An Audience With The Maori Party's Tariana Turia
An Audience With Maori Party Co-Leader Hon. Tariana Turia
Interview by Kevin List
Tariana Turia was with Labour from 1996 till 2004. During her time in Government, she served as Associate Minister of Health, Associate Minister of Housing, Associate Minister of Social Services and Associate Minister of Maori Affairs. In 2002 she was made the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector. Scoop traversed some of these portfolios with Hon. Tariana Turia and also touched upon the reason for her departing from the Labour Party – the Foreshore And Seabed Bill.
Q: How do you think you worked to improve the housing situation in New Zealand?
A: Well we have got huge housing issues. One of the concerns I have is that councils have a responsibility to ensure that people are not living in substandard houses. They [councils] are allowing people to live in substandard houses because there are insufficient houses provided by the state. We've got far too many people living in substandard buildings and a whole lot of reasons being given as to why we can't have a huge building program.
The say the same thing, year in and year out, going back to the 80s, not enough tradesmen. But what have we done about it? We have been talking this way for years. One of the things that happened when I was the Associate Minister was the CEO of Housing New Zealand provided a comprehensive report to the Cabinet Committee on Maori Housing. The tragedy of it was that report was written fifteen years ago and was still relevant today.
Q: Was that a big issue for you, when you were in government?
A: Absolutely, as a government we've been prepared to spend over – well when I was there the amount given was approximately $800 million for the meningoccal campaign - which I'm not opposed to - But one of the issues surrounding meningitis is overcrowding and substandard housing. I would have thought for long term health it may have been better to properly house them [people in substandard housing].
Q: The government in the recent budget has put more money into housing and I believe is topping up the accommodation supplement?
A: Well really those who have got private housing, that they are letting to people, are the only ones to benefit [from the top up of the accommodation supplement].
Q: Has the problem been exacerbated by the sale of state houses in the 90s?
A: National allowed the houses to run down really badly and then sold them off. And of course that created another huge shortage. In some ways you can kind of see the argument about private investors, investing in housing, and the state providing housing in competition. But the state definitely needs to be involved in providing housing. I'm really pleased to say that this government has already entered into some joint venture arrangements, both private and with the community to develop housing. That would seem to be a good way forward.
Q: What do you think was the best thing you did as Associate Minister of Housing – and what do you think is the best plan to sort the problem out?
A: Well you wonder really whether you did anything. I think that is the most distressing aspect of all when you feel really passionately about the changes that need to take place. Everything seems to take forever. You may have a great idea but it is almost three years before the policy idea in actual fact is put into practice. I could say the same thing about Child Youth and Family. There is nothing more despairing than to give five years to a department that plays a huge role in Maori families. And to then realise it meant nothing, they've gone back to just how they were before. It is very sad.
A: You were involved in Corrections policy as well. What do you see as workable solutions to the problems of incarceration - more prisons?
A: Definitely not. I think we do need prisons for certain types of offending. But we do not need prisons for all offending. I think we need to look at justice that is restorative, that brings people back into the fold and enables them to meet their potential. I've never met anyone that has gone to prison and come out better for it. For Joe public who thinks that prisons are about rehabilitating or habilitating people that have gone there, they can forget it! Very little happens for those inmates whilst incarcerated. There is a huge amount of money spent on psychologists playing around with peoples minds – most of whom they don't know anything about.
Q: Do you think programs such as Maori carving assist?
A: The tragedy of it is that for a lot of young Maori people that is their first opportunity to participate in Tikanga Maori, and that has huge value. I know young people who are in jail and have gained so much from participating in those Maori Focus Units. I think that anything that raises the confidence and self esteem of people to believe in themselves can only be good for them. I'm not sure about the success of carving programs because I don't have the evidence. But I imagine that anybody participating in programs that give them a link back to identity, and is able to build their self esteem and confidence can only be good.
Q: Do you have any comment to make on the fact that Labour and National seem to be battling between them to be the toughest on crime?
A: Well it hasn't worked in America. They have the death penalty and it's made no difference. We have got one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, so that should be telling us something as a country about our punitive behaviour.
Q: Do you think there is a problem with the media picking up the main opposition party's viewpoints on issues (such as crime) and the policies of the smaller parties becoming obscured?
A: Well at the moment yes while I'm one! Obviously you don't get a really strong view on those issues. It is the media who actually choose who they will focus on, and how they will focus, and what they will say. Because the media often disregards the minority voice that is why the minority parties often end up seeming as if they are not contributing. But that is not correct.
Q: You haven't had too bad a run recently
A: No I haven't
Q: What is the deal with the Greens on casting your proxy vote?
A: Well because otherwise I'd have to sit in the House all day and all night. I've got an arrangement with them that I will provide to them how I want to vote on particular bills and where I don't give them a steer they won't take the vote.
Q: What is the deal with health? Is it needs based rather than race based at present?
A: All of the policies have been needs based. Part of the problem [with public perceptions] is that the gaps program came out of a report done by Te Puni Kokiri which showed the difference in Maori achievement right across all of the sectors. The policy was targeted at Maori and Pacific peoples because that is where the gap was. And then of course politicians who play political games on every single issue start talking about race based policy. Whereas that gap was clearly identified. It was a policy about need not race.
Q: The government does seem to be steering towards the middle ground on these issues – do you think this is a result of Don Brash and the Orewa speech?
Q: You don't agree with that reaction (from the Government)?
A: Absolutely not. It was unnecessary. They had the evidence. All they needed to do was show leadership and focus on the evidence that they had, which clearly identified that there were significant gaps between Maori and Non-Maori. Of course in among that there was also pakeha people and other ethnic minority groups. Agencies pick up on those groups as well. It is not as if you have only got a big focus on Maori and Pacific [people]. They will be a target focus but there will always be resources put into the other [groupings] as well.
Q: What was background to the current Foreshore and Seabed Bill? And what was the part played by the Marlborough District Council in the proceedings?
A: What had happened was that the Iwi there [Marlborough] had been applying for marine space. The Marlborough Council kept turning them down, even though they were giving space to others. So then the Iwi took a case to the court over who actually owned the space. That is basically how the whole foreshore debate came in to question. It came about because of a denial of opportunity and then a questioning of the authority.
Q: How long had the case involving the Marlborough District Council and the Iwi been going on for?
A: Well I understand that this case has been going on for some years, and then it went to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal found that the Crown were not able to produce evidence in fact that the Crown owned it. Maori people were to be given the right to go to the Maori Land Court and they would have had to prove that their customary rights continued to exist.
Q: So this whole foreshore and seabed issue might never have arisen had the Marlborough District Council decided to play ball?
A: Well absolutely because our people continue to believe that they had Kaitiakitanga Rights and will continue to believe that regardless of legislation. What really distressed me about this issue was that the government could have made changes to the Resource Management Act to ensure access, even though no-one has ever been denied access in the past. Well certainly it has been rare and usually by private property owners. They [the government] could have changed the Te Ture Whenua [Maori Land] Act to stop any sale.
Q: So it could have been solved utilising other legislation?
A: That's right – it could have been done utilising other legislation. Or maybe it could have been ignored. The biggest problem was the Crown made an assumption that it [the Crown] owned it [the Foreshore and Seabed] and it turned out not to be true.
Q: Is there a wider problem with Local Government and Maori?
A: I think that is really where the Treaty issue's arrive significantly, at a Local Government level because that is where issues such as waterways and land are dealt with.