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Closing the Gaps: Investing in our Future

Steve Maharey

22 June 2000, 12pm. Address to Porirua community social service agencies. Pataka Porirua Museum of Arts and Culture. Speech Notes

Closing the Gaps: Investing in our Future


Thank you for giving me the opportunity to highlight exciting initiatives announced in the Budget and to outline some of the Labour / Alliance Coalition Government priorities.

In the Budget speech the Minister of Finance stated our belief that all New Zealanders should be able to participate in a vibrant social democracy.

As a Government we are committed to a new policy platform, one that responds to our social as well as our economic needs. After a decade where market forces were allowed to run rampant, we are desperately in need of a policy platform that reduces inequalities, is environmentally sustainable, and improves the social and economic wellbeing of all New Zealanders.

Over the last decade we have all witnessed a growing divide between the haves and the have nots in our society. This is seen most starkly in the gaps that have emerged between the experiences and outcomes of Maori and Pacific people and their fellow New Zealanders.

Left unchecked, social disparity has grown and become entrenched.

Social inequality is one of the most important issues facing us because our actions today are going to determine our future tomorrow. Maori and Pacific people as a proportion of the population are increasing day by day. In 1996, 24% of children were Maori, 10% Pacific. In 2016 these figures are predicted to grow to 28% Maori and 13% Pacific.

As a nation we will never achieve our full potential if a significant proportion of our people get left behind; trapped in poverty, long term unemployment, poor educational achievement, ill health and rotten housing.

It is in everyone's interest to ensure that social disparity is addressed, and we must start doing something about it now. We cannot wait until tomorrow.

The Te Puni Kokiri Closing the Gaps Report 2000 ably illustrates the scale of the issue:

 lower income levels (in June 1999): only 11% of Maori reported income of $680 or over a week, as against 21% for non Maori;

 lower employment rates – the New Zealand Household Labour Force Survey from Statistics New Zealand showed a 63.2% employment rate for non Maori in December 1999, as against 51.3% for Maori (In 1986, the rates were 64.5% non Maori and 55.7% for Maori.).

 higher rates of benefit receipt:
 12% of Maori were receiving an unemployment benefit at June 1999, as against 3% for non Maori
 11% of Maori were receiving a Domestic Purposes Benefit at June 1999, as against 25 of non Maori

 lower education participation/attainment rates:
 Looking at the early childhood participation rate for 3-4 year olds, the Maori rate in 1998 was 65%, significantly lower than the 98% for non Maori;
 the secondary school retention rate for Maori in 1999 was 68%, as against 88% for non Maori;
 22% of Maori school leavers in 1997 went directly on to formal tertiary education while 45% of non Maori did so, and Maori were less likely to go to university (8% Maori, 24.8% of non Maori).

The health, housing and justice statistics are equally stark.

And I do not need to remind you that you could paint a very similar picture illustrating the experiences of many Pacific families in this country.

This is not a new problem, government has long been aware of it, but it is only now that we have a Labour / Alliance Government with the will to address it.

The Closing the Gaps package in Budget 2000 reflects our determination to close the economic and social gaps between Maori and Pacific people and other New Zealanders.

The package, which touches almost every portfolio, provides more than $240 million dollars for new Maori and Pacific programmes and initiatives to close gaps over the next four years.

Further sums are committed to other Closing the Gaps initiatives which will also assist Maori, Pacific and other disadvantaged New Zealanders to achieve their potential.

And this should not be seen as a sticking plaster approach. In the past government has attempted to alleviate some of the symptoms of disadvantage without ever addressing the causes. We have decided to concentrate our efforts in areas where Maori and Pacific communities tell us it is most needed, and in areas where they know it will make a lasting difference. This is the fishing rod, and not just the fish.

We have focused our most significant investments in four areas.
 Capacity Building
 Education
 Health and Housing
 Economic and Community development

I would like to touch on each of these areas in turn.

Capacity Building

Maori and Pacific communities have high aspirations, they also have the closest understanding of their members needs and abilities. However, too few Maori or Pacific communities or groups have the resources to develop the types of programmes and services they know will make a difference.

