Wonderful news, the Government is going to apologise for the dawn raids in the 1970s that targeted Pacifica.
I was a young teenager at the time and I grew up in Mangere. I went to a Catholic School and attended a Catholic Church. My father worked in engineering shops and factories and for a time as a Union Organiser for the Engineers Union. My parents were core activists in the Mangere Labour Party. Pacifica were core parts of all of these networks.
The events at the time were harrowning and now are completely horrendous.
The forces of the state were used to harass and terrify an important part of our community because of where they may have been born and because of the colour of their skin.
It seared their recollections of the time. When I speak to older Samoans and Tongans who have been in New Zealand since the 1960s they all talk about the dawn raids and the effect it had on them. They had come to New Zealand with the best of intentions, worked in our factories and our hospitals and our workshops. They wanted to raise their families here and support their families back home. But they were targeted because of where they were born and the colour of their skin.
NZ History has this harrowing description:
The dawn raids began in the 1970s in Auckland. They represent a low point in the relationship between the government and the Pacific community. It was a time when the New Zealand Police was instructed by the government to enter homes and/or stop people on the street and ask for permits, visas, passports – anything that proved a person’s right to be in the country. This blunt instrument was applied almost exclusively to Pacific Islanders, even though during the 1970s and into the 1980s the bulk of overstayers (individuals who remained in New Zealand after the expiry of their visas) were from Europe or North America.
Melani Anae describes the social and political climate during the 1970s as one of ‘racial tension and unrest as police and immigration authorities victimised Pacific Islanders they suspected of abusing the terms of their visas.’ The Immigration Act 1964 was used to crack down on overstayers. A 1968 amendment to the Act allowed for the deportation of those who had overstayed their work permits. Section 33(a) gave police the power to ask people to produce not only a valid passport, but also a permit to enter and remain temporarily in New Zealand, as well as other evidence of identity. In 1974, the Norman Kirk-led Labour government used this Act to focus on Samoans and Tongans, who did not have free entry to New Zealand, unlike Niueans, Tokelauans and Cook Islanders, whose territories were (and still are) part of the Realm of New Zealand.
The government also approved the formation of two police taskforces to address fears about Polynesian-incited violence in Auckland’s inner-city streets. In March 1974, police and immigration officials began raiding Tongan households. Church services were also interrupted, and the raids produced a sense of shame, fear and uncertainty.
The election of a National government at the end of 1975 was followed by a fresh wave of raids against Pacific Island communities. Under the leadership of Robert Muldoon, the National Party had drawn on racist stereotypes during the election campaign. National set an immigration target of 5,000 (down from 30,000) and was accused of stoking fears about immigration in order to win power. Joris de Bres, a later Race Relations Commissioner, wrote in New Zealand Monthly Review in 1976 that National had been ‘guilty of the most grave distortions and thoroughly dishonest appeals to racism in the New Zealand population’. In the same year, the Auckland Star quoted Justice Graham Speight as saying, ‘one must have the gravest anxiety as to the placement of these unsophisticated people in an environment which they are totally unfitted to cope with.’
Commissioner of Police Ken Burnside ordered Auckland-based Superintendent A.K. Berriman to set up special squads in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland to carry out raids. The police’s powers were broad. Random checks (‘blitzes’) were carried out at any time of the day or night. Those targeted included ‘drinkers in pubs, passengers at taxi ranks, pedestrians on Auckland streets, workers in factories, New Zealand-born Polynesians, university students, Māori’. In many ways the attention given to ‘dawn raids’ was misleading – they were more widespread than that. Joris de Bres described the effects of such a broad-brush approach: ‘The figures I recall were more than one thousand people were stopped and less than twenty [overstayers] were found.
To be clear Labour does not avoid criticism. But National weaponised the response and the politics.
This is why yesterday’s announcement is so important. Aupito William Sio, to my mind one of Labour’s best MPs, gave this most touching of speeches at yesterday’s post cabinet press conference.
There is to be a formal apology on the 24th of June at the Auckland Town Hall. I suspect this will be a once in a lifetime event.