The Māori economy, old and new, Gyles Beckford

Heke Tangata: Māori in Markets and Cities
Brian Easton for Te Whanau o Waipareira
Oratia Books, $30.00,
ISBN 9780947506438

In late 1984, a small group of Māori politicians, public servants and their helpers, invented an iwi to welcome hundreds of Māori from around the country to parliament for the Hui Taumata – the Māori Economic Summit. As delegates of different iwi arrived in the old Legislative Chamber, they were welcomed by the “Ngati Beehive”, an eclectic mix of organisers and staff of different tribal and ethnic backgrounds. The Hui Taumata was a less publicised, lower profile version of the newly elected Labour Government’s Economic Summit, at which Sue Bradford made such an impact. But its significance was that it drew together in a forum the collective voice of Māori, highlighted not just the difficulties, the deprivation and the obstacles, but looked at Māori resources, the positives, the solutions, and the future possibilities.

This slim volume from economist Brian Easton charts the rural-urban migration of Māori after WWII and the cultural, social and economic dislocation that occurred as a result. It’s a mere 122 pages, of which the first half is a pared-down narrative of past and present events, and the second half is a collection of statistics and tables in support. This is a commissioned piece of work for Te Whanau o Waipareira, whose chief executive, John Tamihere, sees the book as vital to telling the stories of those who migrated, and giving a context to their current economic position.

The messages have been simply distilled and presented in a short space. Summed up: Māori are at the bottom of the heap, indeed, most of the heaps – economic, social, health, judicial, education, housing, incomes, wealth, employment.

Māori were behind the eight ball after colonisation was completed in the 19th century, and fell further behind in the first half of the 20th century as they remained a largely rural population; whatever catch-up may have been occurring after WWII was undone by the tide of Rogernomics. Since then, the prevailing neo-liberal policies have widened the gap. 

“Māori may have successfully navigated the second great migration, but they are a generation behind the Pākehā population in economic terms,” Easton says.

The Hui Taumata, which, surprisingly, does not get a mention in this book, called for policies which would allow Māori “to determine their own future in their own way with the appropriate resources”. It demanded better targeted support from government, but delivered by Māori organisations, and for greater Māori autonomy and Māori self-determination. Tino rangatiratanga.

Of course, history records, as noted in Easton’s book, that the more market policies of successive governments have run counter to such aspirations and solutions. National’s Fiscal Envelope policy for Treaty settlement in the mid-1990s, and Labour’s Foreshore and Seabed policy of 2004, showed that governments were not going to lightly cede control in key areas. The subsequent repeal of the latter policy by National in 2010 and the establishment of the Whanau Ora programme showed that only the exertion of political leverage, in those cases Māori Party pressure on National needing their support to govern, made progress.

Easton says that it is not the purpose of the book to suggest alternative policies. But it seems a job only half done. There is no shortage of research reports, pamphlets, treatises and polemics, documenting, excoriating the plight of Māori and their position at the bottom of all the league tables.

Heke Tangata – loosely translated as “migration of the people” – makes some mention of the economic resources held by Māori incorporations, trusts and iwi groups. The settlement of Treaty claims has put more than $1.5 billion in the hands of iwi, with more to come. That, in turn, has seen them leverage the money into significant financial and economic resources.

The ANZ bank has produced the Te Tirohanga Whānui report for the past four years.  Its most recent, published in August, estimated the Māori economy to be worth $50 billion in assets, which is about 6 per cent of the total New Zealand asset base, and is a rapidly growing segment of the wider economy. Ngāti Whātua is one of Auckland’s biggest property owners; Tainui is a major player in Waikato; and what doesn’t Ngāi Tahu have a slice of in the South Island?

Easton has done a valuable job in detailing Māori migration and its consequences, the outdated policies and systems which have trapped too many in a strait-jacket of state welfare dependence. Where to from here is perhaps the next volume to be written.

Gyles Beckford is business editor at RNZ National, and was a member of the “Ngati Beehive” as press secretary to then Minister of Māori Affairs, Koro Wetere.

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