Orewa Speech

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Don Brash, then newly installed as Leader of the Opposition, used the Orewa Speech to broach the topic of Māori-Pākehā relations.

The Orewa Speech was a speech delivered by the then-leader of the New Zealand National Party Don Brash to the Orewa Rotary Club on 27 January 2004. It addressed the theme of race relations in New Zealand and in particular the special status of Māori people. Brash approached the once-taboo subject by advocating 'one rule for all'[1] and ending what he saw as the Māori's special privileges.


Brash covered many aspects of Māori-Pākehā relations in his speech. He criticized policies he believed to be separatist, such as required levels of iwi representation on district health boards and the allocation of Māori electorate seats in Parliament – something he labelled an “anachronism.” The speech made particular reference to the Labour Party’s stance on the Foreshore and Seabed Act, which Brash disagreed with. He also questioned the use of Māori spiritual traditions in official events and the open-ended nature of the treaty settlement process.[2]


The speech was criticised not so much for its substance but for a perceived political intent behind it. It was widely claimed that Brash was "playing the race card",[3] winning support for his party by fuelling racist sentiment toward Māoridom.[citation needed] The speech itself was framed in terms of equality and pragmatism, arguing for dispensing with affirmative action programmes and poorly understood references in legislation to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, and ending the alleged "Treaty of Waitangi Grievance Industry". His speech was criticised by lecturer and political writer Jon Johansson: "Whether intended or not, the Orewa speech reinforced the ignorant and racist stereotype that Māori were 'savages' before the 'gift' of European civilisation was visited upon them."[4]

The speech resulted in a major surge for the National Party, which had been languishing from an overwhelming defeat at the 2002 election. From 28% in the polls a month before the speech, the National Party jumped to 45% two weeks after it: ten points ahead of Labour.[5]

Polls showed that many Māori were comfortable with Brash's speech, and the National Party threw its support behind it, but Georgina te Heuheu was removed as National's Māori Affairs spokeswoman after criticising it.[6] It was instrumental in establishing a public profile for Don Brash, who had only recently become the party's leader.

Subsequent to the speech, Brash's catch-cry "need not race" was taken up by the other side of the political divide, the governing Labour-Progressive coalition. An audit of government programmes was put in place to determine whether there were race-based programmes where need-based programmes would suffice.

Several former New Zealand Prime Ministers have criticized the speech in the time since its delivery. Jim Bolger said in an interview published in 2017 it was in the same “frame” as Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, and that “some people follow absurdities.” Ex Prime Minister Helen Clark (Labour) said of Brash’s motives that “he would’ve done a lot of opinion polling on that, and knew it would strike a chord.”[7]


Brash returned to Orewa on 25 January 2005, hoping to capitalise on the previous year's success, and gave a speech on social welfare and on welfare dependency. This speech, dubbed Orewa 2, failed to generate the publicity of the original. The speech also caused the removal of National's social-welfare spokesperson Katherine Rich, because she failed to endorse it. Brash has returned to make annual 'Orewa speeches' every year since, on a wide range of topics.

Nicky Hager's 2006 book The Hollow Men claims that the speech was written, in part, by Michael Bassett, a claim denied by Bassett.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cumming, Geoff (4 February 2004). "Non-Maori say they've had enough". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
  2. ^ "NATIONHOOD - Don Brash Speech Orewa Rotary Club | Scoop News". www.scoop.co.nz. Retrieved 2018-05-15.
  3. ^ Armstrong, John (21 February 2004). "Don Brash tells: Why I played the race card". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
  4. ^ Johansson, Jon (December 2004). "Orewa and the Rhetoric of Illusion". Political Science. 56 (2).
  5. ^ "Poll puts National ahead of Labour". New Zealand Herald. 15 February 2004. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
  6. ^ Berry, Ruth (4 February 2004). "No surrender vows te Heuheu as she loses role". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
  7. ^ Espiner, Guyon (2017). The 9th Floor. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books. pp. 116, 199.

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