The Economist reports:
When James Cook landed in Australia in 1770, Aboriginals had been there for about 60,000 years. Their 500 or so separate nations lacked kingpins or settled agriculture, so colonisers deemed the land terra nullius, free for the taking. Aboriginals were butchered or displaced, and later their children were stolen and placed in foster care under a cultural assimilation programme that lasted for six decades. They got the vote only in 1962. After a referendum five years later, they were included in the census.
In NZ it was somewhat better. Maori got the vote in 1867, 95 years ahead of Aboriginals in Australia. And in NZ there was a Maori census in 1857 and regularly there after (but not merged with the main census until 1951).
Even well-intentioned policies brought in more recently have failed them. When the law said they must be paid the same wage as other Australians for the same job, many were sacked. Billions of dollars are poured into programmes to help indigenous peoples every year, with mixed results. The decade-wide gap in life expectancy is getting wider. Though only 3% of the population, Aboriginals fill a quarter of Australia’s prison cells. Their young men have one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Their children are almost ten times more likely to be in state care.
I had no idea a quarter of the prison population in Australia is Aboriginal. That is an imprisonment rate nine times the overall imprisonment rate. It is twice the imprisonment rate in NZ for Maori New Zealanders.
Aboriginals hold title over 31% of the country, with rights to hunt and fish, and to negotiate over economic developments such as mining.
Note title is now the same as ownership.
Many Aboriginals therefore look with envy across the Tasman Sea, to the Maori. They remain at the bottom of New Zealand’s pile, but still live longer and healthier lives than Aboriginals. New Zealanders who identify as Maori are 15% of the population of 5m. Their median weekly income of NZ$900 ($610) is almost double that of their Aboriginal counterparts. Although more than half of New Zealand’s inmates are Maori, they are less likely to go to prison than Aboriginals.
This relative success is partly a reflection of colonial history. British settlers reached New Zealand much later than Australia, found what they saw as a more civilised society, and signed a treaty with the Maori in 1843. It was routinely flouted but a tribunal established in 1975 has allowed the Maori to seek redress for historical abuses.
But it also reflects the Maori themselves. They are a tight-knit group compared with Australia’s distinct indigenous “nations”. They formed a monarchy in order to unify against colonialists, and almost all speak the same language. Once near extinction, it is now taught in schools and spoken in Parliament (where the Maori have reserved seats). An illustrious list of leaders includes Winston Peters, the current deputy prime minister and foreign minister. Three Maori have become archbishops and two governors-general.
Some 87 agreements have been struck between various tribes and the state in the past 30 years, helping them to lay the past to rest. Financial reimbursements can be stingy, but some have won large enough settlements to develop successful companies. The largest belongs to the Ngai Tahu, a people spanning most of the South Island, who own farms, fisheries and tourism ventures. tdb Advisory, a consultancy, values the assets of Maori “post-settlement entities” at NZ$7.8bn, far more than Australia’s entire indigenous economy.
Definitely things better on the NZ side.
The two countries’ attitudes towards their indigenes could scarcely be more different. Mainstream Australians are still largely segregated from Aboriginals. New Zealanders tend to take more pride in their mixed heritage. Maori tattoos are ubiquitous in mainly white suburbs. Citizens of every hue glory in their country’s domination of rugby (both the men’s and women’s teams are ranked top of the world). All purr with pride at the haka, a Maori war dance that precedes international matches.
I think the integration in New Zealand has been a major part of why outcomes have been better than in Australia.