Christian Hawkesby: A least regrets approach to uncertainty - hawks, doves and the white heron (he Kōtuku)

Speech notes by Mr Christian Hawkesby, Assistant Governor and General Manager of Economics, Financial Markets, and Banking of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, finalised 15 September 2021.

The views expressed in this speech are those of the speaker and not the view of the BIS.

Central bank speech  | 
24 September 2021

The speech was prepared for presentation at a conference which has been postponed due to the current COVID outbreak.


For a long time it has become common for followers of monetary policy to categorise central banks as 'hawks' or 'doves', and for their decisions to be seen as 'hawkish' for signalling higher interest rates or 'dovish' for signalling lower interest rates.

In Aotearoa, New Zealand, our equivalent bird life are the kahu (the harrier hawk) and the kererū (the wood pigeon).

But when it comes to making monetary policy decisions under uncertainty, it may be that the kōtuku (white heron) provides a much more fitting metaphor.

In Māori culture, there are two whakataukī (proverbs) involving the kōtuku that capture how its behaviour must change depending on the environment, outlook, risks and uncertainties:

  • "Tapuwae kōtuku" refers to taking "considered steps".
  • "He kōtuku rerenga tahi" is loosely translated as "a white heron's flight is seen but once", and can also be interpreted more generally as a call that "once ready, open your wings and commit to flight".