Over the past decade
, several key United Nations (UN) monitoring bodies have expressed concern about ethnic inequalities in New Zealand, called for greater understanding of the causes of inequalities, and for a continued focus, increased efforts and action to overcome these.
The UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination last examined New Zealand’s compliance with the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 2007. The Committee recommended increased efforts to prevent racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. New Zealand has just submitted its most recent report and is currently scheduled to appear before the committee in early 2013.27
In 2007, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women urged the Government to implement measures to increase the participation of Māori, Pacific peoples, minority groups and women in political decision-making positions at all levels.
The UN Human Rights Council conducted its Universal Periodic Review of New Zealand’s human rights performance in 2009. Recommendations included government action to understand the causes of inequality and to address the socio-economic disparities suffered by vulnerable groups in New Zealand. The Council also recommended continued efforts to prevent discrimination in the criminal justice system and a commitment to combating the overrepresentation of Māori.28
The UN Human Rights Committee examined New Zealand’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2010. The Committee called on the Government to strengthen efforts to reduce the over-representation of Māori, in particular Māori women, in prisons and to increase efforts to prevent discrimination against Māori in the administration of justice.29
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples released his report on the situation of Māori in New Zealand in February 2011. He recommended the Government continue work with whānau, iwi and Māori leaders to assess the causes of discrepancies in health conditions and identify culturally-appropriate consultation with Māori leaders, to address the high rates of Māori imprisonment, and a focus on urban Māori when addressing Māori social and economic disadvantage.30
In February 2011, the Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended the Government ensure full protection against any grounds of discrimination, including urgent measures to address disparities in access to services for Māori children and their families; and strengthen prevention of discrimination, including affirmative action if necessary, for vulnerable children.31
In May 2012, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights received the Government’s report on New Zealand and released its recommendations. Among its findings, the Committee expressed its concern “that Māori and Pasifika continue to be disadvantaged in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, in spite of measures taken by the State party and improvements in the area of health and education.” (art. 2(2)) The Committee recommended that the Government:
strengthen its efforts aimed at eliminating the disadvantages faced by Mäori and Pasifika in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by addressing structural factors and ensuring that relevant measures effectively benefit the most disadvantaged. The Committee also recommends that the State party set specific equality targets by year and closely monitor their achievement.32
Past government attempts to address ethnic inequalities
Previous governments have tasked expert panels with reporting on inequalities in New Zealand
, both in terms of the Māori experience of inequality and in terms of broader ethnic, gender and age inequalities in social policy. These reports, as described below, included evidence and analysis of structural discrimination in New Zealand and recommendations to reduce structural discrimination.
In 1985, the then Minister of Social Welfare, Ann Hercus, asked the Māori Perspective Advisory Committee to advise her on the most appropriate way to meet the needs of Māori in policy, planning and service delivery in the Department of Social Welfare. Since its establishment 15 years earlier, the department had been concerned with high numbers of Māori in the welfare system. The department was concerned that poor educational and economic outcomes for Māori led to increased crime rates, poor life expectancy and high unemployment.
The advisory committee travelled to marae around the country and public service offices, meeting thousands of people. It concluded that the service Māori required from the Department of Social Welfare was relevant to all government departments. Its report, Pūao-te-ata-tū (Daybreak) was one of the first in New Zealand to define what is called “institutional racism” as distinct from personal racism. One of the Committee’s overarching comments was that “institutional racism exists within the department as it does generally through our national institutional structures.” The committee described the effects of institutional racism within the department as mono-cultural laws and administration of social services, whether or not intended
, that give rise to practices that discriminate against Māori. The committee recommended that the Government adopt the following objective:
To attack all forms of cultural racism in New Zealand that result in the values and lifestyle of the dominant group being regarded as superior to those of other groups, especially Māori, by:
Providing leadership and programmes which help develop a society in which the values of all groups are of central importance to its enhancement; and
Incorporating the values, cultures and beliefs of the Mäori people in all policies developed for the future of New Zealand.33
In 1986, the Government established a Royal Commission on Social Policy. The Royal Commission published an “interim” report in 1988 known as The April Report
, following extensive consultation with a wide range of communities. The scope of the report was broad, but included consideration of “institutional racism”, incorporating definitions from Pūao-te-ata-tū. The April Report found than personal racism. To address it, national, system-wide programmes were needed. The report also recommended affirmative action to make structures multi-cultural in their policies and practices.
Reviewing the Royal Commission’s impact twenty years later, researchers Jo Barnes and Paul Harris found it difficult to identify direct affects on policy and practice of government departments, because the scope of the reports was so broad and the recommendations were insufficiently emphasised. They concluded, however, that there had been changes in legislation, policy and practice since the release of the reports that aligned with the report’s ideals.34
In 1998, the Waitangi Tribunal reviewed the response to Pūao-te-ata-tū
in the Whānau o Waipareira Report. The tribunal found that although Pūao-te-ata-tū
recommendations were accepted by the minister of the day
, the department’s commitment to their implementation had waned by the time of its restructuring in 1992. The tribunal also commented that the restructured department lacked informed commitment to Pūao-te-ata-tū
during its establishment phase and in its operations. Staff appreciation of the report’s meaning for their work was neither required nor encouraged.35
Persistent ethnic inequalities were again the focus of government research in 1999. The Closing the Gaps report gave an analysis of social and economic outcomes for Māori as compared with other New Zealanders. Closing the Gaps was adopted by the incoming Labour Government in 1999 as a policy to provide special measure social programmes for Māori and Pacific peoples. Labour’s adoption of the policy, however, faced a backlash against targeted measures to address ethnic disparities. Political backlash against Closing the Gaps was epitomised by New Zealand First leader ,Winston Peters’, comments about the 2000 Budget. He claimed that the Closing the Gaps programme “will create serious racial divisions – it is social apartheid”.36 The Chief Executive of Te Puni Kōkiri described the impact of the backlash, saying “this constant negativity around things Māori became a barrier in itself, but also fundamentally failed to acknowledge Māori as an important part of New Zealand’s success.”37
From 2000, the focus of policy discourse on ethnic inequalities shifted. In 2003, the Government re-branded its approach to addressing social and economic disparity, with less emphasis on ethnicity. Reducing Inequalities was a whole-of-government policy of social and economic initiatives. It aimed to “ensure a more equal distribution of the determinants of wellbeing across society, i.e. greater equalities of real opportunities, where family background, ethnicity or disability are not major determinants of individuals’ life chances”.38
Political backlash to special measures to reduce ethnic inequality flared up with National Party leader Don Brash’s Orewa speech of 2004. In his speech, he said “there can be no basis for special privileges for any race, no basis for government funding based on race.”39 In response to the Orewa speech, the Government in 2005 established a ministerial review into ethnically-based programmes and targeting in the core public sector.40 The review provided advice on what it considered an appropriate rationale for ethnicity-based policies. It identified 25 specific policies and programmes, some of which were phased out, some modified and others considered justified. Economist Paul Callister notes that “this reduction of programmes seems to have been undertaken on a somewhat ad hoc basis rather than as part of a systematic, rigorous and publicly debated change in social policy direction.”41
Drawing on lessons learned during the review, the State Services Commission published Guidance for designing needs based policies and programmes in 2005.42
This change in policy direction received international attention. In 2007, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination welcomed the Government’s reassessment of special measures programmes, but noted concern that the review was adopted in a political climate unfavourable to the rights of Māori. The Committee recommended that the Government take steps to ensure the public at large was informed about the nature and relevance of special measures and New Zealand’s obligations under the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.43