Māori were the first inhabitants of New Zealand or Aotearoa, meaning 'Land of the Long White Cloud'. Estimated to have come from East Polynesia in the thirteenth century, Māori today constitute approximately 17.5 per cent of the present New Zealand population, a 3.8 per cent increase from 2006. With one in seven New Zealanders of Māori descent, Māori are the second largest ethnic group in New Zealand.

Māori, however, continue to experience disproportionately high levels of disadvantage. The UN Committee on Racial Discrimination commented on the ongoing discrimination experienced by the Māori community. This was affirmed by the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which reviewed New Zealand for the second time in 2013. The UPR concluding report noted that Māori experience discrimination in a range of spheres, but highlighted in particular their continued over-representation in the criminal justice system, as both offenders and victims.

A number of positive initiatives have been developed to address some of these areas of disadvantage. For example, since the adoption of the Drivers of Crime initiative, a project developed to reduce Māori offending and reoffending, the number of young Māori appearing in court has reduced by 30 per cent over the last two years. The government also launched the Youth Crime Action Plan in 2013, aiming to reduce crime and recidivism for young Māori. The 2013 census results also indicate that more Māori are achieving formal qualifications at university, with over 36,000 stating a bachelor's degree or higher as their highest qualification – a more than 50 per cent increase since 2006.

Minorities in New Zealand

There are more than 22 different Pacific communities in New Zealand. While Samoans constitute the largest Pacific community, there are also substantial numbers of Cook Islanders, Fijians, Niueans, Tokelauans and Tongans, with smaller numbers from Kiribati, the small islands of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Due to high birth rates, it is estimated that Pacific peoples will amount to 10 per cent of the population by 2026, up from 6.5 per cent in 2001.

The Asian population of New Zealand is also growing, from 6.6 per cent of the population in 2001 to 11.8 per cent in 2013, with statisticians indicating that should current trends continue, the number of Asians in New Zealand will in future outnumber Māori. In Auckland, 23 per cent of the city's residents identify as Asian.

The UN has noted that there is persistent discrimination against minority groups, including Pacific peoples and migrant Asian communities. In 2013 the Salvation Army published its first State of the Nation report on Pacific peoples in New Zealand. The report reveals that while Pacific communities are making progress in some areas, they continue to face social, health, education and economic problems, with over 40 per cent of Pacific children living in poverty. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also noted that discrimination against Asians in the labour market has resulted in them disproportionately occupying low-paying employment.

The year 2013 saw the publication of the recommendations of the Constitutional Advisory Panel of New Zealand. The Panel found that while there was no broad support for a supreme constitution, there were calls for entrenching some elements. Importantly, in the field of ethnic relations, recommendations included a review of New Zealand's Bill of Rights Act and support for the continued development of the role and status of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Racist hate speech in New Zealand

Vilification also received prominent attention in New Zealand in 2013, due to the inflammatory statement by a Member of Parliament that Muslim and Muslim-looking men should be ethnically profiled and banned from Western airlines. The backlash from the community and politicians from all sides of the political spectrum was instant. Indeed, strong statements were issued by both the nation's Minister of Justice and Ethnic Affairs and the Race Relations Commissioner, while a Green Party call in support of tolerance was supported unanimously by parliament.

There are two provisions in the New Zealand Human Rights Act 1993 that limit freedom of expression about ethnicity. Section 61 prohibits expression that is 'threatening, abusive, or insulting', and that is likely to encourage hostility towards a particular person or group on the basis of their ethnicity or national origin. Nevertheless, the courts have determined that the feelings of the 'very sensitive' should not be used to determine whether a particular expression falls within this category. Similarly, Section 131 establishes an offence in cases where there is the 'intent to excite hostility or ill will against, or bring into contempt or ridicule'. However, this criminal provision has been applied only infrequently and needs the approval of the Attorney General to prosecute. While there is currently an absence of a comprehensive strategy to address incitement to ethnic hatred committed on the internet, the New Zealand government has committed to developing legislation in this field.

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