The Way We Used To Want It – And, Maybe, Still Do.


GREEN MP TEANAU TUIONO hopes to introduce a Private Members Bill repealing the Citizenship [Western Samoa] Act 1982. The Act, introduced by the National Government of Rob Muldoon, and supported by the Labour Leader of the Opposition, Bill Rowling, prevented Samoans born between 1924 and 1949 from exercising the rights of New Zealand citizenship.

Had the legislation not been passed, the decision of the Privy Council (then New Zealand’s highest court) affirming the New Zealand citizenship of all Samoans born when New Zealand exercised a League of Nations “Mandate” (later becoming a United Nations “trusteeship”) over Samoa, would have stood, and tens-of-thousands of Samoans would have enjoyed free entry to New Zealand.

Yet to be drawn out of the Private Members Bill “lottery”, Tuiono’s proposed legislation would presumably restore the citizenship rights of Samoans born between 1924 and 1949. Obviously, this would encompass a much smaller group of people than was the case in 1982. Samoans born in 1949 would today be 73 years old – coincidentally the average life expectancy of a Samoan citizen.

In much the same way as the formal New Zealand Government apology for the notorious “Dawn Raids” of 1974-76, Tuiono’s PMB would stand as a marker of both condemnation and regret for the racist policies inflicted upon Pasifika by the New Zealand state.

Given that any legislation would, after 40 years, be almost entirely symbolic – i.e. only a handful of Samoans would be in a position to take advantage of their restored New Zealand citizenship – the Greens stand to lose very little by their endorsement of Tuiono’s gesture. Slightly more challenging for the Greens’ would be the following counterfactual.

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Let us suppose that Tuiono’s bill passes, and citizenship is restored to Samoans born between 1924 and 1949. Then, let us further suppose, that a new legal case is brought, and that the New Zealand Supreme Court ultimately determines that the Samoan descendants of the New Zealand citizens born between 1924 and 1949 are also New Zealand citizens. Suddenly the number of people affected by Tuiono’s legislation jumps from hardly any, to a just about all of Samoa’s population of roughly 200,000.

In these circumstances, the Greens would be faced with the same political dilemma as Labour’s Bill Rowling in 1982. Should they uphold the law and welcome 200,000 new citizens to Aotearoa-New Zealand, or, should they bow to a deafening racist clamour to close the country’s borders to what would be, in effect, an entire Pacific nation?

Back in 1982, Rowling chose the second option. He calculated that Labour would sustain much less damage, electorally, by throwing in its lot with National, passing the legislation quashing the Privy Council’s judgement with all possible speed, and simply living with the loud moral objections of their Pasifika supporters and the increasingly vociferous anti-racist movements of the time.

Along with, it must be said, the loud objections of Labour’s own youth wing, whose president, Sean Fleigner, released a statement bitterly critical of his own party’s capitulation to the undisguised racism of Pakeha New Zealand. For this gutsy demonstration of moral fortitude, Sean and his fellow Dunedin radicals received a “visit” from the party’s dynamic young president, Jim Anderton, who, no doubt acting on Rowling’s instructions, warned them against any further gestures of public defiance which, in addition to being unsupported by all but a handful of party members, and therefore doomed to fail – were bloody embarrassing to the Leader.

Young New Zealanders in 2022 might be appalled at Labour’s open collaboration with the “racist” Rob Muldoon depicted in the recent television series about the Polynesian Panthers. The very same Rob Muldoon who had been willing to set New Zealander against New Zealander by refusing to ban the Springbok Rugby team from touring New Zealand in July-August 1981. But, what seems outrageous with the benefit of 40 years hindsight, almost always struck the people living at the time quite differently.

The Privy Council’s bombshell decision had been handed down in September 1982 – barely  twelve months after the civil strife that so shocked and dismayed New Zealanders the previous year. In a manner oddly foreshadowing contemporary New Zealanders’ determination to avoid any further lockdowns and just “live with” Covid-19, the Kiwis of 40 years ago wanted no more unpleasantness about racism, and were keen to put all the violent passions of 1981 behind them. Very few voters would have thanked Bill Rowling and Labour for dying in a ditch over the Citizenship [Western Samoa] Bill – and expecting them to do the same.

Labour’s concern for what was in the minds of its (overwhelmingly Pakeha) supporters was no less influential in March 1974 when Norman Kirk set in motion the policies that would culminate in Muldoon’s draconian Dawn Raids of 1976.

Kirk and his government were acutely aware of how deeply unpopular his decision to ban the scheduled 1973 tour of the Springboks was among Labour voters. While the Commonwealth Games held in Christchurch in January-February 1974 had given his government an enormous boost (which wouldn’t have been the case if the Springboks’ tour had gone ahead) Kirk was anxious to reaffirm Labour’s attachment to his country’s longstanding “White New Zealand” immigration policy. With the economy faltering, and mass unemployment threatening, sending the “Islanders” home appealed to his government as the least electorally damaging option.

