Discussion paper

An Indigenous Approach to the Living Standards Framework (DP 19/01)


This paper is part of a series of discussion papers on wellbeing in the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework. The discussion papers are not the Treasury’s position on measuring intergenerational wellbeing and its sustainability in New Zealand.

Our intention is to encourage discussion on these topics. There are marked differences in perspective between the papers that reflect differences in the subject matter as well as differences in the state of knowledge. The Treasury very much welcomes comments on these papers to help inform our ongoing development of the Living Standards Framework.

Executive Summary#

The move by the Treasury to explore ways to view national wellbeing as representing more than the traditional Gross Domestic Product (GDP)-based measures is a welcome shift. However, to understand the collective impact of policies on the intergenerational wellbeing of all New Zealanders, the Living Standards Framework (LSF) cannot be blind to the things that drive us as a society: it must reflect who we are, what we value and how we can grow a shared sense of prosperity.

A new way of thinking about wellbeing has potential to benefit all New Zealanders. This paper argues that wellbeing considered from an indigenous perspective moves the public policy discourse beyond Western constructs of wellbeing and enables an improved lived experience of wellbeing for everyone.

While this paper has a focus on wellbeing for Māori specifically, it articulates a way of looking at wellbeing that can be applied to the full range of populations within Aotearoa New Zealand, and to indigenous populations universally. It offers a way of accounting for various values and beliefs that drive people's experiences of wellbeing and of responding to the needs, aspirations and interests of collectives and the individuals within them. The approach supports a holistic view of wellbeing in which people can identify for themselves the outcomes they want to have balanced or prioritised. This approach positions the public sector to advance wellbeing in a different way and look to respond to the various needs, interests and aspirations of New Zealanders.

Although the LSF is intended as a decision-making tool to influence the stocks and flows of capitals that represent the potential drivers of future wellbeing, it is yet to fully develop a good description of the wider system that delivers wellbeing, and how wellbeing should be understood. This paper offers an extension to that description.

There is no one way to look at wellbeing. People view wellbeing differently depending on their values, beliefs and social norms. The way Māori view wellbeing is different from the way other New Zealanders view wellbeing. It is informed by te ao Māori (a Māori world view) where, for example, whenua (land) is not seen just for its economic potential, but through familial and spiritual connections defined by cultural concepts such as whakapapa (genealogy) and kaitiakitanga (stewardship). A te ao Māori perspective of wellbeing is also informed by life experiences - similar to that of other indigenous populations across the globe - of significant disparity and inequitable access to the tools, resources and opportunities that form the foundation to wellbeing.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Aotearoa New Zealand's founding document, puts significant weight on partnership, active protection of Māori interests and redress to address past wrongs - including ongoing disparity and inequity experienced by Māori and their ability to access and benefit from capital stocks in various forms. When taken together they convey an obligation on the Crown and Māori to work together. To do this, the Crown - Ministers, departments and other agencies - must seek to understand te ao Māori, particularly as it relates to improving the wellbeing of whānau now, and over generations to come. Fortunately, te ao Māori offers a way to consider wellbeing within a holistic, robust and long-standing system.

The indigenous approach proposed in this paper suggests one way to be clear about the linkages between the four capitals of an LSF and their contribution to current and future wellbeing. This approach provides a way to:

  • make the needed linkages between the four capitals, and the values, beliefs and practices that drive both Māori and non-Māori aspirations towards wellbeing
  • link the four capitals to a holistic set of whānau-centred outcomes that can be linked to overall wellbeing at both macro and micro levels
  • articulate a single, coherent and robust mechanism for policy-makers to appreciate those things that Māori consider to be important to their wellbeing.

Applying the indigenous approach allows the LSF to be better tailored for Aotearoa New Zealand. It also helps define a way in which decision-makers can better deploy the tools they have at their disposal to design and deliver policy that achieves improved wellbeing for New Zealanders. The approach achieves this because it is both system facing and people facing. It is uniquely able to consider wellbeing at both micro and macro levels, and enables linkages to be made between the wellbeing of whānau, the individuals within them and the communities that comprise them, and the overall concept of national wellbeing.

The approach comprises three elements:

  1. first, an acknowledgement that the drivers of wellbeing differ between diverse populations and need to be understood in their own contexts
  2. second, an indigeneity lens that provides a perspective on wellbeing that needs to be applied in order to enhance wellbeing for Māori
  3. third, a proposed set of seven wellbeing domains that describe a holistic and intergenerational way to understand wellbeing, and in which to explore the needs, aspirations and interests of populations in wellbeing.

The proposal by the Treasury to develop an LSF represents an important point in the Aotearoa New Zealand public policy discourse. It looks towards the introduction of a wider set of measures that consider the collective impact of policies on intergenerational wellbeing and presents an opportunity for Aotearoa New Zealand to debate the way that, as a nation, it considers and pursues wellbeing for its citizens. It is hoped that this discussion document will help to enrich the discussion further still.

This paper is a first step in embedding a focus on Māori wellbeing and Māori concepts of wellbeing into the LSF and, ultimately, the policy approach of the broader public sector. This will be an ongoing conversation and journey that will need to be informed by Māori and non-Māori alike. Theapproach presented here, is intended to stimulate discussion and ideas so that bespoke solutions can be applied within a range of government activity (including, for example, the focus of the Tax Working Group, and the development of indicators within the wellbeing domains to measure and drive Aotearoa New Zealand's performance) - it is a starter for conversations, not an end point. Increasing the awareness and capability of the Government to engage with an indigenous approach is the place to start to achieve progress for Māori wellbeing.


Hapori Community
Kaitiaki Guardian
Kaitiakitanga Guardianship/stewardship
Kaupapa Māori Taking a Māori approach
Koha Gift, present, offering, donation, contribution, reciprocity - especially one maintaining social relationships and has connotations of reciprocity
LSF Living Standards Framework
Mana Authoritative, prestigious, influential, charismatic
Manaakitanga Hospitality, kindness, generosity, reciprocity, support - the process of showing respect, generosity and care for others
Mātauranga Māori Traditional Māori knowledge, wisdom, understanding, skill
Mātāwaka Kinship group, tribe (often used to denote Māori living away from their tribal homeland)
Mauri The life essence
Ōtautahi Christchurch
Pou Pillar
Rāhui Prohibited, restricted, under atua protection
Rangatiratanga Ability to self-manage

Seven wellbeing

Te Puni Kōkiri's proposed view on the LSF's 12 wellbeing domains. See the chapter, “Shifting government's focus to Māori wellbeing” in particular
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Taonga tuku iho Heirloom, cultural property, heritage
Te ao Māori The Māori world
Te Puni Kōkiri Ministry for Māori Development
Tikanga Correct procedure, custom, manner, rule, protocol
Tiriti Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Treaty of Waitangi
Wāhi Location, place
Waikato-Waiariki Hamilton-Bay of Plenty
Wairuatanga Spirituality
Whakapapa Genealogy
Whānau A collective of people connected through a common ancestor (whakapapa) or as the result of a common purpose (kaupapa)
Whānau Ora Wellbeing from a whānau-centred approach
Whanaungatanga Building relationships
Wharenui Main building of the marae where guests are accommodated


Te Puni Kōkiri has explored an indigenous approach on wellbeing for two key reasons:

  • Traditional thinking and approaches to public policy have not delivered wellbeing for Māori. Current wellbeing outcomes for Māori could be described as one of the most intractable public policy problems of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
  • Poor outcomes as a measure of wellbeing are common among indigenous peoples across the globe and this is of increasing concern internationally.

For New Zealanders' current and future wellbeing, Māori wellbeing needs to be significantly improved. This requires a different approach and way of thinking, given the perennially poor outcomes for Māori over many decades.

An indigenous approach offers a way to think about wellbeing within a robust and long-standing system, concerned about the wellbeing of individuals, whānau, communities, society and the natural environment in an interlinked and interdependent way. A key area where wellbeing for Māori is relevant is consideration of the Living Standards Framework (LSF). The Framework is based on four capitals - physical/financial, human, natural and social - and 12 wellbeing domains[1] which are seen as a foundation for future wellbeing.

Diverse cultural perspectives give rise to unique understandings of wellbeing and enable various perspectives to underpin a framing of wellbeing. There is good evidence that the determinants of subjective wellbeing do not vary much across cultures (Smith C. , 2018). However, it is the way in which those determinants of wellbeing are understood and interpreted that differs between cultures.

