Jacinda Ardern delivering the Dawn Raids apology. (Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi)

A week ago at the Auckland Town Hall, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern delivered the Dawn Raids apology to New Zealand’s Pacific community. Here’s her full speech.


Māori address

Tēnei te mihi māhana ki a koutou katoa – ngā uri o te Moana Nui a Kiwa, kua rauika nei i raro i te kaupapa whakahirahira o te wā. 

(Warm greetings to you all — the descendants of the Pacific, who have assembled here at this time for this very important occasion.)

Tongan address

Tapu mo e Ta’ehāmai. Mo e ngaahi tu’unga ‘oku fa’a fakatapua. Kau kole ke mou tali ‘a e kole fakamolemole teu fai.

(In obeisance to the Unseen (God) and in respect of all the positions/strata/hierarchical ranks that are normally acknowledged. I ask that you accept the apology that I will give.)

Sāmoan address

Ou te tula’i atu fua o a’u o ‘ae. E ui la ua masa’a le ipu vai, ma ua agasala ma agaleaga le Malo i tagata Pasefika. Ma e lē mafai foi e timuga ona faamagalo le o’ona o le sami. Ae avea ia lo tatou gafa fa’aleagaga e māgalo ai se leo fa’atauva’a.

(I stand before you as a representative of those who did you harm. Although spilt water cannot be gathered again. And while no amount of rain can remove the bitter salt from the ocean waters, I ask you to let our spiritual connectedness soften your pain, and allow forgiveness to flow on this day.)


Welcome to you all who have come here today for this important occasion.

I stand before you as a symbol of the Crown that wronged you nearly 50 years ago.

Today is a day of solemn reflection and over the past weeks, I have particularly reflected on the story of Pacific peoples in New Zealand.

This is a lengthy story that continues to evolve. One part of this bigger story is the migration from the Pacific to Aotearoa in the 1950s and how this has shaped who we are today as a nation made up of many rich and diverse cultures.

We have experienced the Pacific Aotearoa journey shift from one of new settlement to the present-day Pacific diaspora in New Zealand, where Pacific peoples are an integral part of Aotearoa’s cultural and social fabric and are active contributors to our economic success.

However, in the multiple chapters of Pacific peoples’ story in New Zealand, the chapter of the Dawn Raids stands out as one that continues to cast a long shadow.

Discriminatory application of immigration law in 1970s

During the economic boom of the 1950s, New Zealand encouraged significant migration from the Pacific region to fill labour shortages in the manufacturing and primary production sector.

It was a time of economic prosperity and many migrated from the Pacific to New Zealand as a result.

However, at the downturn of the economy in the early 1970s, parts of our society began to see migrants as jeopardising their financial security and quality of life.

The migrants who became the focal point and scapegoat for these fears were largely Pacific peoples, and when Police and Immigration enforced immigration laws around overstaying, not everyone was targeted.

Instead, Police and Immigration officials overwhelmingly conducted raids on the homes of Pacific families.

Officials, often accompanied by dogs, undertook late night and early morning raids of homes. 

Residents in those homes were woken abruptly, physically removed from their beds and forced into Police vans to be taken for questioning.

Some were hauled to the police station to appear in court the next day barefoot, in pyjamas or in clothes loaned to them in the holding cells; others were wrongfully detained.

During what became known as the Dawn Raids period, Police also conducted random stops and checks which required any person, on request, to produce their passport or permit if there was good cause to suspect an immigration-related offence, like overstaying a permit. 

This lawful provision was exploited to racially profile those who were suspected as being overstayers, with Pacific peoples, Māori, and other people of colour randomly stopped in the street, at churches and schools, and other public places. 

I understand that, at that time, public statements were made that a passport should be carried by those who looked like and spoke like they were not born in New Zealand.

Many groups, such as the Citizens Association for Racial Equality, Ngā Tamatoa, Amnesty Aroha, and the Federation of Labour, took to the streets in protest of these actions.

A prominent youth group was the Polynesian Panthers, a social justice movement that was founded in inner-city Auckland in June 1971. This movement operated to bring awareness to the treatment of Pacific peoples and to protest Crown actions and immigration policies. 

These protests, coupled with the increasingly negative public reaction, led to the end of the Dawn Raids in 1976.

When we look back, it is now very clear that the immigration laws of the time were enforced in a discriminatory manner and that Pacific peoples were specifically targeted and racially profiled when these activities were carried out. 

The statistics are undeniable. 

There were no reported raids on any homes of people who were not Pacific; no raids or random stops were exacted towards European people.

Following an inquiry report of the then Race Relations Conciliator, Walter Hirsh, in 1986, it was found that while Pacific peoples comprised roughly a third of overstayers, they represented 86 percent of all prosecutions.

During the same period, overstayers from the United States and Great Britain, who, together, also comprised roughly a third of overstayers, made up only 5 percent of prosecutions.