Difficult though it may be to accept, such openly racist policy-making enjoyed solid bi-partisan support. Following Kirk’s death in August 1974, the anti-Pasifika feeling only intensified. Indeed, between September 1974 and November 1975, when Muldoon’s National Party decisively defeated the Labour Government, New Zealand shifted sharply to the right. Over the following months, the New Zealand electorate expected – and was treated to – some of the most retrograde and vicious policy-making in New Zealand’s political history. The Dawn Raids were just one aspect of White New Zealand’s backlash.

Watching The Panthers television series, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Polynesian Panthers played a critical role in the Dawn Raids drama. The truth is they were never more than a minor irritant to the authorities. In spite of their name, they experienced nothing like the level of repression visited upon the Black Panther Party of the United States – most of whose leaders were either murdered by the Police and the FBI, or incarcerated for lengthy periods.

The Panthers’ obsessive focus on Muldoon, unhelpfully obscures the fact that most New Zealanders were more than happy to limit Pasifika immigration. Politically, the Dawn Raids offered the public dramatic proof that “The Government” was “doing something”. Having demonstrated the requisite “hard line”, Muldoon quietly wound the theatrics down. By 1977 it was all over.

Herein lies the virtue of putting the Greens to the test of an historical counterfactual: to see whether they fully appreciate just how deeply racism remains embedded in the Pakeha population. Socially liberal New Zealanders have either forgotten, or been given the wrong information, about their country’s recent past. Much has changed since the mid-1970s and early 1980s – but an awful lot has remained the same.

It’s easy to say “sorry” when your apology can be made without political cost, and in the absence of a political leader capable of harnessing the popular resentments and prejudices it might inflame. The important thing to remember about Rob Muldoon, and the racist policies with which his name is associated, is that he drew his power from the hundreds-of-thousands of anxious and angry people who voted for him.

That, after all, was his most famous slogan: “New Zealand the way YOU want it.”

White and Right.


  1. It’s hardly surprising that Labour joined with National on this. If anything, the class traitor here was Muldoon- the business party has always wanted to bring in as many coolies as they can, completely devoid of rights if possible, but if they become citizens at the cost to the taxpayer, that’s almost as good.

    I have been glad to see many Pacific Island nations resisting this modern day blackbirding post the advent of COVID.

  2. As a xenophobic racist maori I give an emphatic no to that idea .
    Citizenship to this country is given away too cheaply leading to the degradation of quality of life .
    And in fact immigration in general is a class weapon benefiting the bankster class .
    So yes to a racist outlook that privileges Kiwis for the benefit of Kiwis .
    P.S I want to emphasize my Catholicism re foreigners fuck them all .

    • Why bother with citizenship?PR will do!
      My understanding is PR is enough for all MSD benefits and includes Super.

  3. If a League of Nations mandate is your test for citizenship, then all of Lebanon and Syria are French as are the population of both Jordan and Israel British. There are more examples of such eg Namibia and South Africa.

    There is no racism involved

  4. Isn’t everyone racist? Isn’t racism just part & parcel of our animalistic nature? We all prefer our own, unless of course, it’s advantages not too. If it makes you feel better you can call me racist till the cows come home. The ones who love throwing the “R” word around are often pretty racist themselves. Of course it’s just as much their right to be this way as it’s my right to own my own racist tendencies, just as @ ra above does.

    • The only real thing wrong with your, and Ra’s above comment is that the things you both describe are mostly cultural not racist tendencies. You shouldn’t offer any legitimacy to the grossly overused and incorrect racist assertions.

    • “Isn’t racism just part & parcel of our animalistic nature? We all prefer our own, unless of course, it’s advantages not too”

      What? Have you not heard of ‘yellow fever’ or references to “brown sugar” etc. Both are actually compliments by the way. There are plenty of us that don’t necessarily prefer “our own” at all and are very much attracted to other races.

      • Yellow fever is not complimentary, it generally regarded as creepy by the women being fetishised by white guys with “yellow fever”. Don’t be that guy, it isn’t attractive. Treat your potential partner as a person, not a racial stereotype, you are much more likely to find romance that way, rather than being seen as just another creepy white guy.

  5. From a social economics POV. My y family have worjed in Auskland hospitals and it is so noticeable how many different ethicities are needing translators. Also how many use the hospital for their family needs, and have their family here. A piece in this weekend’s news is an example.
    …The decision said Clavecilla arrived in New Zealand in 2012 on a visitor visa.
    By November 2012, he was employed as a nurse in New Zealand and was granted an essential skills visa.

    Three years later his sister relocated to New Zealand, settling with her husband and two daughters, the decision said. Two of his three sons joined him in New Zealand in 2017 after gaining resident visas.
    Prior to his sons arriving, he had also had a relationship with a New Zealand citizen. The pair, who are not together, have a four-year-old son who lives with the mother.