In an Aotearoa New Zealand context, the first area of focus for an indigenous approach is on the core values, beliefs and practices of Māori, which have a significant commonality. This paper challenges existing ways of thinking, and argues that an indigeneity lens is required to understand the most effective ways to achieve those determinants of subjective wellbeing for Māori. It also proposes a set of universal outcomes – described as the seven wellbeing domains – that provide the basis for a holistic and interconnected understanding of wellbeing that are calibrated by understanding the drivers of wellbeing and applying an indigeneity lens.

This paper argues that an indigenous approach should be used as a basis to understand and respond to the needs of diverse populations, suggesting an application for Māori specifically.

In particular, this paper:

  • provides some encouragement for the use of a strengths-based perspective to inform an understanding of how to improve wellbeing for New Zealanders, and Māori specifically
  • points to the need to understand and consider cultural perspectives that drive wellbeing, noting that Te Tiriti o Waitangi (te Tiriti), te ao Māori and a focus on whānau needs to drive Māori wellbeing
  • proposes a set of universal outcomes that can apply across generations - described as the seven wellbeing domains. The paper advocates that these wellbeing domains need to be understood, balanced and prioritised by looking through a cultural lens (the indigeneity lens for Māori), and in connection with the people themselves who seek improved outcomes
  • proposes an approach that, applied broadly, sees everyone as standing to benefit, and where no one would be left behind.

Finally, this paper concludes by illustrating ways to apply an indigenous approach to government priorities, strategy, budget, policy development and delivery, legislation and work on indicators and measures. This is where things need to change significantly if improved Māori wellbeing is to be achieved.


  1. [1] Income and consumption; health; knowledge and skills; cultural identity; safety and security; social connections; jobs; housing; environment; leisure; civic engagement and governance; and subjective wellbeing.

Current investment and impact#

Living Standards Framework capitals represent a measure of the stocks (and sources) of future wellbeing#

The core elements of the LSF and its four capitals (social, human, natural and financial/physical) are generic. Designed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as a tool to provide measures across nations, the LSF is intended to use a set of measures of the stocks and flows of selected indicators across four capitals to identify stocks of current and future wellbeing.

Initial thinking by the Treasury usefully acknowledges that Aotearoa New Zealand's success as a nation is significantly more complex than a measure of GDP, towards the introduction of a wider set of measures that consider the collective impact of policies on intergenerational wellbeing (The Treasury, 2018). It implies that, to identify intergenerational stocks and flows of wellbeing, there must be some consideration of the wellbeing of the individuals, whānau and communities that make up our nation. This early work also identifies the need to understand wellbeing within the complex system that makes up our society, instead of seeking to reduce wellbeing to a series of transactions.

Given the LSF is intended as a tool to provide measures across nations, and the capitals were designed in that context, it is implicit that assumptions need to be made about the value and use of these capitals for wellbeing, particularly when applying the LSF to an Aotearoa New Zealand context.

Māori currently score poorly across all monitored wellbeing measures

In the Aotearoa New Zealand context, poor outcomes for Māori have been a perennial concern for successive governments, and for the generations of whānau, hapū and iwi who experienced these outcomes. One defining characteristic of historic and current public policy is the failure to lift Māori outcomes and wellbeing.

History has seen Māori move:

  • from circumstances at the time of signing Te Tiriti where they successfully undertook international trade, re-wrote the rules of warfare with their defensive earthworks and had farming expertise that at one time fed the majority of the early settler population in Aotearoa New Zealand
  • to being a population with declining wellbeing that can be characterised as poor in relation to almost all of the measures monitored by government.

Some measures of current Māori wellbeing (a fuller summary is in Appendix 2) are:[2]

  • 51% of prison inmates are Māori
  • 61% of children in care are Māori
  • in 2016, 66.5% of Māori school leavers attained at least Level 2 National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), compared with 83.7% of European school leavers
  • 20% of Māori aged 16-25 are Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET), compared with 9% of non-Māori
  • the Māori unemployment rate is 11%, compared with 4% for non-Māori
  • Māori household net worth is $23,000, with European net household worth valued at $114,000
  • 28.2% of Māori own their own home, compared with 56.8% of Europeans.

For the sake of Aotearoa New Zealand's future wellbeing, wellbeing for Māori needs to change#

This poor performance against so many key statistics suggests that, from an LSF perspective, the current wellbeing of Māori is significantly worse than that of other New Zealanders. In LSF terms, and based on current approaches, Māori do not have the same level of capital stocks and have inequitable access to the tools, resources and opportunities that form the foundation to wellbeing. This signals the ongoing need to figure out how Māori can achieve a state of positive intergenerational wellbeing.

This is particularly so given that Māori are a predominantly youthful population. Aotearoa New Zealand population projections highlight the difference in age structures between the Māori population, compared with that of the European population. By 2028, over half of the Māori population is projected to be under the age of 30.

It is expected that this youthful Māori population will provide much of the tax revenue and labour force that the majority of today's New Zealanders will need in order to support an ageing population.

The following chart highlights the difference in projected age structures.

Comparative age structure of projected Māori and European populations in 2028


Comparative age structure of projected Māori and European populations in 2028

Source: Statistics New Zealand

A new approach is required

The statistics indicate both how Māori experience wellbeing now, and show the need to build new ways of doing things to invest in the emerging Māori population to support intergenerational wellbeing.

It is important to focus on taking a new approach to outcomes for Māori now. That is, not addressing current circumstances will have major implications for Aotearoa New Zealand's future wellbeing - ongoing economic, social and cultural performance will play a critical role in maintaining the stability and responsiveness of our society.

To achieve improvements in wellbeing for Aotearoa New Zealand, government needs to redirect its efforts and consider how wellbeing is achieved for Māori. A level of maturity is required to achieve the change needed, which in turn requires a commitment to investing in a new way of doing things.

In particular, it will be critical to focus less on the failings of Māori in terms of statistical outcomes and instead look to the potential capability within the Māori population that will support improved wellbeing. The remainder of this paper proposes an approach to support the change required.


  1. [2] These statistics are drawn from a variety of official sources. As such, there are variances in the comparator groups. Where possible, we have sought to compare Māori with non-Māori or the wider population. In cases where that was not easily achievable, the European ethnic group has been used as being representative of the largest population cohort.

Drivers of wellbeing - the broad Aotearoa New Zealand context#

The LSF capitals are valued and used differently by the diverse populations in Aotearoa New Zealand and in ways that reflect their cultural preferences and the makeup of the country. As the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress (Stiglitz, Sen, & Fitoussi, 2008) identified, there is more to wellbeing than measuring the GDP of a population. There needs to be an understanding of what drives the population to achieve better standards of wellbeing and living.

One size does not fit all - for an LSF to work in Aotearoa New Zealand it must respond to the drivers of wellbeing and the ways the various populations in Aotearoa New Zealand express their values and beliefs. These drive the diverse ways of understanding and experiencing wellbeing. An LSF must recognise the integrity of the range of values and beliefs to which the country subscribes.

Values and beliefs#

Values are a key driver of the choices people make. Beliefs and social norms inform Aotearoa New Zealand's values and relationships, playing a major role in framing the individual and collective realities of New Zealanders' lives.

These values and beliefs are created through personal experiences and preferences, religion and culture. These inform the individual and collective realities that New Zealanders experience. They can be seen through references to Aotearoa New Zealand as egalitarian, where people get a fair go, and where the “number eight wire” approach prevails.

Importantly, the degree to which decision-makers or policy-makers understand the values and beliefs of specific groups or locations plays a role in the success or failure of policies or interventions. Where policies or interventions are based on values that do not align with those of the recipient group, there is an increased risk of those policies or interventions failing.

The beliefs and norms of Māori differ from those of the wider population (Grimes, MacCullock, & McKay, 2015). The next chapter details how te ao Māori encompasses a broad and holistic set of values and beliefs that play a significant role in the way Māori perceive their place in the world, and wellbeing.


Aotearoa New Zealand is characterised by complex relationships within and across its diverse populations. For Māori, these relationships have been formed and influenced over the past two centuries by the ebb and flow of engagement between Māori and Māori, Māori and non-Māori, non-Māori and the Government, and Māori and the Government.

The depth, nature and complexity of the relationship between Māori and government are substantially different from the relationship observed between non-Māori and government. This difference is reflected in Te Tiriti and the Crown's obligations to Māori under it. In this context, it is Te Tiriti that plays a central role in defining how the Crown's relationship with Māori should be expressed, rather than whether it should exist at all.

