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Future Focus Benefit Reforms Bill : First Reading

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Hone Harawira
Hone Harawira

Hone Harawira, Maori Party Member of Parliament for Te Tai Tokerau

Tuesday 30 March 2010; 4.10pm

The struggle for tino rangatiratanga is a long and hard road, whose early beginnings were paved by warriors who fought and died to hold their lands, by statesmen who sought a peaceful path but got trampled underfoot by colonial invaders, by small communities retreating into themselves in a vain attempt to stave off the devastation of European diseases, by the many new Maori religious and government systems set up to try to deliver the shattered dreams of Te Tiriti Waitangi, for a society where the white man governed those for whom he was responsible, Maori managed their own affairs, and both societies worked together for the betterment of all.

And from those times, I list such historical figures as Eru Patuone and Tamati Waka Nene who signed both Te Whakaputanga o Niu Tireni and Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and who tried to hold together a shaky peace that settlers had no intention of keeping, Hone Heke who opposed British taxation in an area he considered his own and went to war against the crown to protect those rights, small communities like Whakapara where one of the iwi had to actually live in the cemetery to bury the dead, to save his people from the raging deaths caused by the common cold and the dreaded influenza, Anikaaro for creating a religious umbrella to try to protect her people, the rangatira who founded the Kotahitanga movement to give their people an alternative government based on kaupapa Maori, and Hone Heke Ngapua, Tai Tokerau's greatest ever Member of Parliament, whose vision and courage and maturity belied his youth, and whose memory has been thankfully captured in a wonderful book by historian Paul Moon.

And I add to that list more contemporary figures such as Sir James Henare, the last true paramount chief of Ngapuhi, who reminded us that you know you have tino rangatiratanga when you have the power of life and death over your people. You might never exercise it he was quick to point out, but it most assuredly rested in your hands; a sobering thought indeed.

I think of Whina Cooper who realised that genuine power rested in the hands of Maori women and formed the Maori Women's Welfare League to give voice to that power, and who energised the whole of Maoridom by leading the Great Maori Land March to Wellington, a protest with a simple slogan - not one acre more - a slogan that has been ignored by every government since.

I think of Mira Szazy, who said in the year of the Land March:

"The loss of land has haunted the Maori since the Treaty of Waitangi - some action is necessary to lay this ghost to rest forever. Only then, it seems, will Maori find themselves and become once again a self-determined, self-respecting people. The march must go on, if for no other reason than the expression of an awakening spirit".

I think of the honourable Matiu Rata who gave birth to the Waitangi Tribunal and established a pathway to redemption that successive governments have eagerly travelled, all the while reminding Maori to "be realistic in your expectations", which is government's way of saying "we'll say sorry, but you must be joking if you think we're gonna give it back!"

And, dare I say it, I also include 'ole "dirty dogs" himself, the Honourable Tau Henare, who, in his short time as Minister of Maori Affairs, flouted the rules at every opportunity, snaffled money for Te Taurawhiri where none existed, signed off on our Wharekura at Te Rangi Aniwaniwa when all the bureaucrats were saying no, and proved that boldness and belief were genuine prerequisites to the exercise of good ministership.

So when I come to this Benefits Reform Bill, I am reminded of a history that teaches me to speak truthfully of the issues, to speak boldly of the future, but to be guided by the words of Matiu Rata, who said:

"If you think on your journey through leadership for our people, that your road will be hard, you can rest assured that it is ten times harder for the rest of our people out there".

And that, Mr Speaker, is why we oppose this legislation, because Maori have never sought the debilitation that comes with crippling dependency, and nor do we seek poverty, but neither are we guinea pigs to be mucked around with by a bureaucracy that victimises those who are powerless, and who are suffering because of the crash of a system of bloated financial greed, fed by past governments and rescued by current ones.

Mr Speaker, I know heaps of folks who have gone hungry looking for work rather than go on the dole, because they know what a demeaning experience it can be, they know the shame that comes with not being able to provide for your kids. They're already feeling worthless, and then some minister comes out with a line like "the dream is over!"

Mr Speaker I know heaps of people on the benefit and for them it's no dream.

There's no dream in having to push your baby down town in a rainstorm 'cause you can't afford a bus, there's no dream in living on the edge, money's tight and you're worried sick about kids needing to go the doctor, or the power being cut off, or the car breaking down, or money for school trips - and having no job ain't a dream either - it's a brutal reality.

And there's no dream in being so addicted to tobacco you sacrifice food to buy smokes, especially when you know that government knows it's a killer, but will let you die so that they can take a billion dollars every year in taxes.

A dream? Not bloody likely Mr Speaker. It's been a nightmare.

We hear a lot of talk about this bill creating a shift away from dependency and into employment but the truth is that the economic downturn has actually resulted in a greater need for social security, and honestly Mr Speaker, doesn't forcing 43,000 DPB's to go and get a job when their child turns 6, sound just a bit bloody ridiculous when we already know that there aren't even 4,300 jobs out there? And that's just the DPB's!!!

What about the 26% of rangatahi Maori and 27% of Pasifika youth registered as unemployed?

Mr Speaker, with that level of unemployment, the question is obvious - what's the point in waving the big stick when there simply aren't any jobs out there? Why penalise and even criminalise beneficiaries when clearly, a more positive and inclusive approach is required.

And that Mr Speaker, brings me to WHANAU ORA because that's what WHANAU ORA is all about - a way to help Maori lift themselves out of despair, to help Maori lift themselves back to square one, to help Maori realise that they are the masters of their own destiny - by reshuffling the resources to ensure the help gets to where its needed, rather than go round and round in aimless policy circles in Wellington, redesigning idiotic schemes that change according to the politics of the day, and generally having no impact whatsoever, for those they are intended to help.

Whereas WHANAU ORA was designed by Maori to help Maori - and it's not even about money. Hell, given the confidence and support of government, it would very quickly lead to less money, because WHANAU ORA is about helping whnau to see that they are the answer to their own future, that they are the focus for their children, and that WHANAU ORA is indeed all that Future Focus can never be.

WHANAU ORA is not just about amalgamating contracts. Nor is it just another social welfare programme like the many failed ventures of the past.

WHANAU ORA is a bold attempt to rewrite the book. To take the one billion dollars currently being wasted on social recovery for Maori, and make that money work for the whole of society, by putting it in the hands of providers who are directly connected to the communities they serve, so that they can work with whanau to change their circumstances, and take responsibility for their future.

Yes, we support the calls to move people off the dole, for a move away from dependency and towards a world where work is an option for all, but the better option is WHANAU ORA, not sliding back down that well-travelled road of targeting the victims.

We are passionately opposed to any move which will penalise families living in poverty, we will oppose any legislation that will hurt children who have no way of defending themselves, and we will work with anyone who wants to address those issues in a positive manner, rather than through bills which are already sending signals, that those in need are a burden on society, rather than a reality in a world still struggling to cope with the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression.

The Maori Party accepts the position that Minister Turia is in, as we accept also the view that WHANAU ORA is the only positive option to addressing the many social concerns facing Maori at the moment.

We are disappointed, that at a time when a bold and visionary approach is needed to deal with the desperate social plight of many in our society, when we have the chance to take up WHANAU ORA as a mark of that boldness and that vision, that government has simply chosen the "blame the victim" option.

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party will be opposing this bill.

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