If we are to Close the Gaps we must acknowledge that Wellington does not have all the answers, and move to strengthen the capacity of Maori and Pacific people and organisations to devise their own economic and social strategies.

Within my own portfolio this sees the creation of:

 A fund to assist whanau, hapu, iwi, and Maori communities to identify their needs, and to determine what strategies are required to strengthen their own families and communities.
 New provider and workforce development funding to strengthen the capability of Iwi and Maori social service providers to support children and young people within their own whanau, hapu or iwi.
 Pacific provider organisational development funding to provide assistance with administrative skills, IT and infrastructure development. This will help Pacific organisations build the basic infrastructure they need if they are to in turn deliver the services their communities need.
 Funding to help Pacific groups develop social services that are more responsive to the needs of Pacific families.

Significant funding has been made available in other sectors. Overall this capacity building package really will enhance the capability of Maori and Pacific communities and organisations to develop the infrastructure and initiatives that they know will produce the best impact and outcomes for their communities.


Education is the foundation on which economic participation and success is built.

If gaps are to be closed and to stay closed we must dramatically lift educational attainment.

Our Closing the Gaps education package spans the educational continuum from early childhood to tertiary study.

We will:
 Support Pacific early childhood centres so that more Pacific children have access to early childhood education that supports and strengthens their cultural and educational environment.
 Fund initiatives to increase the number of Pacific teachers so that more Pacific children can see role models in the classroom from early childhood right through compulsory schooling.
 Provide materials to assist the teaching of Pacific languages.

Likewise, we will:
 Support the growth of Maori language education.
 Improve the responsiveness and quality of education for Maori. Including initiatives to enable Maori to engage with and influence the provision of education.
 Initiate strategies to increase the supply of Maori teachers at every level.
 Support Maori students with mentoring and financial assistance to help them achieve their best in state schools.

These initiative are supported by a range of gap closing measures such as:
 121 literacy resource teacher positions.
 Homework centres for children at risk of educational failure.
 Expansion of alternative education places.
 Further funding for special education services.
 Innovations funding to foster effective support for at risk students.

Within my own tertiary education portfolio we are:
 Funding the development of a Maori tertiary education strategy to raise the participation of Maori.
 Funding new initiatives to enable Maori and Pacific people to overcome barriers to tertiary education achievement.
 Developing an integrated approach to post school pathways into tertiary education to ensure those who have missed out previously can gain a tertiary education.

Nor have we forgotten the importance of the transition from school to work. The Gateway pilot will test methods to improve this transition so that young people who do not wish to go on to further education are equipped to get jobs.

Health and Housing

If education is a foundation for participation, health and housing are the walls and roof. Providing the stability and security to get on in the world.

For many Maori and Pacific families in New Zealand housing and health are inextricably linked.

Reports have demonstrated that where people are living in overcrowded or substandard housing their health and wellbeing suffers.

Children get sick and stay sick where they are crammed together in cold and damp houses.

Everyone wants decent housing, but for people such as low income state tenants the dream has become a nightmare as market rents have left them unable to afford to keep their homes. It is now not uncommon for state houses to either be crammed to the rafters as families move in together to lower costs, or to be sitting empty because families in need can't afford the rent.

Our policy of income related rates will make a major difference to the lives of low income state house tenants. Especially here in Porirua where you have some of the densest clusters of state housing. State house income related rents will make a huge difference in areas such as Cannons Creek.

The policy will also produce benefits for those not in state housing. Beneficiary advocates tell me that one of the reasons that housing is more affordable in some parts of Christchurch than in other areas of the country is that the city council has effectively led the market in terms of affordability. Rather than pushing the market up as I believe some state rents have, Christchurch shows that a large landlord can make housing that bit more affordable and not just for it's own tenants.

We also acknowledge that some parts of the country face particular housing problems. The Budget provides funding to help Maori and Pacific families to solve their own housing problems in six Special Housing Action Zones.

The Zones, which are still to identified, will be located in rural and urban areas where greatest needs exist for Maori and Pacific families. Communities will be helped to action local schemes to increase the quality and supply of houses. These might be community or self build schemes, housing rehabilitation projects or other local initiatives that best meet local needs.