An expectation of good and effective government is to ensure that all populations can access equitable opportunities to achieve wellbeing. The state of the relationships between government and those populations plays a role in whether or not those opportunities are appropriate.


Diversity promotes broader perspectives, encourages and values preferences, cultures and experiences. Diversity encompasses ethnicity, gender and disability, and perspectives vary within population groups in Aotearoa New Zealand, including Māori. Understanding diversity includes everyone and ensures no one is left behind.

There is a strong interest within Aotearoa New Zealand to successfully embrace biculturalism. At the same time, however, the country is experiencing increased multicultural diversity that brings new experiences, perspectives, cultures, understanding and often an increase in social acceptance and tolerance. Both are critical to a shared future.

A mature, modern and contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand welcomes diversity. It exercises its capacity to respect and uphold the cultural differences and diversity within its populations, ensuring they are appropriately recognised. The clearest leadership for this rests with government, whose work looks to develop models of excellence that work for all its constituents. There is a particular opportunity to apply this leadership by looking at the LSF through the indigenous approach proposed in this paper.

In sum…#

The drivers of wellbeing - values, beliefs and relationships, marked by diversity - underpin the framing of wellbeing. The experience of the drivers is different for all population groups and needs to be understood on their terms - the understanding should resonate with the target population. Māori will have a particular experience of the drivers, and these will also differ between iwi, hapū and whānau (and the individuals within them). A rich Aotearoa New Zealand embraces the experiences of wellbeing of its diverse populations so that wellbeing is realised for everyone.

The proposed indigeneity lens#

A wellbeing framework that truly reflects Aotearoa New Zealand must have the capacity to look at wellbeing from the perspective of different populations, and therefore must include an indigeneity lens to address wellbeing for Māori.

Te Tiriti is the foundation of modern Aotearoa New Zealand, with the partnership forged between Māori and the Crown representing an agreement for those two parties to work together to shape a new nation.

The perspectives of both parties to Te Tiriti need to be heard and respected for Aotearoa New Zealand to reach its potential. An indigeneity lens supports the Government to understand and respect wellbeing for Māori. The meeting of indigenous and Western thought (and the identification of areas of both difference and commonality between them) is critical to successfully moving towards sustainable, intergenerational wellbeing and strengthening our identity as a nation.

For Aotearoa New Zealand, it is suggested that there are three elements that comprise the indigeneity lens:

  • Te Tiriti o Waitangi
  • te ao Māori
  • whānau-centred thinking.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi#

The historical context that Te Tiriti o Waitangi sets in Aotearoa New Zealand, as well as the nature of the relationship and expectations of wellbeing that it creates for Māori, makes Te Tiriti a vital component of the indigeneity lens for interpreting and applying the LSF.

Historical context

Te Tiriti forms part of the constitutional underpinnings of all legislation, policy, systems and services developed by government for delivery to Māori. The signing of Te Tiriti led to a series of events that fundamentally changed the social, human, physical and financial landscape for Māori.

The impacts of these changes on Māori have been significant, requiring adaptation to a new set of values, beliefs, language, legal and social frameworks from the 19th century onwards. Equally, it is important to acknowledge that, in many ways, Māori views, perspectives and culture have also significantly influenced contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand culture.

This Western/Māori cultural fusion has given this country a unique set of values, beliefs and relationships forged through a shared history of “working out” our Aotearoa New Zealand identity together. These are influential in contemporary social interactions.

Nowhere is this demonstrated more clearly than in the way Te Tiriti influences the legal and legislative frameworks that govern Aotearoa New Zealand today. These frameworks require government to consider Te Tiriti, and the rights and obligations of both Māori and the Crown, in order for both parties to work together and successfully build a nation where all citizens have equitable opportunities to achieve wellbeing.

Nature of the relationship and expectations

The relationship between the Crown and Māori is based in partnership and expectations of mutual benefit. Both parties entered into the partnership of Te Tiriti (Treaty partnership) expecting to work together to shape a new nation where both cultures would be provided for, where the rights, values and needs of neither would be subsumed.[3]

Further, the Crown undertook to actively protect taonga, encompassing all those things that Māori consider important to their way of life, including fundamental values such as tino rangatiratanga.[4] In the Waitangi Tribunal's view, the Crown's duty of protection extends through Article 3 to both protecting Māori as a people and assuring Māori equal citizenship rights.[5] To give best effect to this dual assurance, a te ao Māori perspective should underpin tailored partnership approaches to achieving improved and equitable outcomes for Māori.

The unique relationship formed through Te Tiriti obliges the Crown to understand its Treaty partner, protect taonga tuku iho and ensure that outcomes for Māori are consistent with, and have an equality with, those of the population overall.[6]

In sum, considerations under Te Tiriti must inform how the Government seeks to understand and give effect to wellbeing for Māori, and inform the reasons why it needs to make a difference for wellbeing for Māori. Similarly, these considerations provide a basis to look beyond the boundaries of the LSF in considering how government can respond better and more creatively to the needs, aspirations and interests of Māori related to wellbeing.

Te ao Māori#

Within te ao Māori - the Māori world - wellbeing is not simply driven by stocks of capitals identified in the LSF. Instead, the drivers of wellbeing are considered against the values that imbue te ao Māori with a holistic perspective. These values are interconnected and span multiple aspects of wellbeing. Wellbeing results from the application of these values through knowledge, beliefs and practices.

To paraphrase the words of the Waitangi Tribunal, te ao Māori encompasses not just what is known, but also how it is known. This reflects te ao Māori ways of perceiving and understanding the world, and the values or systems of thought that underpin those perceptions (Waitangi Tribunal, 2011).

Government can improve its investment to drive wellbeing by embracing the uniqueness of te ao Māori - using it as a tool for viewing how it sees, aspires to and works towards wellbeing. Improving equality and greater access to effective support for Māori that is designed by te ao Māori will, for example, see improved wellbeing for the entire population by lifting the overall standard of living.

Wellbeing and values in te ao Māori

Pere (1986) and Durie (1994) suggest that, for Māori, wellbeing is linked to understanding the values that drive them. Understanding these te ao Māori values adds another dimension for thinking about wellbeing, including the LSF. Applying this understanding will mean that strategy, policy design and delivery will connect with whānau, hapū and iwi in ways that do not currently happen sufficiently.

Whānau, hapū and iwi values vary across Aotearoa New Zealand, informed by the range of needs, interests and aspirations they have for their own wellbeing. It is also important to acknowledge that Māori are a heterogeneous population whose perspectives are varied by separate experiences, local mātauranga and whakapapa; all of which shape their interactions with others.

So, measuring wellbeing for Māori in a meaningful way requires Māori values to shape how the LSF applies; te ao Māori should be central to designing and measuring wellbeing for Māori.

Values applied through traditional knowledge and practices

Advancing wellbeing for Māori requires an interconnected approach that recognises the broad cultural perspectives that shape experiences of, and interaction with, the world on a range of topics (Houkamau & Sibley, 2016).

Reinforcing an interconnected approach, Forster (2003) highlights that an approach that prioritises Māori maintains the integrity of mātauranga Māori and enables Māori wellbeing by recognising and acknowledging the importance of cultural practices and knowledge. This allows the application of traditional principles and values to contemporary issues.

This discussion paper, therefore, advocates the consideration of each of the four capitals (and the four capitals taken together) through values and perspectives that Māori self-identify within te ao Māori. The examples below show that, while it is possible to look at the LSF through te ao Māori, it is also possible to move beyond the descriptions of the capitals in the LSF and consider how they might instead be framed if the starting point was the world view of a discrete population within Aotearoa New Zealand:

  • Mātauranga[7] (traditional knowledge), wairuatanga (spirituality) and retaining a healthy mauri (life essence) are all key elements of human capital.
  • Tikanga, kawa and mātauranga govern the way Māori interact in their rohe and with their marae and kāinga (whanaungatanga), and with the natural environment (kaitiakitanga). Similarly, the acts of hospitality, kindness, respect, generosity and reciprocity that represent the expression of manaakitanga all build social capital.
  • An ancestral connection to the natural world is critical for Māori reflected in kaitiakitanga, and the determination to preserve the mauri and wairua of the natural environment, including water and land. This drives a focus on preserving natural capital through sustainable use for current and future generations.
  • Economic drivers in te ao Māori are seen in a wider wellbeing context, often with a focus on mana more than “economic exchange”. For example, Māori businesses that are social enterprises focus on supporting the wider wellbeing of Māori and many commercial businesses aim to benefit iwi, hapū, whānau or hapori. Further, many businesses are driven by cultural principles that shape their business models. This offers a different, yet complementary, perspective on financial/physical capital.

