Sir Graham Latimer: Treaty settlements leader dies at 90

A National Party stalwart, Sir Graham drew the ire of Maori radicals.

Maori leader and prominent Northlander Sir Graham Latimer has died, aged 90.

Sir Graham is a former vice-president of the National Party and was chairman of the NZ Maori Council for much of its existence.

Created in 1962 under the Maori Welfare Act, its main purpose was to provide advice to then National government on Maori policy. As the four Maori MPs were in the Labour opposition, the government did not see them as a source of impartial advice.

Sir Graham, who was knighted in 1980, joined the council in 1964 and became vice-president in 1969. He assumed the presidency in 1973 and held that position until he retired in 2012.

In 1977, he was appointed one of the first three members of the Waitangi Tribunal. He was chairman of the Crown Forest Rental Trust from 1990 and a member of the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission from 1993-98.

He retrieved tūpuna Māori from an English auction house in 1988 and stopped the public sale of human remains.

He was active in the Anglican General Synod, on the board of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, a member of the Alcoholic Liquor Advisory Council and was a director of several commercial enterprises.

He stood unsuccessfully for National in the Northern Maori electorate in 1969 and 1972 and was the party's Māori vice-president from 1981-92.

In 1987, Sir Graham initiated a successful appeal against the State Owned Enterprises Act, which led to a series of actions against the Crown, covering land, forests, fisheries and te reo Maori.

In 1995, he was convicted on tax negligence charges, prompting calls from Winston Peters that Sir Graham’s knighthood be removed (it wasn’t).

In 2011, Sir Graham was one of two defendants brought before the High Court in Whangarei in a case involving excessive fees for advice on the development of 616 hectares of land in Mangawhai North ceded to Ngati Whatua in a 2002 Treaty of Waitangi settlement.

The judge ruled in the defendants’ favour but commented that he could not objectively describe their actions as reasonable.

A 2002 biography by Noel Harrison – launched at Parliament by Helen Clark – describes Sir Graham’s rise from rural poverty in the Far North to membership of J Force (occupying Japan), a station master's job with New Zealand Railways and then becoming a farmer.

Though despised by radical Maori academics as a conservative, he was instrumental in gaining the support of National governments for the Treaty settlement process from the late 1970s onward.

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