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Richard Prebble's Letter from Wellington, 25/9/00

Richard Prebble's Letter from Wellington Monday, 25 September 2000

It has been claimed that all great political changes can be traced back to one piece of writing. Last week may have signalled such a change. ACT MP, Dr Muriel Newman, tabled in parliament a research paper by the Labour Department's senior research analyst, Simon Chapple, entitled 'Maori socio-economic disparity: Paper for the Ministry of Social Policy' September 2000. His research paper destroys the raison d'être of the coalition's closing the gaps programme. The government refused permission for the report to be published so it was leaked to Muriel.

Closing The Gaps
The government says "There is a disparity between Maori and non-Maori along a range of labour market outcomes and this disparity is growing." Labour says that this failure is due to government programmes that are not culturally appropriate for Maori. Chapple's research destroys these slogans as being myths.

What Gaps?
Chapple finds there is no gaps between Maori and non-Maori. There is an "average disparity" and it is stable or falling. The employment rate gap is just six per cent, which means a large number of Maori earn above the New Zealand average income.

What Is The Target?
The government has been unable to say exactly what the gaps are, what are the policy targets or how they will be measured. Chapple's paper was written by a civil service desperate to make sense of the coalition's public commitments to address Maori socio-economic disparity. Chapple's paper makes it clear that the coalition's policies must fail because being Maori is not in itself a reason for socio-economic failure.

Who Is A Maori?
If the government is going to target Maori for assistance they need to know who Maori are. Policy makers assume that Maori are a distinct and clear ethnic grouping. Chapple says this is incorrect. Prior to colonisation Maori never thought of themselves as a race. "Thus in a very real sense the Maori ethnic group is a construct arising out of the mass colonisation of this country...official ethnic statistics in New Zealand are collected on the individual's subjective self-definition of their ethnicity." The most recent census in 1996 recorded 580,376 Maori. Chapple's research shows that one in four (23%) of those identifying themselves as Maori in 1996, did not identify themselves as Maori in 1991! One in twenty (5.7%) of Maori in 1991, had decided by 1996 they were no longer Maori. People are "responding to incentives offered to group membership." Chapple also postulates that exogamy (inter-racial marriage) helps explain this fluidity. "Seven out of ten (66%) of the younger (24-34 year old) part of the measured Maori ethnic group are married (legal and de-facto) to a member of the non-Maori group." Chapple notes that nothing creates a stronger sense of bi-culturalism than having parents from two cultures.

Pop. Rises A "Statistical Artefact"
The Department of Statistics records all children who have a parent with any proportion of Maori as being Maori. Te Puni Kokiri uses this statistic to claim the youth dependency rate for Maori is 61.5 per cent compared to the non-Maori rate of just 30.5 per cent. " Maori and non-Maori families and communities" they conclude "face very different situations." This is nonsense. Chapple demonstrates that 56 per cent of these Maori children have a non-Maori parent. The real youth dependency gap is not 31 per cent, but 14 per cent, and is explained by age rather than race.

All The Gaps Are Closing
The employment gaps opened under the Lange Labour government. Maori did well under the Employment Contracts Act, with the gaps closing from 14 per cent to just six per cent. Medium incomes got closer in the 1990s, while the education gap also closed. Even the reported higher hospitalisation rate for Maori may be a sign of greater Maori acceptance of medical treatment.

Maori Equals Disadvantage?
Chapple says no. Indeed better educated Maori have higher incomes then comparative non-Maori (so small to be statistically insignificant). Factors such as where you live in New Zealand - urban or rural, your age, your gender and your skill level overwhelm race as a determinant. Thus for mixed race Maori, their Maori heritage is clearly not a disadvantage, while for those who claim to be solely Maori, it is not as significant as other factors.

Government Policy Nonsense
To give Maori part of the radio spectrum, to have assistance programmes just for Maori, and racial quotas at our Universities risk, to quote Chapple, "being captured by the considerable number of Maori who already have jobs, skills, high incomes and good prospects." The present government's policies miss many who are disadvantaged but are not Maori. The real causes of poverty, such as a welfare system that rewards dependency, are conveniently side-tracked and left unaddressed.

It Is Good News
While those that have become wealthy from the grievance industry will seek to dismiss Chapple's research, the findings are a reason for optimism. Chapple has destroyed the stereotype that being Maori causes failure. The fact that so many Maori are truly bi-cultural and identify as New Zealanders gives optimism for race relations. All New Zealanders, both Maori and non-Maori, need the same sound social and economic policies from their government to encourage growth, jobs and wealth creation. Chapple's paper is worth reading and can be found on ACT's website at:

Letter from Wellington is faxed and emailed weekly. To subscribe, or contribute, call 04 470 6624, Fax 04 473 3532, e-mail act@parliament.govt.nz Post to: ACT Parliamentary Office, Parliament Buildings, Wellington.


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