Ralph Hanan (1909-1969) was born in Invercargill. After an early career in the law he was elected to Parliament in 1946 as the National Member for Invercargill. In 1960 he became Attorney-General, Minister of Justice and Minister of Maori Affairs.
In his administration of the Māori affairs portfolio, Hanan generally showed understanding of Māori interests and aspirations. However, he acknowledged that some of his legislation, like the Maori Affairs Amendment Act 1967, was not widely accepted by Māori.
Hanan's major contribution to race relations was the Maori Affairs Amendment Act 1967. It was influenced by the 1960 Hunn report and the 1965 Prichard/Waetford report, which showed that Māori economic development was held back by multiple ownership and splitting up Māori land.
Both reports claimed the solution was for Māori to be fully integrated into European society, with any legal distinctions removed. But they seriously underestimated the symbolic importance of land to Māori - however fragmented and uneconomical - and the cultural and spiritual importance of tūrangawaewae (a place to stand, or ancestral lands).
The Act also aimed to "Europeanise" Māori land titles, to solve the problem of fragmented title and uneconomic interests. "Outdated" restrictions on the sale of Māori land would be removed. Perhaps most controversially, the compulsory acquisition of small land interests considered "uneconomic" was also authorised.
Māori bitterly opposed the Act. They feared that it would bring more land loss. Hanan claimed that the Act encouraged equality between the races by removing what he called outmoded and racially based legislative distinctions. Mrs Tirikatene-Sullivan, the Labour Member for Southern Maori, stated that this was "nothing more than sugar-coating on an otherwise bitter pill of accelerated alienation of Maori land". Many Māori also felt that multiple land ownership did not necessarily prevent profitable or efficient land use, as evidenced by the Mangatu Incorporation on the East Coast. The 1967 Act was amended by the Labour government in 1974.
Adapted from the DNZB biography by G. P. Barton