Applying te ao Māori to the capitals demonstrates the interconnectedness of the capitals for Māori, supported by values, mātauranga, beliefs and tikanga. Understanding and applying this to the capitals creates a view of wellbeing that is consistent with the way Māori themselves assess their wellbeing. This approach allows for analysis and government engagement on wellbeing with Māori to occur with concepts and values familiar to Māori.

In an effort to improve the situation of Māori, wellbeing driven by te ao Māori is a potential lever of both opportunity and equity. It requires the Public Service to apply te ao Māori to the design of government strategy, priorities, budgets and policy design and delivery. Such an approach in some cases requires a significant change to the way the Public Service works to improve Māori wellbeing.

While understanding and then applying te ao Māori may be challenging for government, it reflects a mature approach to the discussion of wellbeing and diversity. To support a re-framing of the Government's thinking on wellbeing in the future, Te Puni Kōkiri has a significant body of expertise that can assist the development of an approach that will be new to the public sector, but not Māori.

Whānau-centred thinking#

Māori wellbeing is whānau wellbeing. This is because whānau is the foundational unit of Māori society. They are also the fundamental building block of a collective society, including hapū and iwi (Mihaere, 2015), a source of collective strength and a driver of wellbeing. Whānau are also the critical, yet often overlooked, variable in delivering sustainable wellbeing for individuals and collectives, including for intergenerational change.

In a contemporary context, the notion of whānau is an important aspect of the way Māori live and identify themselves and their place within te ao Māori and society. Te Puni Kōkiri (2018) applies a whānau-centred philosophy and approach and advocates for government to view and improve the wellbeing of Māori through a collective family-orientated approach, with a foundation in te ao Māori. This approach reflects the structures and hierarchies observed within te ao Māori, and works to recognise the collective aspirations of a family-based group, inclusive of the individuals within it. When focused on whānau, the approach also provides an internal support system based in kaupapa Māori.

The whānau-centred approach Te Puni Kōkiri uses advances the following core characteristics:

  • a focus on whānau at the centre
  • holistic wellbeing
  • effectiveness based on outcomes
  • self-determination and autonomy
  • strengths-based methods
  • effective relationships
  • basis in te ao Māori and kaupapa Māori
  • integrated systems
  • supportive environment.

It is backed by a growing body of research that promotes a culturally responsive, whānau-centred approach to assisting better wellbeing outcomes for Māori. It also provides a platform for whānau to discuss, decide and collectively agree to the wellbeing outcomes they want to aspire to (Social Policy Evaluation and Research Unit, 2018). Māori have long called for whānau-centred approaches and view these as vitally important to achieving better outcomes. These calls can be clearly seen across multiple reports to government over many decades.

In order to achieve the wellbeing outcomes that Māori aspire to, the broader public policy discourse needs to explore how it can also take a whānau-centred approach: in particular, how the wellbeing of whānau can be facilitated by whānau and measured in ways that work for whānau. This means that a focus on the wellbeing of whānau should be considered when applying the LSF - both in seeking to understand what whānau consider wellbeing looks like and how it can be achieved. A focus on whānau will support the wellbeing of whānau, hapū and iwi, in addition to the individuals within them. This focus allows the needs, aspirations and interests of everyone to be accounted for within the wellbeing framework, through an approach that also emphasises that rangatiratanga resides within collectives.

Recognition of strength and resilience critical to a whānau-centred approach

A key platform of the whānau-centred approach is the recognition of the strength and resilience of whānau as holding untapped potential for change on the one hand, and as agents of change on the other hand.

Public policy in Aotearoa New Zealand has often been based on negative and paternalistic perspectives, particularly for Māori. This has been a result of seeking to improve outcomes through direct State intervention which ignores particular circumstances and experiences of populations.

Often these policies have been disempowering and removed rangatiratanga from those targeted by policy. Whānau have been largely ignored and the resulting policies and their delivery tend to leave individuals and whānau less resilient and more dependent on further intervention. Too often, this approach creates a cycle of dependency on the State and ultimately does little to enable the development of wellbeing.

This paper advocates that the opposite approach is required.

Wellbeing must be considered and facilitated from a strengths-based perspective allowing for and supporting whānau aspirations in their pursuit of wellbeing. This means re-framing the thinking around the four capitals to recognise that they constitute measures of the capabilities of whānau, and seeking to use these to meet whānau aspirations. It also involves focusing less on statistics that point to disparity and more on the strength and drive of whānau to improve their own wellbeing. New approaches are required to investigate and respond to that existing strength.

For Māori, a strengths-based approach located in te ao Māori creates the opportunity to take a holistic, whānau-centred view to identify, plan for and achieve outcomes for individuals and the collective.

In sum…#

In summary, the indigeneity lens is a perspective on wellbeing that the Government needs to apply to enhance wellbeing for Māori. It invites consideration and balancing of three elements: Te Tiriti o Waitangi, te ao Māori and whānau-centred thinking in order to achieve something new. The lens should be considered and applied afresh every time wellbeing is considered. Applying the lens afresh to each issue and target population is important because the beliefs, values and drivers of wellbeing will differ depending on the issue and the characteristics and development state of the population. What is right for one situation is not necessarily a good fit for the next.

The indigeneity lens presents a model that could be developed to suit the diverse populations in Aotearoa New Zealand. It enables the public sector to be responsive to the range of wellbeing aspirations, needs and interests of whānau, including the individuals within them and the collectives that whānau comprise. The indigeneity lens shows that it is possible for any population to articulate their particular context, world view and approach to wellbeing to which the public sector can respond. It implicitly authorises Aotearoa New Zealand to consider the diverse and particular ways that wellbeing is experienced within the country, and opens a conversation about how the Government could respond to ensure that equity is felt and seen, moving beyond a “one size fits all” approach that may inadvertently render some groups invisible.


  1. [3] Waitangi Tribunal, Mangonui Sewerage Claim Report (1988), p. 4.
  2. [4] Waitangi Tribunal, Muriwhenua Fishing Claim Report (1988), p. 26.
  3. [5] Waitangi Tribunal, Te Whānau o Waipareira Report (1998), p. 21.
  4. [6] A fuller description of relevant Treaty principles is set out in the section in this paper, “The Government Toolkit”.
  5. [7] Mātauranga Māori (traditional knowledge) encompasses skills and knowledge but, more importantly, it relates to those aspects of culture and identity unique to te ao Māori (Waitangi Tribunal, 2011) and is inextricably linked to the values, beliefs and perceptions of Māori across all four capitals.

Shifting government's focus to Māori wellbeing#

The role of government and the Public Service is to improve the wellbeing of all New Zealanders. Throughout Aotearoa New Zealand's history, all governments have, in their own way, sought to enhance the nation's wellbeing.

To achieve this, government sets priorities based on differing views of how to best achieve wellbeing for the nation. These priorities guide the activities of the public sector, flowing through to the policies, legislation, indicators and measures by which governments judge success.

The Living Standards Framework must accommodate shifting thinking and priorities#

For the LSF to be effective and sustainable in supporting a focus on improved wellbeing it must accommodate the pursuit of wellbeing across multiple government administrations. If successful, the LSF is a means to measure and support the achievement of sustainable, intergenerational wellbeing of all New Zealanders.

Currently, Māori seek to achieve wellbeing in an environment that is characterised by a range of complex and often arbitrary or outdated legislation, policy and operational government systems. These systems have failed to work consistently well for Māori because they have been unable to accommodate or respond to diverse world views.

The modern Māori world in which whānau live is both sacred and secular, is both adaptive and evolving and expresses itself in diverse ways. However, if current public sector practice continues, the system will remain difficult for whānau to navigate, resulting in adverse impacts on the country's wellbeing through continuously poor outcomes for Māori.

Considering national wellbeing in the context of a universal set of wellbeing domains#

The population of Aotearoa New Zealand, through government, determines the shape of the nation both now and in the future. As a tool for helping to understand the nature of wellbeing New Zealanders seek, the indigenous approach set out in this paper offers an opportunity to achieve something significant, a potential step change in wellbeing for all New Zealanders. This includes taking a view on the LSF's wellbeing domains.