These Tongan women were among the hundreds of Pacific people who turned up to hear the apology in Auckland. (Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi)

Apology statement 

While these events took place almost 50 years ago, the legacy of the Dawn Raids era lives on today in Pacific communities.

It remains vividly etched in the memory of those who were directly impacted; it lives on in the disruption of trust and faith in authorities, and it lives on in the unresolved grievances of Pacific communities that these events happened and that to this day they have gone unaddressed.

Today, I stand on behalf of the New Zealand Government to offer a formal and unreserved apology to Pacific communities for the discriminatory implementation of the immigration laws of the 1970s that led to the events of the Dawn Raids. 

The government expresses its sorrow, remorse, and regret that the Dawn Raids and random police checks occurred and that these actions were ever considered appropriate.

Our government conveys to the future generations of Aotearoa that the past actions of the Crown were wrong, and that the treatment of your ancestors was wrong. We convey to you our deepest and sincerest apology.

We also apologise for the impact that these events have had on other peoples, such as Māori and other ethnic communities, who were unfairly targeted and impacted by the random Police checks of the time.

We acknowledge the distress and hurt that these experiences would have caused. 

New Zealand’s human rights commitments

As a nation, we expect everyone in New Zealand to be treated with dignity and respect and we expect that all individuals are guaranteed their rights without distinction of any kind.

Unfortunately, these expectations were not met in this case and inequities that stem from direct and indirect discrimination continue to exist.

We’re committed to eliminating racism in all its forms in Aotearoa New Zealand and affording everyone the right to be treated humanely and with respect and with dignity.

I want to emphasise that under our current immigration compliance regime, the government no longer prioritises compliance activity and deportation on the basis of ethnicity or nationality, but instead seeks to address potential risks to the New Zealand community and the integrity of the immigration system.

Pacific context — reconciliation

As a government we want to honour Pacific ways of seeking reconciliation. We understand that Pacific practices and protocols vary, but the common thread that underpins these practices is the expectation of reconciliation that is meaningful, genuine and that restores the balance from past wrongs. 

We want our apology to be in a manner that has meaning to Pacific peoples.

I also hope that our presence and apology here today helps weave together our connections as people.

Gestures to accompany the apology

But I understand that in many cultures, including in Pacific cultures, words alone are not sufficient to convey an apology and it is appropriate to include tangible gestures of goodwill and reconciliation.

We acknowledge the enduring hurt that has been caused to those who were directly affected by the Dawn Raids, as well as the lasting impact these events have had on subsequent generations.

I have heard that, for many people, the hurt was so deep that nearly 50 years later it’s a struggle to talk about.

We recognise that no gestures can mend this hurt.

However, we hope that the gestures I am about to outline are accepted as a way of expressing our deepest sorrow whilst recognising the wrongs of the past, to pave a new dawn, and a new beginning for the Pacific peoples of New Zealand.

As a government, we commit to the following gestures of goodwill and reconciliation to our Pacific communities:

We will support the development of an historical account of the Dawn Raids which can be used for education purposes.

As part of this, the community will have the opportunity to come forward and share their experiences.

May the process of gathering an official historic account from written records and oral history provide an opportunity for Pacific peoples to begin a new journey of healing that, we hope, will help restore mana.

We will ensure resources are available to schools and kura who choose to teach the history of the Dawn Raids, which would include histories of those directly affected.

May this opportunity help future generations gain knowledge and understanding that will help them ensure the mistakes of the past are not ever repeated again.

We will provide $2.1 million in education scholarships and fellowships to Pacific communities in New Zealand.

May this gesture provide opportunities for the pursuit of tertiary education on subjects that will build confidence and pride in Pacific peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand.

And we will provide $1 million in Manaaki New Zealand Short Term Training Scholarships for young leaders from Sāmoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Fiji.

May these opportunities grow Pacific leadership that is confident and proud.

Closing comments

Almost 50 years on from the Dawn Raids, the Pacific story continues to shift.

This chapter sees a Pacific Aotearoa that is self-assured, thriving, prosperous and resilient.

We hope that today has brought some much-needed closure and healing for our Pacific communities and that it will enable us to keep growing together as a community and as a nation.

Once again, my deepest acknowledgements and respects to all those who were directly affected by the harms caused during the Dawn Raids, including those who continue to suffer the scars.

My acknowledgements and gratitude to the many individuals and organisations who stood up for justice, called out the Dawn Raids for what they were, supported Pacific peoples throughout, and championed the need for an apology.

It is my sincere hope that this apology will go some way in helping the Pacific youth of today know, with certainty, that they have every right to hold their head up high, and feel confident and proud of their Pacific heritage, and in particular the sacrifices their parents and grandparents have made for Aotearoa New Zealand.

May my words today be received in the Spirit of Humility that I convey them.

‘Ofa atu. Alofa atu.

No reira, Tena Koutou. Tena Koutou. Tena Koutou Katoa.

Kia kaha. Fa’afetai. Malo ‘aupito. Meitaki maata. Fakaue lahi!


© E-Tangata, 2021

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