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New Zealand's Māori economy: a powerful force in the Kiwi success story

This year's Matariki or Māori New Year Festival marked a major milestone for both Māori business and the New Zealand economy.

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Early in the festival Tainui Group Holdings, the commercial arm of the Waikato-Tainui Iwi – Iwi is Māori  for tribe - reported its assets rose over NZ$1 billion for the first time. 

This made the North Island's Tainui the second Iwi to report assets worth more than $NZ1 billion after the South Island's Ngai Tahu achieved the feat last year. 

"Surpassing the $1 billion mark in total asset value is a milestone of which we can and should be proud," said Rahui Papa, the Chairman of Te Aratura o Waikato-Tainui.

Papa pointed out the result came on the 20th anniversary of the settlement of Tainui's Treaty of Waitangi claim in 1995 when the Government awarded the Iwi $NZ170 million in compensation for lands taken by the Government in 1860. 

"When you consider where we have come from as an Iwi, the challenges we have faced, and the value we have created to grow that initial settlement – we have made significant strides in 19 years," Papa said in releasing Tainui's annual result. 

It has been a long road for iwi since the initial settlements in the mid 1990s but the growth in assets and business activities is accelerating and changing the fabric of New Zealand's business life and economy in a way few had predicted. 

The early settlements were controversial and came after decades of political and legal action over the Treaty of Waitangi, now seen as New Zealand's foundation document. Essentially a promise in 1840 by Queen Victoria to protect Māori ownership of land, fisheries and other assets in exchange for ceding national sovereignty to Britain, it formed the basis for modern New Zealand and set it apart from other colonial societies. 

But the breaches by the Government in the form of confiscations of land in various wars through the late 1800s has since formed the basis for the settlements, which are still being negotiated for many Iwi. 

The settlements for Tainui and Ngai Tahu have become the model for turbo-charging the development of Māori communities that have historically been over-represented in the statistics for poverty, poor health, incarceration and unemployment. 

Both Iwi have benefited over the last decade in particular by investing heavily in agriculture, fisheries, tourism and commercial property, taking advantage of a longer term approach to investing and the outperformance of these sectors. 

Visitors to New Zealand are met almost immediately by this approach. Tainui invested in a joint venture with Auckland Airport and Accor that built and runs the $NZ65 million Novotel hotel just 50 metres from the front door of Auckland's International Airport. 

Opened in 2011 just before the Rugby World Cup, the 260 room hotel is benefiting from a projected doubling of tourist arrivals through the airport to 24 million a year by 2025. 

Tainui has also been a heavy investor in the fast-growing Waikato region and its urban centre of Hamilton which has grown with a surge in dairy revenues over the last decade. Tainui owns the city's biggest new shopping centre, Te Awa (The Base) and plans to develop a $NZ3.3 billion inland port, logistics and housing project on the fringes of Hamilton at Ruakura. 

Ngai Tahu has also focused on longer-term investments based on agriculture, property and tourism. It was an early and big investor in retirement village owner and operator Ryman Healthcare, which has been one of the stock market's star performers of the last decade.  It also owns parts or all of some of New Zealand's best-known tourism attractions, including Queenstown's Shotover JetTaupo's Huka Falls JetRotorua's Agrodome and Kaikoura's Whalewatch

Ngai Tahu is also a major player in the South Island's property development and farming sectors including housing developments around Christchurch and 83,600 hectares of rural land, including dairying, beef and sheep. 

A good example of the focus on the developing agricultural businesses is the shared investment earlier this year by Tainui and Ngai Tahu in Waikato Milking Systems, which makes increasingly automated milking shed systems. 

Both Iwi pride themselves on a longer term and more sustainable approach to farming and land use which is helping drive the debate nationally about the use of water, fertilizer and the condition of waterways. 

"We operate as a smart intergenerational investor with a strong commitment to the long-term," Papa said in announcing Tainui Group Holding's net profit of $NZ23 million and its annual dividend of $NZ13.9 million. 

This lifted Tainui's total dividends to Iwi groups since 2004 to $NZ105.5 million. Of that, $NZ55 million has been returned to in the form of grants for education, health, sports, cultural and community events. 

Ngai Tahu Group reported a net profit of NZ$27.2 million last year and paid out dividends of $NZ17.3 million, lifting its total returns and investments in its members to $NZ290 million since its settlement. 

But the big Iwi corporate groups are not the only Māori businesses growing. The sector includes more than 18,000 small businesses and self-employed people. 

2010 study by BERL Economics for development agency Te Puni Kokiri estimated the asset base of the Māori economy at $NZ36.9 billion, up 18 per cent in real terms from 2006. More than half of that base was in agriculture and property, double the proportion found in New Zealand business as a whole. It found Māori-owned businesses produced $NZ22.2 billion worth of goods and services in 2010 or around 11 per cent of GDP. 

BERL forecast the Māori Economy could grow annual output by a further NZ$12 billion by 2060 and generate a further 150,000 jobs. 

BERL Chair and former CEO of Aotearoa Fisheries Robin Hapi captured the different approach to business in a recent report on the strength of the Māorieconomy

"Whanaungatanga (the importance of relationships), Kaitiakitanga (guardianship of the environment), Rangatiratanga (self-determination or Māori control of Māori assets) and Manaakitanga (care of people) are practices that Māori have sustained for many generations and these values will always be at the forefront of our business operations," Hapi said. 

Statistics New Zealand Māori Business Statistics manager Jason Attewell also pointed to this more inter-generational approach to business in a report on the sector last month. He said 96 per cent of Māori businesses had a clear mission statement while just 56 per cent of all New Zealand businesses had such a statement. 

This was reflected in Māori authorities holding 49 per cent of their assets in fixed tangible assets, compared with 28 per cent for all New Zealand businesses. 

"Sustainability and providing for future generations are likely the drivers behind the physical-asset-based businesses we’re seeing in Māori authorities," Attewell said. 

The growth of the Māori economy is also reflected in the growing interest from the services sector and banking in particular. Statistics NZ's Tatauranga Umaga report for 2014 found equity made up 70 per cent of Māori authority assets, almost double that of the 37 per cent seen in all other businesses.

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All of the major banks have Māori banking relationships teams and ANZ published a Māori Business Barometer (Te Tirohanga Whānui) in the March quarter this year. 

The survey of 172 Māori businesses with a combined annual turnover of close to $NZ1 billion found 70 per cent of Maori businesses were optimistic about the next three years. 

“The survey strongly suggests we’re returning towards a golden age for Māori businesses,” Graham Turley, ANZ’s Managing Director Commercial & Agri, said at the launch of the survey.

Top photo: Akatera (Katz) Maihi - (artist with ATM).

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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