Story: Te Māori i te ohanga – Māori in the economy

Page 7. Government reforms, 1980s

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In the 1960s unskilled, semi-skilled and rural workers were often employed in government-controlled industries. Māori workers were disproportionately over-represented in government-owned forests, railways, road works, electricity networks and the Post Office.

These industries were all restructured in the 1980s and 1990s, with widespread redundancies. Private industries with major Māori workforces were also restructured, including manufacturing and freezing works. Māori unemployment rocketed – it reached a high of 25% in 1992, at a time when the general unemployment rate was 10%.

Hui Taumata

In 1984 the Hui Taumata – Māori economic development summit conference was held. The hui recommended the Māori Economic Development Commission be established, reporting to the minister of Māori Affairs. This was to improve Māori prosperity by accelerating Māori-led economic development.

Reorganising the workforce

In 1986, 39% of Māori were working in secondary industries, including manufacturing, construction, and electricity, gas and water sectors.

By 2003 this figure had dropped to 25%. Māori in the service sectors, including property and business, transport and storage, health and community, and education had risen to 65%. Māori in the primary industries (agriculture, forestry and fishing) had remained relatively steady at 10% in 1986 and 9% in 2003.

Treaty settlements

In 1975 the Waitangi Tribunal was set up to look at breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi by the Crown. In 1985 it was given the mandate to look at historical claims. As a result of the tribunal’s findings a number of tribes received settlements from the government. These settlements helped to provide a capital base from which tribes were able to re-enter the economy. The two biggest settlements went to Ngāi Tahu and Tainui, who received $170 million each.


A combination of court cases and Waitangi Tribunal reports saw an interim and then final fisheries settlement. As part of the interim settlement Māori received a proportion of fishing quota in New Zealand’s quota management system, which had initially shut out Māori fishers. Māori also received shares in fishing companies, and cash. This was enacted in the Maori Fisheries Act 1989. In 1992 a final settlement saw Māori given $150 million to buy half of fisheries company Sealord, and a guarantee of a share of future new quota. By the early 2000s the value of Māori fisheries assets was estimated at $700 million.


As part of the economic reforms of the 1980s, the government planned to transfer assets, including forestry assets, to state-owned companies. Because a number of Crown lands with forests were subject to Treaty of Waitangi claims, the government agreed to hold rental monies in trust, with the interest on the rentals being used to fund research into tribal ownership. The Crown Forestry Rental Trust was set up in 1990. When the ownership of the land on which the forests stood was resolved, assets would be returned to iwi.

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Te Māori i te ohanga – Māori in the economy - Government reforms, 1980s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 April 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 11 Mar 2010