    He married his current wife, who was from the Philippines but lived in New Zealand, in 2018. She had a family residency visa approved in March 2020.
    But just two-weeks later, Clavecilla’s offending started…
    He was sentenced to six months’ community detention and 150 hours of community work on 19 counts of theft relating to the first victim’s credit card expenditure, and 13 relating to the second patient.

    He lodged the appeal against his deportation on humanitarian grounds.
    “He has completed counselling, as part of his sentence, and that gave him an outlet to express his feelings. He also sought budgeting advice.

    Part of being in NZ is the economics of life. It can’t be just whether it is nice for the person to be given a choice of what to do. This man has not had as many chaildren as an arab prince (perhaps 52) so we should be aw are of the. But if he wants to sty in NZ after finishing his sentence, he needs to have a vasectomy as part of his atonement which I believe that all law-breakers should have to domply with.

    Being outspoken on this, he has a bloody cheek expecting to get off this. He is working but besides getting a wage, I hope, he is not to be trusted with client patients. Once a thief then you have crossed a line of self-respect and restraint. He will likely fail in the future.
    It would mean that some other patient could not have an opration if he had a vasectomy which would need to be done quickly, and it seems best that he be deported. As for racism, it could be made a case against him for having come here and then robbing us instead of respecting us and our ways.

    And this is something that government has brought on us – so many poor people have been let in here from India and other places, if there was an influx of Samoans we would be on our knees. It is hard on our hospital services. We might have to do what the Aussies do to us and warn they will be cut off from social services. But in Oz they would likely get some employment, here they might send their teenage son as a security officer to help feed the family only to have him murdered on his first night. NZ land of opportunity. Never will improve if things continue, and may get worse. Mr Creosote Rules – Not Okay.

  6. Interesting Chris. Some of what happened at the time (and like you I lived it) was definitely racist especially in the rural heartlands but Muldoon primarily appealed to the economic concerns of Kiwi’s – the country cant afford this, there’s a recession coming, they’re taking our jobs.

    And I doubt it would be any different today. Imagine the law goes through and 22oK Samoans become NZers overnight there will be a huge backlash with 95% of it focused on one thing- We cant afford healthcare and pensions for the people we have currently, there is a recession coming, we will all be competing for jobs. And those are realistic and valid concerns as to race, if you say we need more people to take jobs here in NZ, I and many other people would love to see them being largely Samoan. They are a great community and a welcome addition to a society.

    The problem with the R word being ascribed to everything is – it doesnt look at intent. Are some things inherently racist such as a desire to look after ‘our national good’ – yes, it is racist but it is also practical and dare I say it, maybe even necessary. It is not the direct racism of ‘we dont like brown people’ but it is the indirect racism of deciding on a course of action which for the greater good (what the Nation can afford) disadvantages an entire group of people.

  7. It’s not racism. It’s about resources. Specifically NZ super and health system resources.

    The ideals of the Greens will run into the buzz saw of self-interest, and lose badly.

    • Yeah I also thought along those lines: Is Chris planning to build the 200,000 homes for them, the schools, hospitals etc? When we have our own sleeping in cars?

  8. yes melt but the basic project of ‘civilisation’ is to encourage us to behave better than mere human nature…otherwise we’re a troop of red arsed apes.

  9. Back to the old Welly tram. Eh! LOOK, A, Muldoon looker, lesser care, more corporate open, as, Muldoon, covered.

  10. The tusker in their ranks, those, sitting wright, who!~, male going to be sitting next, Whitehouse, or s, who else they got to challenge.

  11. The tusker in their ranks, those, sitting wright, who!~, male going to be sitting next, Whitehouse, or s, who else they got to challenge.

    • Bro. I want to understand what you’re trying to say. Can you explain a bit more who is going “full blown socialist,” how and why? Thanks in advance.

  12. Yep, politics has to come first — except. The downside of short-term democracy is reality isn’t always susceptible to three year election cycles.

    You just have to scratch inadvertently and the racism comes out.

    After Muldoon and Rowling Clark also dismissed a later petition for ‘the rule of law’.

    We were as blank as an A4 page, homogenous us. No backlash whatsoever. A description of that time.

  13. In reply to another andrew & Wheel; the hard wired bio-chemical responses that give rise to such individual & collective self preservation (survival) behaviours, are the result of our very lengthy evolutionary journey. Agreed, cultural, religious, socio-economic & familial influences play there part in such things, but as far as the nature/nurture debate is concerned, the jury is still out.

    As an adopted person, I know full well that our genes play a much bigger role in who we are & what we become than most people think. Ethology, the now much maligned study of animal behaviour, is a very interesting discipline that’s well poking your nose into. A book called ‘On Aggression’ by Konrad Lorenz is a great place to start.

    By the way, it was a hell of a struggle, but I finally managed to make my peace with my sometimes frightening shadows. Living your life with internalized guilt about some of your contradictory & quirky characteristics in order to conform to some abstract & partisan norm, is no fun at all. I’m a bloody animal coated in a very thin, civilizing layer of bullshit, so scratch me at your peril.

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