In the 1970s, the third Labour Government of New Zealand (1972-75) under Prime Minister Norman Kirk was reportedly known for its strong social conscience in both international and domestic affairs (Govt Whips Office 1974, Bassett 1978, Hayward 1981). The government confronted the global nuclear arms race by strong opposition to French testing in the Pacific. As a nation, New Zealand sponsored non-proliferation measures such as the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone (later embodied in the Rarotonga Treaty of 1986) and South Pacific Environmental programme. The Labour Government ended national conscription and New Zealand’s contribution to the Vietnam War upon coming to power in 1972. Notably also, they cancelled the visas of a visiting Springboks in early 1974 to show its opposition to the regime of apartheid in that country. On the domestic front, it demonstrated its commitment to environmental protection by setting up a Royal Commission on Nuclear Power in 1974, and the establishment of the Guardians of the Rotorua Lakes and Lake Manapouri (both 1973).
In October 1974, the Labour Government announced the establishment of the ohu scheme for groups of New Zealand citizens willing to set up alternative communities in rural areas.
The purposes of the scheme
- To assist people in becoming self-sufficient from the land.
- To enhance people's spiritual and social wellbeing.
- To reconnect people to the land.
- To give people a chance to develop alternative social models.
- To provide a communal environment as a potential antidote "to the ills of modern society[...]" (Hayward 1981 p.173.)
- The promotion of the virtues of a simpler life (Hayward 1981, p. 173).
- To be a place of healing for participants as well as for society as a whole.
Important views on the place of ohu in Māori development
The Minister for Lands, Matiu Rata, also emphasised the social implications of this alternative land settlement scheme. For Rata, the scheme had a strong Māori spiritual dimension: "For some time now I have been concerned with the needs of that section of society that has worked so hard to gain social, economic and cultural integrity while trying to maintain spiritual and cultural strength and self-respect. I refer of course, to the Māori section of our society". (Matiu Rata to the Ohu Working Party, August 1974).
- Over 30 sites were approved by the government for the establishment of ohu.
- Many of these sites were reportedly of poor quality.
- Four groups were originally established, but only one remains to this day. It is generally viewed as an alternative, fringe community.
- When the National government took over in 1975 the scheme was not a priority. Eventually it was done away with altogether (Parr, 2005).