Maori Wardens want review of act

By Laurel Stowell

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Carol Te-Huna.
Carol Te-Huna.

Aotea's Maori Wardens have been seeking a review of the law that gives them their powers since the 1970s, chairwoman Carol Te-Huna says.

Parliament is only now getting to grips with the issue, after Wellington lawyer and political commentator Graeme Edgeler brought it to attention. A review of the legislation is backed by the Green, Maori and Labour parties.

The 1962 Maori Community Development Act gives Maori Wardens powers to order "quarrelsome" Maori to leave a pub, prevent them being served alcohol and take away their car keys if they are in danger of driving while drunk.

None of those powers are now used by Maori Wardens, Ms Te-Huna said.

The act also makes it illegal to serve alcohol to a gathering of Maori people without a permit - another piece of the law that hasn't been used for years.

Ms Te-Huna said that piece should be repealed and parts of the act were "definitely racist".

"We have been advocating to have the act reviewed since way back in 1970. It's good that we're finally getting the backing of MPs."

The matter came to a head when the Rugby World Cup was in New Zealand in 2011. A few Wellington bar owners were worried Maori Wardens had the power to prevent people drinking.

The most helpful MP on the issue has been Winston Peters, who brought up the need for change in 2012 when he looked into the way wardens were funded. He carried on asking for change after that, but not much happened.

"There's not that much support in (Parliament), and I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that they didn't really understand what Maori Wardens were about," Ms Te-Huna said.

Her personal view is that the word "Maori" should be removed from the act, allowing wardens to help anybody.

"When you look at communities today you've got that many different cultures within your community."

Wardens no longer prevent Maori people from drinking or ask them to leave bars. Instead they work with publicans to keep drinking safe.

"We do advise them but we don't say 'We're going to close you down'. We are not into starting wars within our community."

She would like to keep the wardens' power to take the car keys of people looking to drive while drunk, however.

She said wardens now worked in new areas, and had a focus on rangatahi (youth). Whanganui's have been busy during the holiday period, patrolling the CBD, providing night security at the Tupoho Complex and helping at tangi and the jet sprints.

Their next big occasions are Vintage Weekend in Whanganui and the January 25 celebrations at Ratana.

Ms Te-Huna chairs the Aotea District Maori Wardens, which covers Whanganui, Taranaki, Ruapehu and Rangitikei. She's also part of a group working with Maori Affairs Minister Te Ururoa Flavell on warden matters. One issue is if wardens' funding should be handled by the New Zealand Maori Council or by the Ministry of Maori Development/Te Puni Kokiri.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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