Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler


New Zealand's most racist law

Earlier this year, Ted Dawe’s teen novel Into the River was temporarily banned. It was a ridiculous decision, but this was in part attributable to a flaw (one of many) in New Zealand’s censorship law. The only two options that the President of the Film and Literature Board of Review had available were allowing the book to go unrestricted, or temporarily banning it. The Board of Review had already determined that harm would be done if the book was available to 13 year-olds, and the only option that the Board President had to prevent that anticipated harm was a temporary ban on anyone obtaining the book.

National MP Chris Bishop has announced that he intends to introduce a bill into the Member’s ballot to amend the law to allow temporary restrictions (not just temporary bans). Hopefully it gets drawn, because I look forward to supporting his bill. I suspect I’ll be pushing for the bill to be extended – I’m not sure that we need interim restriction orders at all – they only ever apply when the censor has already approved something for release, so even if there is harm, it’s very much at the lower level.

This is an ideal member’s bill. It’s short and simple. Hard to stuff up drafting, and if stuffed up, easy to fix in select committee. Bishop has proposed a few short simple bills in his short time as an MP, and as MPs can only have one bill in the Members’ ballot at a time, and some of his colleagues seem not to have many ideas (or at least, not many ideas that have made it through caucus), he’s passed some on to others.  Drafting legislation to advance freedom probably isn’t a bad thing for a new MP to become known for.

There a lot a reasons to advance a members bill. From opposition, it can be a good to force an issue onto the agenda, sometimes hoping to get the law changed, but other times, knowing you don’t have the numbers, but wanting to force the government to make an unpopular decision.

Complex member’s bills are difficult. The results are sometimes embarrassing. Jacinda Ardern wanted adoption law reform on the agenda, but advanced a laughably bad bill to try to achieve this (Kevin Hague had a more serious attempt, but wasn't lucky enough to have his bill drawn from the ballot, and is now promoting something else). Keith Locke wanted a public discussion of a whether New Zealand should continue to have a Head of State who lives in another country, and whose role (under the law at that time) passes to their eldest son, as long as that person is not a Catholic (or even married to one) but his bill to set up a process for a referendum on a republic was ridiculous (for example, it didn’t create a republic, and in the event of the untimely death of a new New Zealand head of state, the role passed to their son, as a long as that person was not a Catholic!). And in an effort to stop child sex offenders from gaining employment working with children, Jian Yang wrote a bill that declared everyone convicted of robbery to be a child sex offender.

Getting a law right is hard. Even the professionals stuff it up (and not all that infrequently). If an MP wants to actually pass a good law from the back benches (or from the opposition), they’re well advised to make it a simple one (or be really really careful!).

I’ve got a simple idea. We should repeal New Zealand’s most racist law.

Sections 30-36 of the Maori Community Development Act 1962 (originally the Maori Welfare Act) are laughably offensive.

Early last year there was a rash of instances of tourists having their car keys taken off them by people who had decided they were unsafe to drive. It stopped after a few instances, with police (and even the Prime Minister) warning against it.

What few of the people quite rightly objecting to the mild vigilantism probably realised is that the law actually specifically provides for circumstances when people can have their car keys taken away from them.

If the driver is Māori.

Or if the driver is non-Māori, but is in charge of a vehicle near a meeting place, or a lawful gathering of Māori.

It is also illegal to serve alcohol at a gathering of Māori. A Māori Committee can grant a licence to serve alcohol at a gathering of Māori, but only if that gathering is not for the purposes of a dance.

Māori wardens are empowered to enter hotels and to order quarrelsome Māori to leave.

This reads like it comes from one of those lists of ridiculous laws that are still in force, when New Zealand usually seems to be represented by a claim that it’s illegal to fly with a rooster in a hot air balloon (which I’m pretty sure isn’t true).

But it’s worse than a ridiculous law. It’s a racist law.

It has no place in New Zealand. It should never have been the law. And it certainly shouldn’t be law now.

There are a bunch of MPs who do not currently have a bill in the members’ ballot. Well, here’s an idea for you: propose the repeal of sections 30-36 of the Maori Community Development Act. I’ve even drafted a bill for whichever MP wants to take this up.

We have had racist laws before. And we have others still now. The Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act is still there: following was a Privy Council decision that said a large number of Samoans were entitled to New Zealand Citizenship (what was then known as Western Samoa was under New Zealand control for a number of years, and as British Subjects under New Zealand control when New Zealand citizenship was created, they qualified). Muldoon’s Government didn’t want a lot of Samoans becoming citizens, so passed a law, stripping them of the right to claim it on that basis. That was a worse law – it still prevents Samoans claiming citizenship using an argument that can work for people of other nationalities – but it’s probably “hard”. This is easy. There should not be criminal laws that apply only to Māori.

Discussion of repeal of parts of the law has come up in the past. John Key is reported to have said that the bit allowing Māori Wardens to eject Māori from pubs “felt a bit racist”. And others MPs called in antiquated, and in need of repeal. Well, that was five years ago, and the law is still there. It’s time for some member of Parliament to force the issue.

38 responses to this post

First ←Older Page 1 2 Newer→ Last

First ←Older Page 1 2 Newer→ Last

Post your response…

This topic is closed.