A bill to set up a new entity to foster the Maori language has passed into law with support of all parties other than New Zealand First.

The Maori Language Act sets up Te Matawai, a new body charged with working with the Crown to revitalise the Maori language at an iwi and community level, including joint oversight of Maori Television with the Minister of Finance.

It also recognises te reo Maori as a taonga [treasure] and states that Maori and iwi are the guardians of it.

The bill was amended last week to include an acknowledgement from the Crown that it had failed to protect the Maori language through its past policies and put into law a commitment by the Crown to work with Maori to actively promote it for future generations. That acknowledgement related to evidence given at Waitangi Tribunal hearings in the 1980s that Maori were caned at school for speaking Maori.


The bill passed to cheers and a waiata from the Public Gallery. It began under former Maori Party co-leader Sir Pita Sharples and his colleague, Dame Tariana Turia, was at Parliament to see it pass.

The bill has been enacted in Maori and in English and specifies the Maori version has precedence over the English version if there are conflicting interpretations.

Under the bill, the Crown has to establish Maori language strategies in conjunction with Te Matawai. Te Matawai will also have the right to appoint four of the seven members on the Maori Television board. However, the law specifies it can not interfere in Maori Television editorial functions in news and current affairs or direct it to make any specific decision on programming.

It passed by 104 votes to 11.