning for these hui and have been refused a place at the table, this is an astounding vote of confidence for the New Zealand Maori Council.
- The theme that has dominated has been that any reforms or changes must be carried by the Council and Wardens themselves.
- The Crown and TPK have been criticised for withholding the Wardens funding from the Wardens. Many speakers noted that the funds are controlled by TPK and that most Wardens have not seen a penny.
- A further criticism has been that government has never funded the Council to fulfil its role under the Act. Many noted that the Council’s funding of around $180,000 has been kept the same for the past 20 years.
Consultation hui are continuing through until the end of September and the deadline for feedback has been extended until 31 October. The consultation document can be found here and feedback can be sent to
Māori Community Development Act 1962 Consultation, Freepost 157031, C/- Te Puni Kōkiri, Box 3943, Wellington 6140.
Or emailed to: MCDA@tpk.govt.nz