Māori deserve better than the RBNZ’s cultural appropriation

Dr Oliver Hartwich
Insights Newsletter
17 June, 2022

Pick your favourite bit of bad economic news. How about a 10 percent hike in food prices? 8.6 percent US inflation? Or the stock market crash?

The Reserve Bank Governor should be all over the fragile state of the world economy. Surely, he will figure out how to reduce the RBNZ's settlement balance of more than $40 billion. You would think now is the time to talk to other central banks about avoiding monetary Armageddon.

But you would be wrong to assume any of this. Because at the Central Banking Global Summer Meetings, Governor Adrian Orr delivered an entirely different speech: “Why we embraced Te Ao Māori”.

“Te Ao Māori view encourages us to think holistically and long-term,” explained the Governor.

He went on to declare that “We seek to implement our legislated purpose through the concept of Matangirua ki Matangireia – working in unison, to fulfil our ultimate purpose.”

He then elaborated on that the RBNZ has “also refreshed our values through a reconceptualisation through Te Ao Māori” with the values of wānanga, tauira and taura.

And once again, the Governor likened his bank to the “Tāne Mahuta of New Zealand’s financial landscape.”

In the past, the RBNZ has been criticised for losing focus on its core responsibility of maintaining price stability.

But what I find even more objectionable about the Governor’s speech is something different.

Here is the Reserve Bank that has burdened taxpayers with billions of losses from its quantitative easing programme. That is costing all of us through inflation. Which has dangerously overheated the economy with its ultra-loose monetary policy.

By claiming that his Reserve Bank follows Te Ao Māori principles, the Governor implicitly holds Māori responsible for these outcomes.

If I were Māori, I would find this offensive. Because it is all wrong, and Te Ao Māori has nothing to do with the RBNZ’s mismanagement.

There is nothing holistic or long-term about the RBNZ’s loose policies which got us here. The RBNZ is no strong Tāne Mahuta either. If it was a plant, it would be more of a Pua o te Rēinga, a parasitic flowering plant, rather than a strong Kauri tree.

And as for its proclaimed wānanga, tauira and taura values, well, what is innovative, inclusive or honest about pushing up inflation?

By its cultural appropriation of Te Ao Māori, the RBNZ is abusing Māori concepts. It portrays them in a bad light, but it is not living up to them.

Of all the things one could criticise about the RBNZ’s statements about Te Ao Māori, that is probably the worst. Apart from the fact that Māori are among the groups worst affected by our cost-of-living crisis, of course.

Māori are not responsible for a central bank that has lost its way.

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