Wellbeing domains that are universally applicable

The LSF views wellbeing through the connection between the LSF's 12 wellbeing domains and associated indicators and the four capitals. The thinking in relation to the LSF represents a significant advance on current considerations of wellbeing, although the LSF is still attempting to develop a view of how wellbeing can be described as a system. At present, it appears that the 12 wellbeing domains that describe how wellbeing is achieved are taken as a given, without considering how the wellbeing of individuals, whānau, hapori and society are interlinked and interdependent.

Within the context of strategic outcomes for the community decided by governments, we propose a smaller set of holistic, robust and interconnected wellbeing domains that encompass the content of the 12 LSF domains, yet articulate a positive, simpler and more cohesive picture of wellbeing that is universal and can apply across generations.

The smaller set of wellbeing domains is based on a significant body of Māori wellbeing literature, developed over many years. Māori scholars and thinkers have debated the need for, and desirable characteristics of, a holistic set of wellbeing outcomes that work toward Māori aspirations. This thinking has evolved through multiple models that draw on longitudinal studies, and has been tested by academics, leading figures within te ao Māori, service delivery experts and with whānau themselves.

The results of this thinking (Taskforce on Whanau-Centred Initiatives, 2010), (Whanau Ora Partnership Group, 2016), point to the conclusion that wellbeing is achieved for Māori and the wider community when they are:

  • cohesive, resilient and nurturing
  • confident participants in society
  • confident in language and culture
  • living healthy lifestyles
  • self-managing
  • responsive to the natural and living environment
  • economically secure and wealth creating.

This paper describes the above points as the “seven wellbeing domains” - they are interdependent and interconnected, and together describe overall wellbeing for Māori. These seven wellbeing domains look beyond the macro level (ie, the wellbeing equivalent of GDP), to the micro-level experiences and realities of whānau which are critical to wellbeing.

The seven wellbeing domains offer a perspective beyond that currently proposed for the LSF because the seven wellbeing domains are closely connected to people's real-world experience of wellbeing. Considered as a whole (eg, when they are viewed as interdependent and interconnected), they encompass the range of activity that contributes to Aotearoa New Zealand's overall wellbeing as a nation. This thinking is supported by work undertaken by Statistics New Zealand He Arotahi Tatauranga. The seven domains can give real meaning to wellbeing for various population groups in Aotearoa New Zealand - within the domains, diverse populations can describe the way in which wellbeing is achieved and how they understand and view their own drivers of wellbeing, accounting for their culture and the context in which they live and work.

The seven wellbeing domains are applicable to Māori and to the diverse populations in Aotearoa New Zealand. Similarly, they are universally applicable. They provide the ability for states to respond to the needs, aspirations and interests of their diverse populations, and to do so from an indigenous perspective that is capable of looking beyond Western constructs of wellbeing. They provide the domains under which indicators and measures of capabilities can be developed that are appropriate to the target population.

In sum…#

The proposed seven wellbeing domains provide a holistic, interconnected and intergenerational view of wellbeing. This view of wellbeing is broad enough to consider wellbeing at both macro and micro levels, including wellbeing at national, hapori or whānau levels. It accounts for views of wellbeing whether or not that view is based in a Western paradigm, and resonates with whānau and hapori. It links the LSF to an expression of wellbeing that has real meaning for diverse populations, including the individuals within them.

The breadth of the seven wellbeing domains supports a flexible view of wellbeing that can accommodate shifting thinking and priorities, enabling the wellbeing of particular populations to be considered over time. These domains expand the parameters for discourse about wellbeing for Māori, and in fact any population group, whether in Aotearoa New Zealand or abroad.

The Government Toolkit#

Governments, and the community more generally, have to take action together to deliver improved wellbeing. This action, using the “Government Toolkit” of levers for government, needs to reflect the wellbeing aspirations of the whole population, including the uniqueness of Aotearoa New Zealand and its indigenous people.

To successfully achieve improved wellbeing for Māori, the Government Toolkit needs to reflect the approach outlined in this paper. Doing this requires an understanding of the drivers of wellbeing for Māori, the application of an indigeneity lens within the Aotearoa New Zealand context and an understanding of the seven wellbeing domains for a wider view on the LSF. This paper identifies implications for utilising the following key elements of the Government Toolkit:

  • Te Tiriti o Waitangi
  • priorities
  • policy
  • legislation
  • indicators and measures.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi#

The full spectrum of government activity that drives improved wellbeing for Māori needs to consider Te Tiriti o Waitangi given it is a core part of the constitutional underpinning for Aotearoa New Zealand and is fundamental to the Crown/Māori relationship. Through a long history of legal consideration, Te Tiriti plays a significant role in the nature and scope of government engagement with Māori.

The sometimes fractious nature of the Crown/Māori relationship often involves legal challenges, which in turn give rise to a series of principles used by the Crown in relation to its obligations under Te Tiriti. These are the principles of partnership, active protection and redress.


The principle of partnership is well-established in Te Tiriti jurisprudence. Both the courts and the Waitangi Tribunal frequently refer to the concept of partnership to describe the relationship between the Crown and Māori. Partnership can be usefully regarded as an overarching principle from which other principles have been derived. Partnership requires the Crown and Māori to act reasonably, honourably and in good faith (Te Puni Kōkiri, 2011).

Active protection

The principle of active protection encompasses the Crown's obligation to take positive steps to ensure that Māori interests are protected. The duty of active protection requires vigorous action where a taonga is threatened, especially where its vulnerability can be traced to earlier breaches of Te Tiriti.

The relationship Te Tiriti envisages is founded on reasonableness, mutual cooperation and trust in carrying out its obligations. Therefore, the Crown obligation in protecting these interests should be reasonable in the prevailing circumstances. While the obligation of the Crown is constant, the protective steps which it is reasonable for the Crown to take change depending on the situation (Te Puni Kōkiri, 2011).


Generally, it is a principle of partnership, and in particular that of Te Tiriti relationship, that past wrongs give rise to the right of redress. This acknowledgment is in keeping with the fiduciary obligations inherent in the Treaty partnership (Te Puni Kōkiri, 2011).

The development and use of these principles by the Crown has continued through to the current day, where Te Tiriti is reflected in a range of existing legislation. It is often a specific factor for consideration across the spectrum of policies developed by successive governments.

In addition to its legal importance, Te Tiriti is a reflection of the spirit of cooperation and collective development that underpins te ao Māori.

The approach in this paper outlines a framework for wellbeing, for Māori in particular. As discussed above, Te Tiriti needs to inform an understanding of the drivers of wellbeing for Māori and is a critical part of the indigeneity lens. This section reinforces that Te Tiriti is a tool that also guides how the Government can enable wellbeing for Māori.


Government priorities that are driven by a clear view of wellbeing that ensures everyone has the same chance to benefit, are an important driver of change and improved wellbeing.

The setting and revision of priorities enables successive governments to advance specific policy objectives. These priorities span all areas of activity and often have a significant impact on Māori, whether by design or not. Priorities are generally driven by political interests that reflect consideration of the expectations of the electorate.

The public sector is generally tasked with developing and executing a programme of work to achieve government priorities. These then flow through to the policy and legislative programmes developed, and onto the creation of indicators and measures that are used to judge whether or not the priorities have been achieved.

Māori participation and government understanding of te ao Māori in setting priorities for achieving wellbeing have often been low. As a result, Māori are not adequately considered in, or positioned for, establishing and implementing action under the priorities. In turn, this can result in priorities and approaches that are not working effectively, and may also be inconsistent with Te Tiriti.

The indigenous approach set out in this paper would advocate that greater weight be given to priorities that would improve wellbeing for Māori, and in ways that are increasingly consistent with the Crown's Te Tiriti obligations.

Policy: Analysis and implementation#

Policy is a key tool by which government and the public sector set direction and parameters for activity. Policy development and subsequent decisions are often the triggers for legislative reform, intervention design and investment. Policy decisions usually identify the indicators and measures by which the success of changes will be measured. In this process, Māori will sometimes be engaged, particularly where Māori are considered to have a particular interest. It is important that Māori needs, aspirations, rights and interests for wellbeing trigger, shape and influence policy.

However, although Māori are significantly impacted by policy, they are not always provided an appropriate role in developing policy as a Treaty partner, or as citizens who may be a significant stakeholder in proposals - either in terms of the outcomes to be achieved or the way in which outcomes are to be achieved. This is particularly so for social and economic policies that are seen as impacting on the public more generally. This takes place despite the requirement to consider Treaty principles when developing any such proposals.

