This story is over 5 years old.

News of Zealand

New Zealand Justice Summit Criticised for Lack of Māori Voices

"If we are 52 percent of the prison population, why aren’t we 52 percent of the people speaking?”

Of all the statistics that illustrate the position of Māori in contemporary Aotearoa, that tangata whenua are just 16 percent of the population but over 50 percent of its prisoners is a stark reminder of colonisation’s on-going effects.

That statistic was at the heart of the government’s justice summit, which concluded in Porirua yesterday. Justice Minister Andrew Little told Radio New Zealand this morning those numbers were an “appalling over-representation of Māori”. Deputy Prime Minister Kelvin Davis, speaking before the summit, said his Ngāpuhi iwi was “probably the most incarcerated tribe in the world”.


Yet the government failed to set a specific target to reduce the number of Māori prisoners, with Little promising only a 30 percent reduction in the overall prison population in the next 15 years. Little said the answer had to come from Māori themselves. “It’s got to come from them, and I want it to come from them.”

The summit was criticised by some, specifically for not including enough Māori voices. Anzac Wallace of the Maukau Urban Māori Authority and a former prisoner, was moved to interrupt the conference, standing to ask: “Where are Māori?”

“I can’t see Māori representation, yet the opening address is about Māori in jail. If we are 52 percent of the prison population, why aren’t we 52 percent of the people speaking?”

He urged the summit to let “Māori speak for Māori… this counts only if you give us more than two days.” He later told Newshub that when he looked around the summit, he felt “swamped by Pākehā faces”.

Little told RNZ that restoring a sense of identity was key to rehabilitating Māori offenders. “[When Māori] don’t know about their tupuna, where they’ve come from, where their ancestors came from, the area that has influenced who they are, you start to address that and you restore identity and you restore mana. So many people in the front line tell me the difference that that makes to that person rehabilitating and reintegrating is vital.”

The National Party criticised the summit for side-lining the voices of victims. Justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell said: “National wants to ensure any reforms to the Justice system will reduce the crime rate but also keep victims at the heart of the justice system. Instead, the Justice Summit is set to be a talkfest between people with the same goal—to soften the punishments for serious offenders.”