New Zealand Law Society - Duncan Robin: Public servant, Māori language and culture champion

Duncan Robin: Public servant, Māori language and culture champion

Duncan Robin: Public servant, Māori language and culture champion

Duncan Robin – Ngāti Porou, Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Ngariki Kaiputahi and Ngati Hei.

Duncan is a Senior Solicitor in the Overseas Investment Office at Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand (LINZ).

How did you come to study law?
I came to the law quite late in my studies. I had joined Inland Revenue (IR) as a school leaver, starting out in the call centre. I began studying accounting while working fulltime - accounting was a natural fit at IR after all. In my final year I discovered law and made the switch. It meant a lot longer at university than I’d intended. I was 29 by the time I finished my degree and did Profs.

Working fulltime and studying was really challenging, although both IR and LINZ were really supportive. I’ll be honest though, it was tough. I probably wouldn’t choose to go through that again!

And you become a father in that time as well?
I was near the end of my LLB when my first child was due. My partner actually went into labour while I was doing one of my last exams. I got a call thinking it would be about needing something for dinner but no she was in hospital! I had to rush from the exam to the hospital and managed to arrive in the nick of time to see my son David being born.

I had a take home exam at the same time for one of my other papers. I vividly remember holding David on my knee, rocking him with one hand and writing with the other!

My partner Kim, also a public servant, has been incredibly supportive. We now have a second child (Maia who is one) and twins on the way! 

Santa is sat between a father holding his child on his lap and a mum with her little girl on her lap. All are smiling.
Duncan Robin with partner Kim and tamariki David and Maia

Tell us about your wider whānau?
I whakapapa to Te Tairawhiti, even though I’ve never lived there it’s where I’m from. Both my parents were born and raised there - Mum in Ruatoria and Dad in Whatatutu near Te Karaka (that’s the big smoke up there!). Way back our ancestors congregated in the East Coast as it was a safe place – that’s a big part of who we are.

Mum and Dad came down to Wellington as part of the great Māori migration in the 1960s and 70s settling in Porirua which is where I was born and raised.

I’ve got five birth brothers and sisters. I was raised by my grandparents as my mum was pretty young when she had me, so I have five whangai brothers and sisters as well. Three of my siblings are still here and two are in Australia. We’ve got all sorts in our whānau. My oldest brother is at the meat works, one owns a pie van, one is a stay-at-home mum, another is a teacher and a brother works in IT as a business analyst. I’m the first lawyer.

Was it a surprise to your whānau that you went into law?
I guess it was - we didn’t really know where to start in terms of how you get into law. We didn’t know any lawyers growing up. One of the ideas behind becoming a lawyer was to take this experience back home as we always hear the whānau saying they need more lawyers.

Mum and Dad were super proud when I got admitted to the bar. They came to the admission ceremony with my brother, and it was a really special day. My moving counsel worked in Parliament so she took us on a tour afterwards which was awesome. Mum had actually been there before when she worked as a cleaner. She noted we were moving up in the world getting a tour of Parliament!

Duncan stands in a wood paneled courtroom next to a lady who is smiling. Both are wearing barrister wigs. Duncan is wearing a korowai (cloak)
Duncan Robin and moving counsel Barbara Edmonds

How important is your culture and heritage to you?
It’s a really important part of who I am. The Māori language and culture is what makes Māori unique. Without it we’re just like everyone else! So, we want it to keep going. 

Duncan sits in a hall holding his daughter who is a young toddler. Both are smiling and the table in front of them is laid for dinner.
Duncan Robin and tamāhine Maia at Horouta marae

I went to a total immersion kohanga reo and then kura. We also spoke te reo at home. When I went to high school it was a bit of a shock although most of the kids came from Māori and Pacific backgrounds, so the culture was still there. That all changed when I went to IR, and especially at Law School. I really noticed the difference there – the competitive environment is very different from our collectivist culture. 

Outside of work I spend time with a couple of taura here groups (taura here means the ties that bind). They’re like iwi branches in urban areas. Ngati Porou has one in Porirua. We catch up, shoot the breeze, and practise some kapa haka and waiata from back home. It’s really important because that’s what gives you that stuff from back home that you don’t really get in an urban environment. 

You’ve done a lot to foster te reo Māori in the workplace and support colleagues wanting to learn more about Māori tikanga. What drives you to do that?
My culture and heritage is a really important part of who I am. I want to see our language thrive and we can’t do that alone. We need non-Māori too. They’re important to our language and culture thriving.

It is true that there can be additional workload on Māori public servants and other minority groups, including other ethnicities, gender diverse people or people living with disabilities for example. If there are people wanting to gain insight they will seek out people with lived experience. This can be a hidden workload. 

I can’t speak for everyone, but for me I want my language and the culture to grow and helping others is going to do that. I’ve been a public servant for 13 years and over that time I’ve really seen an increased appetite and support for te reo Māori and tikanga in the workplace.  

Tell us about your current role within the Overseas Investment Office at Toitū Te Whenua LINZ?
I work in the applications team assessing applications from people who aren’t New Zealand residents and citizens who want to buy property or land in Aotearoa.

I really enjoy the different subject matter – we get applications for sheep and beef farms, apartment blocks, wineries and vineyards. We also go on monitoring site visits around New Zealand. I was scheduled to go on one but my daughter Maia arrived early!

It can be challenging work, as the legal tests have a measure of discretion which can raise interesting issues for complex applications. However, we’re really well supported at LINZ to ensure we’re doing the mahi right, which I really appreciate.

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