Applying an indigenous approach is a catalyst for a significant shift in thinking for policy-makers and advisors, both for designing and implementing wellbeing policy. It has significant implications for the practice, quality and efficacy of policy development and design across the public sector. A more nuanced analysis of the measures used to determine the success or failure of interventions would also occur. This shift is critical.

Legislation, including regulation#

Legislation establishes legal authority for the Public Service to carry out particular functions. Law reform is also a key mechanism to provide leadership for changing wider social norms, or for responding to changing social, economic, cultural or environmental situations.

Legislation and associated regulatory mechanisms can have significant impacts on wellbeing that can go unrecognised. The LSF, with the benefit of the proposed indigenous approach, applied to the development of legislation and regulations would ensure that wellbeing was more robustly considered. More specifically, it could improve the impact of wellbeing for Māori and the resourcing of measures.

Recent legislation has begun to recognise elements of te ao Māori in law. For example, Te Ture mō Te Reo 2016 (Māori Language Act 2016) establishes a partnership with Māori to progress the revitalisation of te reo Māori; legislation also recognises Te Urewera as an entity in its own right, and for decisions made in relation to it to reflect customary values.

These shifts are significant, and reflect how legislation can be a potent vehicle for enabling Māori to achieve aspirations in a way that is increasingly consistent with te ao Māori. Approaching policy in a new way would see innovative legislative responses such as these as potent exemplars of good legislative practice, rather than as legislative outliers.

Indicators and measures#

Indicators and measures are usually intended to help the public sector, government and the public to understand whether priorities and policy objectives are being met.

Done poorly, indicators and measures can also be a significant impediment to wellbeing for Māori. Too often, the focus is on things that can be easily measured, rather than seeking to measure things that are more important to wellbeing. International comparability rather than usefulness for Aotearoa New Zealand can also be a driver, and important characteristics from te ao Māori can be lost, including indicators that are:

  • collective/whānau-based[8]
  • strengths-based, rather than deficit-based
  • based on progressive advancement, rather than management of adversity.

The focus that the use of an indigeneity lens brings to the identification, selection and interpretation of LSF indicators and measures, and the seven wellbeing domains proposed in this paper, will help to accurately measure future wellbeing.

It will, by extension, increasingly encourage government and the public sector to:

  • develop a similarly nuanced understanding of te ao Māori
  • consider how te ao Māori can act as a catalyst for innovation and better service design and delivery
  • work with Māori to develop thoughtful and useful indicators and measures for operational activities.

A focus on simply meeting targets that might be associated with specific indicator measures is not the aim of the LSF. Instead, indicators should provide confidence that there will be improvement in wellbeing across the seven wellbeing domains and allow a response to Māori needs, aspirations and interests.

In the table at the end of this section, additional indicators are proposed based on the seven wellbeing domains proposed in this paper, having applied an indigenous approach.

These indicators are new, with data not currently available within government. This provides a practical example of applying an indigenous approach. In particular, it shows how using te ao Māori can enrich not only the way in which wellbeing is thought of, but how wellbeing can be measured and monitored across government in a way that reflects and respects both te ao Māori as well as Aotearoa New Zealand as a whole.

A table outlining a full set of proposed indicators (including those indicators for which data is already available) is attached in Appendix 1.

Table 1: Indicators generated by applying an indigenous approach
Seven wellbeing domains Indicators generated by applying an indigenous approach
Living Standards Framework image
Confident in language and culture
  • % Learning te reo
  • % Believe they have acquired enough knowledge of mātauranga and whakapapa to teach their children
  • % Participate in the transfer of te ao Māori knowledge
  • % Feel they have the opportunity to participate in cultural activities
  • % Marae functioning well (in good state of repair)
  • % Confident in organisations upholding their rights
  • % Satisfied that advocacy efforts are consistent with tribal history and values
Cohesive, resilient and nurturing
  • % Whānau/family satisfied with the amount of time spent intergenerationally
  • % Whānau/family that give care to older/younger members
  • % Whānau/family provide a nurturing environment
Confidently participating in society
  • % Voting in local elections
  • % Voting in school board of trustee elections
  • % Feel/trust that their whānau/family is treated fairly
  • % Feel their whānau are able to live as Māori
  • % Feel their whānau/family has satisfactory access to all necessary services
  • % Satisfactory access to early childhood education
  • % Truancy
Living healthy lifestyles
  • % Feel their whānau encourage healthy lifestyle choices
  • % Believe they have gained the skills/knowledge to adequately manage their lives
  • % Believe they have gained the skills and knowledge needed to contribute to their whānau/family
  • % Whānau that are aware of the capability that exists in their whānau network
  • % Whānau/households have a household emergency plan
  • % Whānau/households have home contents insurance
  • % Aware of their rights and interests regarding assets held in common
Responsive to living and natural environment
  • % Land development and productivity
  • Value of whānau landholdings
  • % Whānau/family have access to involvement in environmental management processes
  • % Whānau/family are satisfied with their access to physical environment/resources
  • % Homes are insulated
  • % Land type that housing is on (papakāinga)
  • % Whānau have access/opportunity to visit sites of significance
Economically secure and wealth creating
  • % Whānau/family have a retirement savings plan
  • % Believe they have the skills to adequately manage the financial situation for themselves and their whānau/family
  • % Whānau/household have sufficient employment
  • % Increasing employees
  • % Whānau/household feel they would have the support needed to start a business
Financial/ physical

Note: Bold signifies indicators that are Māori-specific rather than for the full population.

In sum…#

Consideration of the approach to wellbeing for Māori proposed in this paper (comprising the drivers for wellbeing, the indigeneity lens and the seven wellbeing domains) goes hand in hand with consideration of the tools that government can use to give effect to improved wellbeing. An approach to wellbeing is of no use without tools being applied to give effect to it. This section has canvassed key tools that the Public Service can consider as a focus on Māori wellbeing and Māori concepts of wellbeing are embedded into business-as-usual practices.


  1. [8] Metge's definitions of whānau (Metge, 1995) provide a useful way for the LSF to assess and measure whānau wellbeing through the collective interests of the household. Although imperfect, this would represent the start of a process to develop a robust unit of measure for whānau.

Application to the Living Standards Framework#

A new approach will deliver better outcomes for Māori#

The seeming intractability of poor Māori outcomes has remained unresolved for decades. The failure of Aotearoa New Zealand public policy to improve Māori outcomes is largely owing to a persistent failure to sufficiently appreciate issues or the implications of legislative, policy or operational changes from the viewpoint of te ao Māori.

Understanding te ao Māori enables the needs, aspirations and interests of Māori to be understood, and enables appropriate and long-lasting improvements to wellbeing to be achieved. Wellbeing can be considered by applying the indigenous approach proposed in this paper, which considers wellbeing in terms of the seven wellbeing domains.

As Māori are citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand, they walk (and seek to thrive) in a non-Māori world. But because Māori also walk within te ao Māori, the critical dimensions that are fundamental to holistic Māori wellbeing must be considered and enabled. Too often, the focus is on doing things without taking the time to appreciate the context, perspectives, beliefs or values that make Māori distinct. Additionally, policy-makers often conflate Māori expressing themselves as Māori through language or culture with the experience of being Māori.

It is only by applying an indigenous approach that the importance of the LSF's wellbeing domains can be fully understood. This recognition makes it possible to see how the indicators each contribute to a wider understanding of what wellbeing for Māori might look like.

While the proposal to apply the indigenous approach to the various components of the Government Toolkit may initially be seen as extremely challenging for the Public Service, there are already examples of how the Government is seeking to try new approaches and think differently about improving outcomes for Māori. Some examples follow.


Work by Te Puni Kōkiri to develop a whānau-centred policy framework, noted above, offers one potential mechanism to support the consideration and application of an indigenous approach. Using a whānau-centred approach in conjunction with other tools such as multi-criteria analysis[9] and the LSF when considered with the proposed indigenous approach, would help the public sector to ensure that a greater focus on wellbeing sits at the centre of policy thinking.

The Tax Working Group is considering how tikanga Māori could create a more future-focused tax system and is developing innovative tools that draw heavily on te ao Māori. This reflects the type of thinking that results from applying an indigenous approach, and identifies te ao Māori values that are the most applicable to that particular kaupapa.

The Public Service is encouraged to consider the approach proposed in this paper and apply it afresh to issues, which may require them to develop bespoke or topic-specific tools. Such approaches should be seen as complementary to the overall goal of challenging the status quo.

