Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Māori Purposes Acts: Just "washing-up" or more than meets the eye?

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posted on 2021-12-07, 16:17 authored by O'Meara, Angela

Māori Purposes Bills were commonly described in Parliament’s debating chamber as “washing-up” bills, which suggested they were considered to be of little importance. This research challenges that perspective.  The research explores Māori Purposes Acts as a body of law, beginning in 1931. It considers the content of the legislation, the legislative process and the role of Māori Purposes Acts within the legislative framework. The research examines policy provisions and amendments, the petitions process facilitated by the legislation, special governance arrangements, and remedial provisions including settlements with the Crown.  The research incorporates quantitative analysis, but due to the variability of the provisions contained in the legislation, a predominantly qualitative approach is used to consider the nature of the Acts. The research operates within an orthodox legal paradigm and Karl Llewellyn’s “law-jobs” theory is used as an analytical framework to identify common themes, draw out the purposes of the legislation and understand its role in New Zealand’s legal system. Critical race and post-colonial theoretical perspectives are acknowledged but are not central to the research. The research also considers whether Māori Purposes Acts delivered justice for Māori prior to the modern Treaty of Waitangi settlements process.  The research concludes the washing-up characterisation was often inaccurate. The research found Māori Purposes Acts were used as a mechanism to provide Māori with relief from and remedies for particular problems, which were often raised by petition to Parliament, and remedies gave effect to recommendations of the Māori Affairs Committee and Royal Commissions. Some remedies were expressed as settlements of Māori grievances against the Crown, which preceded modern Treaty of Waitangi settlements. The legislation was used to maintain the legislative framework governing Māori land ownership and Māori communities, to introduce new policies and fill policy gaps, and to create special exceptions to the legislative framework including special governance provisions.  The research provides evidence of the poor fit between the restrictive legislative framework governing Māori lives and Māori needs, and it demonstrates the inability of New Zealand’s legal system to deliver justice for Māori. Although many provisions attempted to ameliorate inequities, correct mistakes and resolve disputes, provisions often fell short of meeting the criteria for justice and are best described as taking important steps towards justice.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Laws

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970118 Expanding Knowledge in Law and Legal Studies

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Law


Jones, Carwyn