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PM's Speech - Maori Women's Welfare League

Embargoed until 12 noon
Friday 22 September 2000

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister


Conference Opening
Maori Women's Welfare League

Lakeside Convention Centre
Montgomerie Road
Airport Oaks
Mangere, Auckland

12 noon
Friday 22 September 2000

E nga wahine Maori toko i te ora, tena koutou katoa
(To the women of the League, greetings)

Thank you for your invitation and the opportunity to address you at this the 48th annual conference of the Maori Womens' Welfare League.

I begin by paying tribute to the League for the contribution it has made and continues to make to Maoridom and to New Zealand. The League's involvement in advancing the interests of Maori women and whanau is well recognised.

Over the years you have gone from strength to strength.

You have been led by inspirational women.

Your leaders and members have been at the forefront of revitalising Maori communities.

Your contributions have been both to Maori development and to the building of New Zealand as a whole.

As a movement you have endured because of the conviction and commitment of your 'grass roots' membership.

Recently, I read snippets of your publication Te Timatanga Tatau Tatau. The stories speak volumes about the dedication and commitment of the League's membership. What struck me especially about the stories was the strong and unwavering call of the women for healthy, well educated and secure Maori families and communities.

Our government wants to share that vision with you and be part of making it happen.

Government Vision – Closing the Gaps

We have much work to do. From the 1980s on New Zealand has had faster growth in inequality than almost any other country in the developed world.

That is shameful.

In our country, that inequality has had a unique and unfortunate dimension. There have been growing disparities between the life chances of Maori and other New Zealanders.

It is simply not tolerable to our government to see tangata whenua consigned permanently to the status of disadvantaged citizens in their own land.

That's why earlier this year we set up a special cabinet committee to work on reducing the disparities between us.

That's why at the time of the Budget we committed $240 million over the next four years to address these yawning gaps.

The disparities have increased over time and it will take time to decrease them. But what is important is that we take steps now to start the process.

Maori communities will benefit enormously from the many policies of this government which are of greatest help to low income people: the rise in superannuation, the income related rents and the extra funding in the public health system and education.

But as well the government is committed to promoting equality of opportunity for Maori and Pacific peoples, in education, in health, economic development and employment, youth justice, and housing.

The emphasis on supporting better economic and social conditions is important for three reasons.

First, it is a Treaty issue and forms part of our responsibilities under Article Three.

Second it is an issue of social justice.

Third, for all New Zealanders it is important that the growing proportion of our population which is Maori not be locked into economic and social disadvantage, because, if they are, our whole community is going to be very much the poorer for it.

The bottom line is this: strength in Maoridom contributes to a stronger nation overall.

To achieve that strength we are prepared to harness the energy of government in partnership with Maori. This process is not about Maori adopting the aspirations of non-Maori.

It is about working from a Maori base to support Maori fulfilling their aspirations and building better lives for their whanau, hapu and iwi.

We mean business. The whole public service has been asked to contribute to the closing the gaps programme. Chief executives' performance is being measured against the progress their agencies make in supporting the programme. And Te Puni Kokiri is now being supported by government to audit the performance of the mainstream agencies which have failed for so long to develop good partnerships with Maori.

Capacity Building

There has been a strong voice from Maori urging that it be able to have more control of its own destiny, determine its own strategies, and devise its own solutions.

Achieving that will be helped by strengthening the capacity of Maori organisations to strategise, to plan and to deliver.

That's why $140 million over four years is going into building the capacity of Maori and also of Pacific communities.

Capacity building is about building on the strengths of Maori communities and aligning those strengths to the needs of their people.

The traditional government approach focused on Maori as clients, and as part of the problem rather than of the solution.

We are seeking engagement in bottom up development from communities.

We seek wide participation.

We want to back Maori solutions.

The government has set in place a national strategy for Maori capacity building. It is strategy based around the need to resource people to build their own capacity through the provision of funding, information, services and programmes.

Te Puni Kokiri has an important role to play in supporting this process. It has specific funding set aside to assist communities to undertake capacity assessments and the development of action plans. Applications for that funding are being invited now.

But Te Puni Kokiri is not the only government agency involved in this area. The Community Employment Group of the Labour Department, Department of Work and Income, Ministry for Economic Development, and the Department of Internal Affairs, to name a few, are also supporting capacity building.

The challenge for government is to ensure that these efforts are co-ordinated across agencies.

As the Minister of Maori Affairs recently said: "We don't want to see twenty different agencies sending twenty different cars to the same community for different purposes."

Engaging Maori

Capacity building is not just about the bureaucracy getting its act together.

It is about engaging with Maori communities.

The government is keen to draw on the wealth of experience and skills that already exist within Maori communities.

We want to work in partnership with Maori not in isolation from them.

National organisations like the League have a big role to play in contributing to the revitalisation of Maori communities.

I am aware that the League is working at the coalface with Maori families through the programme Whanau Toko i te Ora.

If we are together to make a real difference for the better, then we must start with whanau.

We will support programmes which focus on the wellbeing of children, on improving the skills and confidence of parents, and on providing basic support to whanau who are struggling.

The invaluable contribution that the League makes in this area is acknowledged. For me this is an example of how government, through the provision of funding, can do something meaningful in partnership with others.

This is at the heart of our approach for closing the gaps.

This is what makes this government in the twenty-first century different.

This government's approach opens up new opportunities.

We are committed to working with Maoridom to improve Maori wellbeing.

We will not be put off by the meanspirited attacks of opponents who believe there is political capital to be made out of attacking Maori initiatives. These critics seek to divide New Zealanders against each other.

We seek to build a society which is inclusive, where everyone can stand tall, and in which everyone has a stake.

The League and Maori women have a pivotal role to play in securing the future of whanau, hapu and iwi into the twenty-first century and beyond.

Let me conclude by reciting the following passage from Iri Tawhiwhirangi in He Timatanga Tatau Tatau.
"I want us as a people to be able to make the valuable contribution that we are capable of making to our New Zealand society. I want our mokopuna to grow up with the idea that there is nothing wrong with being Maori, with being different. I say to my own grandchildren that to belong to several tribes is a bonus, to have connections with England, or wherever, is enriching. What is good for Maori must ultimately by good for New Zealand."

No reira, e nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o te motu.

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.


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