Legislation, including regulation

The statutory requirement for the Crown to work in partnership with Māori (through Te Mātāwai) to revitalise te reo Māori is new and signals that the public sector can be ambitious for different types of Treaty-based relationships into the future. The Treaty partnership is reflected through Te Rūnanga Reo where Ministers and Te Mātāwai work together on the revitalisation of te reo. The partnership set up under legislation is expressed through the metaphor of Te Whare o Te Reo Mauri Ora (a single house with the two sides of the partnership represented by the place afforded to each).

Other examples within legislation demonstrate efforts to increasingly recognise and reflect the approach proposed in the indigeneity lens. Two particularly relevant examples of this are:

  • recognition of Te Urewera as an entity in its own right, and for decisions made in relation to it to reflect customary values as part of Te Urewera Act 2014
  • recognition of the Whanganui River as a legal person as part of Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017.

Indicators and measures

This paper suggests a broad approach to understanding wellbeing by considering the seven wellbeing domains, having applied an indigeneity lens and considered how the indicators and measures of societal capability represented by the four capitals are able to track progress to wellbeing.

Within the natural resources sector, work has been done to explore how te ao Māori applies to the development of potential indicators and measures (Landcare Research, 2016). This work encapsulates a thoughtful and nuanced appreciation of te ao Māori that explores and seeks to understand the reality that the natural environment is interconnected with, and critical to, social, cultural and economic development.

This type of work reflects aspects of the indigeneity lens, and can be built upon in the development of specific indicators and measures.

Māori-led initiatives

In addition to work that the Government is leading, a number of iwi have already developed wellbeing frameworks of their own, which similarly encapsulate a range of indicators and measures of the wellbeing aspirations for iwi members. Each looks at wellbeing from te ao Māori, and yet each places different weight on values and norms, depending on their view of what is critical to wellbeing. There is a wealth of analysis of wellbeing generated by Māori that positions the public sector to understand and engage with the wellbeing aspirations, needs and interests that Māori articulate for themselves.

The challenge that remains

The challenge for government as it considers the approach in this paper is to consider how each of its elements can apply to the LSF and to achieving wellbeing. This includes:

  • focusing on understanding the drivers of wellbeing for Māori
  • exploring and advancing each aspect of the indigeneity lens (Te Tiriti o Waitangi, te ao Māori and whānau-centred thinking)
  • understanding the seven wellbeing domains.

This focus needs to be applied in considering how wellbeing can be achieved, including when applying the LSF.


  1. [9] For an example of a model of multi-criteria analysis, see: https://treasury.govt.nz/information-and-services/regulation/impact-analysis-requirements-regulatory-proposals


“Knowing where we come from and learning and retelling our collective narratives are critical to the sense of belonging, and therefore the wellbeing, of Māori people.”

(Forster, 2006)

As Aotearoa New Zealand public policy considers sustainable intergenerational wellbeing, it must also incorporate an appreciation of indigenous perspectives. Until that happens, sustainable improvements to Māori wellbeing (and the wellbeing of Aotearoa New Zealand) will not be seen.

Achieving the full expression of wellbeing for everyone in New Zealand requires a new direction to be taken, towards a view of wellbeing that enables everyone to flourish. The view of wellbeing proposed encompasses both the secular and the sacred; allows for a view of wellbeing that connects to the fundamental nature of a person and their heritage; and reinforces people's ways of being and their whakapapa. This view of wellbeing is expansive enough to include the various expressions of wellbeing that diverse populations (including other indigenous populations) may have.

There is an imminent opportunity for the public sector to weave together a holistic picture of wellbeing that better reflects all New Zealanders. This paper provides a basis for: firstly, the diverse populations in Aotearoa New Zealand to articulate their view and experience of wellbeing; secondly, the public sector to apply a “lens” to ensure it understands the population (the indigeneity lens could be adapted for various populations); and thirdly, for a holistic set of wellbeing domains to be recognised that could be applied universally - the three elements of the proposed indigeneity approach.

For Māori specifically, this paper articulates how wellbeing can be considered via a practical tool that:

  • supports the wider pursuit of a set of wellbeing indicators that work for everyone
  • enables consideration of current and future capital stocks as measures of capabilities that support wellbeing, having taken into account an indigenous approach.

This paper has argued that to achieve Māori wellbeing whānau wellbeing needs to be achieved. In turn, whānau wellbeing requires a greater focus on strengths-based approaches that build resilience and build on aspirations for wellbeing. Wellbeing and strengths-based approaches go together. Jointly, they demand that evidence be based as much on qualitative insights and subjective experience as on quantitative data.

This paper offers a way to consider the four capitals within the proposed seven wellbeing domains, bridging the current gap that exists between the LSF and New Zealanders' aspirations for wellbeing. It also offers a way to reconnect the LSF with the Aotearoa New Zealand context and the things that drive New Zealanders to live their lives the way they want.

In articulating the approach in this paper, the possibility becomes apparent that an indigenous perspective on the design of an LSF could produce a different LSF. However, while that may be true, it is clear that the proposed indigenous approach offers a single, coherent and robust way to understand and ultimately drive improved wellbeing for Māori. This paper has identified the need to recognise and consider wellbeing from the perspective of collectives (whānau and hapori), within which individual citizens live and aspire towards wellbeing. It has also signalled key tools the Public Service has available to work with towards improved wellbeing for Māori.

This paper has taken the position that a radical shift in thinking is required in order to achieve better outcomes for Māori, and the LSF as it is currently framed (although a major step forward compared with current thinking) still remains unable to adequately consider issues for Māori. This shift in thinking will value and respect the diversity of the populations that make up Aotearoa New Zealand - it acknowledges that indigeneity and diversity go hand in hand.

With the LSF in place, attention can turn to testing and refining the approach proposed in this paper. It can further consider how to better apply a genuine understanding of wellbeing for Māori to the development of strategy and the practice of policy analysis, design and implementation. While there are many ways this might be achieved, the key point is to ensure that the values, beliefs and practices of various whānau, hapū and iwi are understood and applied effectively to achieve improved wellbeing now and into the future. That is to say, Aotearoa New Zealand must ensure it understands what drives its diverse populations in the context of how different population groups view, understand and aspire to wellbeing.

There are challenges in refining a new approach to wellbeing. The key challenge is whether Aotearoa New Zealand is mature enough to recognise the richness that will come from achieving a positive intergenerational wellbeing across all its population groups. A new approach requires leadership and a willingness to work through the tensions that complementary, yet distinct, views on wellbeing bring. There is a need for leaders to set their vision for a new approach to wellbeing, stretch existing practice, resource the new approach and stay the course.


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Appendix 1: Indicators generated from the application of Te Ao Māori through an Indigenous Lens#

Living Standards Framework image
Well-being Outcomes Domain areas Suggested indicators - already available Suggested indicators - needing development
Social Whānau are confidently participating in Te Ao Māori
  • Speaking te reo Māori
  • Proficiency
  • Speaking te reo in the home
  • % Te reo speakers
  • % Whānau/households in which Te reo Māori is spoken in the home
  • % Learning te reo
  • Knowledge of pepeha
  • Mātauranga
  • Access to cultural knowledge
  • % Whānau that have knowledge of the pepeha of the whānau
  • % Whānau having access to someone to support with cultural skills
  • % Believe they have acquired enough mātauranga / knowledge of whakapapa to teach others/children
  • % Participate in the transfer of te ao Māori knowledge
  • Participating in cultural activities
  • % Participating in cultural activities
  • % Feel they have the opportunity to participate in cultural activities
  • Visiting marae
  • Connection to marae
  • Marae state of repair
  • % Attended ancestral marae in last 12 months
  • % Living within 30 minutes' drive of ancestral marae
  • % Feel strongly connected to ancestral marae
  • % Marae functioning well (in good state of repair)
  • Iwi registration
  • Rights and advocacy
  • % Registered with an iwi
  • % Confident in organisations upholding their rights
  • % Satisfied that advocacy efforts are consistent with tribal history and values
Whānau are cohesive, resilient and nurturing
  • Contact with whānau and friends
  • Strong whānau relationships
  • Nurturing, abuse-free environment
  • Support
  • % Extent of contact with whānau and friends
  • % Feeling lonely
  • % Whānau/family get along well with one another
  • % Getting support in times of need
  • % Whānau/family that give care to older/younger members
  • % Whānau/family satisfied with the amount of time spent intergenerationally
  • % Whānau/family provide a nurturing environment
Human Whānau are participating fully in society
  • Societal systems
  • % Voting in General Election
  • % Trust in government institutions
  • % Voting in Local Elections
  • % Voting in School Board trustee elections
  • Feeling discriminated against
  • Expressing identity
  • Spirituality/religion
  • Safety
  • Crime level
  • Participating in clubs/community groups
  • Access to support/services
  • % Discriminated against in last 12 months
  • % Acceptance of diversity
  • % Ability to be yourself in NZ / express identity
  • % Re-offending rate
  • % Participating in club or interest groups
  • % Volunteering
  • % Access to GPs / mental health services
  • % Feel safe in neighbourhood
  • % Feel/trust that their whānau/family is treated fairly
  • % Feel their whānau are able to live as Māori
  • % Feel their whānau/family has satisfactory access to all necessary services
  • ECE
  • Educational/Qualification attainment
  • % Attending ECE
  • % Achieving NCEA
  • % Satisfactory access to ECE
  • % Truancy
Whānau are leading healthy lifestyles
  • Self-assessed health status
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Eating healthily
  • Doing physical exercise
  • Psychological distress
  • % In good health (self-assessed)
  • % Drink alcohol to hazardous level
  • % Eat 3+ veges per day
  • % Physically active
  • % Experiencing psychological distress
  • % Whānau encourage healthy lifestyle choices


