Dawn Raids, a plastic comb and migrants today


The infamous Dawn Raids of the 1970s were started by a Labour government so it’s fitting that a Labour Prime Minister should issue the apology – over 45 years later – at the end of this month.

It’s also important to remember two other things:

Firstly it was a blatantly racist policy because other groups of overstayers (mainly Europeans who made up the majority of overstayers) were largely ignored and secondly because it wasn’t just terrorising Pacific Island families in the early hours of the morning but it also involved random stopping of Pacific Islanders on the streets to check if they were overstayers. 

This second practice was widespread in Auckland and a reminder of the same tactics used by the South African police against black South Africans who always had to produce a “pass” on demand to justify being where they were. Some Pacific people carried their passports to reduce the hassle they received on the streets from the police.

When a National Party minister (this was after Labour was ousted by Muldoon in 1975) was asked why the police were targeting Pacific Islander overstayers for random stopping on the streets rather than European overstayers he explained that it was easier for police to target Friesian cows (black and white) because they stood out in a herd of Jersey cows (light brown cows) In other words people were stopped because they were Pacific Islanders while European overstayers blended in with the majority. Racism writ large.

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Early one morning in Auckland’s Karangahape Road the police made a random stop of a young Pacific Islander returning home from a night shift in a plastic factory. He could show he was not an overstayer but when police searched him he had a plastic comb in his pocket. They asked him where he got it and he said from work. They arrested him and charged him with theft. When he appeared in court it turned out he had taken the comb from the “rejects” bin. There was no theft – just filthy police racism on show.

When it was duly reported in the paper Auckland University Law lecturer David Williams went down to the Auckland Central police station, with some reporters in toe. An angry Williams brandished a plastic ballpoint pen with Auckland University branded on it and told the police he had taken it from his employer and had no intention of giving it back. He demanded to be arrested for theft. He wasn’t but his point was made. 

Migrant workers are always easy targets, especially when an economic downturn occurs. Right now we have many thousands of migrant workers who have made this country their home over many years but are still being denied a path to residency by the government. They are not being treated with dignity and respect by the government. It’s wrong.

On the same day the Prime Minister gives New Zealand’s Dawn Raids apology at the Auckland Town Hall, a protest by migrant workers will take place. 

If you are in Auckland join this protest so we are not asking another Labour government 50 years from now to apologise for their awful treatment of migrant workers today. The details are: 

Mobilise, Saturday, June 26 – Assemble Britomart 3pm, Auckland. Join the March of Migrants to demand:



    • @John – unfortunately but probably not surprisingly you miss John Minto’s point entirely and in so doing endorse on-going racist attitudes towards Pasifika people.

      I hope you are not really like that. I wasn’t around in the days of the Dawn Raids but my father’s friend who is a retired Police detective was and he said most of the rank and file Police disagreed with the raids, even though there was an inherent racist attitude in the Police at the time.

      The plastic comb affair highlighted the racist attitude within the police and within the community at the time. The retired Police detective said it was lucky that the Judge who heard the case lambasted the Police for arresting the man and essentially threw the charge out.

    • I don’t think that is what this is saying.

      Would you and by that I mean ‘you John’ choose to be Maori. A group of people who have been subjected to second class citizenship forever. But of course we do drag out the Haka and te reo for the national anthem just to show that we are bi-cultural nation. .

  1. I have posted this comment elsewhere: Goodness when one thinks about NZ in the 70s was quite a paradox and a riddle. There were the Dawn Raids, The Unfortunate Experiment(which had been running many years before even the Dawn Raids) and electric shock ‘treatment’ of young people at Lake Alice. As a teenager in the 70s I had heard about the Dawn Raids. The news items on the telly during the mid to late 70s were not very impressive as a camera crew went with the Police on a dawn raid. But what I didn’t know until the mid 80s was the Unfortunate Experiment on females at National Womens Hospital and now this last week the news of electric shock treatment of young people that would have been the same age as me at Lake Alice. I do hope NZ has learnt from all these horrendous events and actions. But what is deplorable is no-one in government of the day whether they were Labour or National seemed to care about what NZers and even our Pacific Island NZers were being put through. There seemed to have been that unquestioning approach to what so-called ‘experts’ were doing. Was it fear or just no-one cared that were in positions of authority? Never again must NZers be subjected to that amount of de-humanisation ever again.

  2. i remember Muldoon and air commodor Gill talking about the british and South African overstayers as their kith & kin. I understand the dawn raids were referred to as operation pot black.


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