Why were Maori excluded?

I visited the South Australian Migration Museum recently (a school holiday trip with the girls). There were some fascinating exhibits, including one about the 1903 Naturalisation Act in Australia, which of course, functioned to keep “undesirables” out of the great white nation.

The Act has some rules about who may, or may not, become naturalised citizens of Australia. The people who could become citizens included:

A person resident in the Commonwealth, not being a British subject, and not being an Aboriginal native of Asia, Africa, or the Islands of the Pacific, excepting New Zealand, who intends to settle in the Commonwealth…

Emphasis mine.

So why were Maori acceptable? I had a dig around on google, and the Australian Federal parliament site, but I couldn’t find anything. It would be interesting to know the reasoning of the framers of the Act. I speculate that it may be because Maori were already sitting in the New Zealand parliament, but I don’t know. Does anyone have any idea?

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8 responses to “Why were Maori excluded?

  1. As you say, the main purpose of the act was to keep non-whites from immigrating to Australia. The Aboriginal people of Australia itself aren’t really considered in the Act. Based on my reading at the link below, at the time, people still wanted or hoped New Zealand would join the Commonwealth and be part of Australia, so Maori were excluded because they would not be immigrants. Just one theory I found, and I have no basis whatsoever for judging its validity, but it sounds plausible. http://books.google.com/books?id=L7k1yee1DYEC&pg=PA121&lpg=PA121&dq=1903+Naturalization+Act+Maori&source=bl&ots=2uNeUs1aOk&sig=8WQ4BIPozaShjLlhSNGu8w471DQ&hl=en&ei=2dRlSsbFDpSCNo3BuZ0B&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6

  2. A similar thing happened with voting rights. I found the exception a bit puzzling when I first hit it.

    The only even partial explanation I ever found was one point during the parliamentary debate on the bill where King O’Malley claimed that “An aboriginal is not as intelligent as a Maori” (see http://www.aph.gov.au/library/intguide/pol/women/Lynespeech.htm ). So I don’t think it can be because of potentially joining the Commonwealth – there seems to have been a more general favour shown even by committed racists of the time.

  3. The New Zealand Maori were highly regarded by the British and were granted the full rights of British citizens from February 6 1840.

    Maori men received the full voting franchise in 1867, before even many settler men received the franchise.

    By contrast, indigenous Australians were not even legally citizens until a 1967 (yes, 1967!) referendum and were not able to vote until 1969 (yes, 1969!).

    There was substantial intermarriage in NZ even before 1840, whereas even today there is virtually no intermarriage between indigenous Australians and other Australians.

    Thus I believe you will find that the reason for the exemption is the legal fact that Maori were full citizens of the Empire at the time and had been for 63 years prior.

    No other indigenous people in the many countries controlled by Britain enjoyed such legal status.

  4. I suspect Michael provides part of the answer: there were definite hierarchies of racism as applied to indigenous people within the British Empire, and Maori were probably near the top, which also explains the – relatively – favourable treatment within NZ that poneke points out.

    Recent commentators on the Naturalisation Act and/or Franchise Act seem to support Adele’s theory: given that Maori enjoyed certain rights in New Zealand AND it was hoped NZ would join the Federation, then it was probably sensible to have consistent treatment of them under equivalent Australian legislation.

    The only problem with this explanation is that it doesn’t seem to be consistently applied. For example, Maori had access to the Age Pension in NZ, but were excluded, along with other native peoples, from access to the Australian pension. Perhaps by 1908 (when the Australian pension legislation was enacted) people had given up hope that NZ would join the Federation, so the rationale for consistent treatment had evaporated.

  5. By contrast, indigenous Australians were not even legally citizens until a 1967 (yes, 1967!) referendum and were not able to vote until 1969 (yes, 1969!).

    Dear Lord.

  6. Actually, Aborigines were entitled to vote in elections in some colonies/States as early as the nineteenth century. In 1949, entitlement to vote in federal elections was extended to those Aborigines enrolled to vote in State elections (this effectively excluded Aborigines in Queensland and WA) and those who’d served in the armed forces. All indigenous Australians were given the right to vote in federal elections in 1962.

    The 1967 referendum was legally about neither citizenship nor the franchise. It amended the Constitution to allow the federal government to make special laws with respect to indigenous Australians and to allow indigenous Australians to be counted in the Census

  7. Do you mean to be counted in the census at all, or identified as Aborigines?

  8. Well, to be precise, s 127 of the Constitution said ‘in reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, Aboriginal natives shall not be counted’. It was this section that the referendum removed.

    Under the section, Aboriginal people were in fact ‘counted’, but just excluded from the official reckoning. So every census did inquire as to each person’s ‘origin’, which then enabled the authorities to exclude people from the final ‘reckoning’ as required by s 127.