Whānau are self-managing & empowered leaders
  • Pathways to independence
  • Sense of purpose
  • Capability within whānau
  • Planning for emergencies
  • Control over their life
  • Home ownership
  • Housing stability
  • % Feel control over their life
  • % Whānau/households that own or partly own their home
  • % Housing affordability / housing cost
  • % Living at same house for 5 years
  • % Feel a sense of purpose
  • % Believe have gained the skills/knowledge to adequately manage their lives
  • % Believe have gained the skills and knowledge needed to contribute to their whānau/family
  • % Whānau that are aware of the capability that exists in their whānau network
  • % Whānau have a household emergency plan
  • % Whānau/households have home contents insurance
  • % Aware of their rights and interests regarding assets held in common
Natural Whānau are responsible stewards of their living and natural environment
  • Quality of environment / sustainability
  • Land use
  • Kaitiakitanga
  • Air quality
  • Water quality
  • Resource stocks
  • % Involvement in environmental planning or decision making (or access)
  • % Land development and productivity
  • Value of whānau landholdings
  • % Whānau/family are satisfied with their access to physical environment/resources
  • Quality of housing
  • Land type
  • % Whānau/households which have a problem with dampness or mould
  • % Whānau/households which need housing repairs
  • % Homes are insulated
  • % Land type that housing is on (papakāinga)
  • Access to wāhi tapu and wāhi taonga
  • % Whānau have access/opportunity to visit sites of significance
Financial/ Physical Whānau are economically secure and successfully involved in wealth creation
  • Income
  • Income adequacy
  • Savings/Net worth
  • Financial skills
  • % Income adequate to meet everyday needs
  • Household income per person
  • Net worth
  • % Whānau/family have a retirement savings plan
  • % Believe they have the skills to adequately manage the financial situation for themselves and their whānau/family
  • Employment
  • NEET
  • % Employment rate
  • % NEET
  • % Whānau/household have sufficient employment [‘underutilisation' is available]
  • Business ownership
  • Business growth
  • Business opportunity
  • Number of Māori / whānau business
  • % Self-employed
  • Turnover
  • % Exporting
  • % Increasing employees
  • % Whānau/household feel they would have the support needed to start a business

Note: Italics signifies information that is in Te Kupenga. Bold signifies indicators which are Māori-specific rather than requiring collection for the full population.

Appendix 2: Relative position of Māori in relation to selected existing measures#

Social capital#



In 2016:

  • 42% of victims of a serious offence were Māori family victims.

In 2016:

  • 51% of prison inmates were Māori
  • 45% of offenders who perpetrated a serious crime against a family member were Māori.

Children in State care

In 2016:

  • 61% of children in care were Māori
  • 64% of admissions to Care and Protection residences were Māori
  • 71% of those in Youth Justice residences were Māori
  • 46% of children who were found to have been physically abused were Māori
  • 55% of children who were found to be emotionally abused were Māori
  • 53% of children who were found to be neglected were Māori.
Life satisfaction
  • 77.1% of Māori reported good to excellent life satisfaction, compared with 82.8% for the total population.

Human capital#


Life expectancy
  • In 2013, life expectancy at birth was 73.0 years for Māori males and 77.1 years for Māori females; it was 80.3 years for non-Māori males and 83.9 years for non-Māori females.
Health expectancy

Health expectancy quantifies how many of the expected years a population lives are spent in good health and free from functional limitations.

  • In 2013, Māori males had a health expectancy of 54.3 years (74.4% of their lives), compared with 66.7 years for non-Māori males (83.0%). Māori females had a health expectancy of 60.4 years (78.4%), compared with 67.4 years for non-Māori females (80.4%).
Disability rate 
  • In 2013, 26% of the Māori population (176,000 people) were identified as disabled. This was an increase from 20% in 2001. This increase is despite the fact that the Māori population has a younger age profile, and therefore is less likely to be in the older age groups where disability is more common.
  • If the Māori population age profile was the same as that of the total population, they would record a much higher disability rate of 32%.

Education and employment 

  • In 2016, 66.5% of Māori school leavers attained at least Level 2 NCEA, compared with 83.7% of European school leavers.
  • 20% of Māori aged 16 to 25 are Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET) compared with 9% of non-Māori.
Highest qualification
  • In 2013, 33.4% of Māori held no qualifications (compared with 21% of Europeans).
  • Approximately 20% of Māori held Level 3 or 4 qualifications (versus 21% of Europeans).
  • Less than 10% of Māori held qualifications at degree level or above (compared with almost 20% of Europeans).
Māori unemployment 
  • The Māori unemployment rate is 11%, while the non-Māori unemployment rate is 4%.
Occupations of Māori 

In 2013:

  • Māori made up 19% of labourers (compared with 10% European)
  • 9% of machinery operators and drivers (compared with 5% European)
  • 16% of professionals (compared with 23% European)
  • 13% of managers (compared with 20% European).

Māori are over-represented in lower-skilled elementary occupations, and less likely to be in professional, technical or management occupations.

Natural capital#


In 2017:

  • Assessment of the health of monitored lakes revealed that:
    • 24 were rated as good to very good
    • 17 were rated as moderate
    • 24 were rated as bad to very bad.
  • Freshwater native fauna threatened with, or at risk of, extinction encompassed:
    • 31% of plants
    • 72% of fish
    • 34% of invertebrates.
  • Monitoring of nitrogen levels at key river sites identified that:
    • 28% of sites identified improved nitrogen levels
    • 55% of sites identified worsening nitrogen levels.

Atmosphere and climate

  • New Zealand greenhouse gas emissions have risen 24% since 1990.
  • The level of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 23% since 1972.
  • The sea level has risen by between 14-22cm at four main ports since 1916.


  • New Zealand's biodiversity is at risk with some 83% of native birds, bats, reptiles and frogs classified as either threatened or at risk of extinction.
  • New Zealand's ecological diversity is also decreasing, with:
    • 90% of wetland habitats lost since European settlement
    • 71,000 ha of native forests, shrub lands and tussock grasslands lost between 1996 and 2012.

Financial and physical capital#


Household income
  • Māori median weekly household income is $1,362, while non-Māori median weekly household income is $1,564.
  • Māori household net worth is $23,000, while European net worth is valued at $114,000.
Individual income
  • Māori median personal annual income is $22,500, compared with $28,500 for the total population.
Adequacy of income to meet needs
  • Over half of the European population reports that their income is either enough or more than enough to meet their needs, whereas less than 40% of Māori experience similar levels of income adequacy.
  • For a quarter of Māori, their income is not enough to meet their everyday needs. By comparison, only 12% of Europeans report similarly inadequate income.


  • 28.2% of Māori own their own home, compared with 56.8% of Europeans.
Major problems with housing
  • 33% of Māori report always or often living in a cold house, compared with 21% of the total population.
  • 11% of Māori report problems with dampness or mould, compared with 5% of the total population.
  • 19% of Māori report living in overcrowded conditions, compared with 10% of the total population.
  • 55% of Māori live in areas of high deprivation, compared with 10% of the total population.