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Sir Graham leaves tremendous legacy for Maori and New Zealand

Opinion Piece

THE death of Sir Graham Latimer at the age of 90 is a huge loss for Maori but they have the consolation of knowing he has left a tremendous legacy for them and the whole of New Zealand.

Sir Graham’s greatest achievement was to go to the Privy Council and successfully fight for changes to the State Owned Enterprises Act, which was amended so that land transferred from the Crown to SOEs was available for Treaty of Waitangi claims.

His quiet determination was shown by the fact he mortgaged his Northland dairy farm to pay the legal costs.

In fact the Treaty was at the cornerstone of much of what he did. He was one of the first three members of the Waitangi Tribunal and served as chairman of the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission as well as chairing the Crown Forest Rental Trust.

One of his most popular successes and a pointer to his commitment to his people came in 1987 when he was able to retrieve Maori taonga and prevent their sale by a major English auction house.

By Maori standards he was regarded as a conservative. His main power base for more than 40 years was the New Zealand Maori Council that he chaired for much of that time. He was also a long-time member of the National Party and the Synod of the Anglican Church.

Sir Graham fought for pan-Maori rather than tribal gains. He also had the ability to reach out and won the respect of what could be described as the more radical element of Maori society — as a tribute on television from Titiwhai Harawira last night showed.

Former Cabinet Minister Shane Jones said that he had never encountered a craftier politician.

Sir Graham realised that there were two essential sides to Maori, the cultural one and the commercial aspect that had to be developed within the framework of tikanga and kaupapa.

He was that rare individual who could effortlessly operate in both the Maori and Pakeha worlds and one of a generation that is passing on now. People like him are not easily replaced.