Health services and promotion for Maori and Pacific peoples will also take a major step forward as a result of last weeks Budget.

We are putting money where it will have the greatest impact on Maori and Pacific health:

 Moving immunisation funding so that it will achieve better results for Maori and Pacific kids.
 New funding to improve dental health among Maori and Pacific youth. (You may be aware that Northland has the worst child dental health record in the country. But you may not be aware that if you compare the overall child dental health rate in Northland with the Pacific rate in Porirua, Pacific kids in Porirua are worse off. And we know that child dental health is a very good indicator of overall depravation).
 Smoking cessation funding specifically aimed at Maori and women to lower the toll smoking takes.
 More funding for mental health services including Maori and Pacific workforce development to ensure that Maori and Pacific people who require these services receive more culturally appropriate care.

And these are just a couple of initiatives in a health package that will see an extra $412 million for health services over the next year.

Economic and Community Initiatives

Economic and community initiatives also receive a boost to ensure that Maori and Pacific people attain a strong position their communities and in the economy.

In my own area this includes:
 Funding for Maori economic and organisational development to assist with Maori land development, and to build the capacity and capability of Maori organisations to develop local partnerships that will create employment opportunities.
 Expansion of the Maori women's development fund to assist Maori women to enter or build businesses or take on community leadership roles.
 Refocussing employment support funding to improve outcomes for Maori, Pacific people and others who are at high risk of long term unemployment.

This is a taste of what Closing the Gaps contains. It is an impressive package of measures, and a clear statement of our intention to invest in our future as a nation by address social and economic disparity now.

Having said that, it is clearly not enough on its own.

We must also make sure that core services provided by state agencies and departments work well to close gaps and to assist those currently experiencing disadvantage.

Te Puni Kokiri will have a greatly strengthened role, ensuring that Government Departments perform well for Maori. The Ministry of Pacific Island affairs will be helping to ensure that the same happens for Pacific people.

But we do not need to wait, we can and we will improve services now.

I want to tell you about some of the work I am doing with the Department of Work and Income to ensure that they are playing their part.

Significant developments are occurring in Work and Income.

Over time we want to rebuild the public's trust in Work and Income as an organisation that:
 Provides people with their full income support entitlement first time; and
 Actively assists people back into employment or other community activity.

The emphasis is very much on helping people to improve their lives.

Officials from Work and Income have been working with beneficiary advocates over the past few months on a package of changes to improve the services the Department provides.

Some of these changes, such as:
 Removing the standard five dollar deduction from Special Benefit; and
 Raising the number of subsidised child-care or Out of School Care available to low income families in work or training;
have been approved in this Budget.

Others, such as work on benefit related debt, will be progressed over the next few months.

The advocates also recommended operational changes within the Department to improve the services provided to New Zealanders, which we are in the process of implementing.

These include:
 Renaming the benefit crime unit as the Benefit Control Unit and reviewing the procedures of benefit control officers.
 Not longer referring to people as customers.
 Changes to computer generated letters.
 Making policy manuals more available and involving advocates in rewriting policy and procedure manuals to make them clearer.

The simple fact that Work and Income is working constructively with beneficiary advocates is a clear demonstration of the changing culture of the organisation.

Looking at these changes, together with the Government response to the Hunn review, you can see that this will be a new beginning for Work and Income.

We are working productively with Work and Income to improve the culture of the organisation and ensure it reflects sound public service values.

This means more than just moderating some of the corporate language and ensuring that taxpayers money is used prudently.

We intend Work and Income to be a much more open organisation with strong links with stakeholders, other departments, clients, local government, iwi, advocacy and other community groups.

I also see Work and Income moving away from the 'one size fits all approach' as they ensure that employment services receive the specialist attention they need.

This will include the prospect of giving Regional Commissioners authority to develop specialised forms of case management if this will better meet local needs and more partnerships with local communities to ensure that services fit local realities.

If we are serious about closing the gaps, and we are, then we must ensure that core services like Work and Income are responsive to the needs of Maori and Pacific people.

Work and Income working for New Zealanders, that’s the bottom line. That’s what public service is about.


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