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Communities And Government - Maharey Speech

Hon Steve Maharey Speech Notes

Communities And Government: Realising The Potential

Address to the Volunteering New Zealand national conference. Waipuna Hotel, Mt Wellington, Auckland.

Introduction

Thank you for the opportunity to be here today at Volunteering New Zealand’s first national conference.

The establishment of this organisation is an important part of New Zealand’s recognition of the United Nations International Year of Volunteering (IYV). I am pleased that the Government was able to assist with this conference by providing funding through the Community Organisations Grants scheme to recognise the IYV, and $21,000 from the Budget.

I’ve seen your programme and know that you are having two days of very stimulating discussion and debate on volunteering now and volunteering into the future.

This organisation and conference reflects a central theme in the Labour / Alliance Government's approach - partnerships.

There are many tangible examples of partnerships in action; for example:

- Parents having a major say in the way their childs' school is run

- The public having a direct role in health services through District Health Boards

- Local people being empowered to make social service funding decisions through Stronger Communities Action Funds

Our partnership approach is founded on some key ideas whose time has come - ideas of civil society, social capital and social development.

A term that is used a lot around the world today is "civil society". A simple term to encompass the wealth of voluntary activity that occurs outside the business and government sectors.

Everyone in this room clearly realises the importance of civil society - after all you wouldn't be here if you didn't.

The role of civil society was illustrated by Harvard Professor Robert Putnam in his study of regional governments in Italy. He tried to understand why some regions developed more successfully than others, and concluded:

"These communities did not become civil because they were rich. The historical record suggests precisely the opposite. They became rich because they were civic."

The essential ingredient in the successful regions was that people had a high level of participation in their community - they were active volunteers, they were active community participants, they built healthy, positive communities, and from this strong civic underpinning they created wealth.

Putman is not a voice in the wilderness, the economist Francis Fukuyama and many others also talk about the role community cohesion and civic trust play in underpinning and strengthening the social and economic wealth of the nation.

And the Government, of which I am proud to be part, is pursuing policies that link social and economic development.

So how can New Zealand build our reserves of social and civic capital?

- By doing exactly what you do in your communities - and by supporting endeavours such as this conference.

- By getting more people engaged in their communities, whether in the rugby club, church choir, RSA, Rotary, chess club or a myriad of other activities.

- And by building a culture of participation and generosity. We like to think of ourselves as a welcoming and hospitable people - it is time that we proved ourselves a generous people - in philanthropic terms, but perhaps more importantly, in how generously we gift our time to worthy causes and people in need.

Outline

You’ve asked me to speak today about the Community and Voluntary Sector Working Party - where to from here?

Your invitation is timely. Only about three weeks ago Cabinet considered its response to the Working Party report - Communities and Government: Potential for Partnership. Our response is extremely positive which is why I’ve called my speech today - Realising the Potential.

Before discussing the Working Party’s report and the way forward, I’d like to reflect the steps the Government has already taken to support volunteering.

International Year of Volunteers

We are now well into the United Nations International Year of Volunteers (the Year runs from 5 December 2000 to 5 December 2001).

The objectives of the Year are increased recognition, facilitation, networking and promotion of volunteering.

The International Year of Volunteers 2001 (IYV) is an exciting opportunity to highlight the achievements of volunteers throughout New Zealand and to encourage more people to engage in volunteer activity.

Here I’d like to thank the Ministerial Reference Group which has established an action plan for the Year and beyond. They’ve worked hard to give life to their mission of creating an environment which supports and encourages effective volunteering by the people of Aotearoa / New Zealand.

In New Zealand, we are fortunate to have a strong and dedicated voluntary sector. Last year, it was estimated that there were about 30,000 registered incorporated societies and charitable trusts. Every year around 3000 organisations are newly incorporated.

The Time Use Survey, 1999, found that 58 percent of New Zealanders had done some form of unpaid work for people outside their own household during the survey period.

As you well know, volunteering sits at the heart of our communities. Volunteers,

- coach school sports teams,

- serve as volunteer fire fighters,

- work in foodbanks and deliver meals on wheels,

- provide budget advice,

- build and sustain iwi services,

- look after the environment,

- support Pasifika cultural festivals,

- provide care for our older citizens

Through a dynamic range of iwi and community organisations volunteers deliver essential social, environmental and cultural services and provide the “glue” that holds our society together.

It is important that we promote volunteering as a valuable activity, and help to facilitate the work of volunteers throughout New Zealand. That’s why in this year’s Budget the Government approved a $31.3 million funding package which endorses the government’s commitment to the community and voluntary sector.

This included a $15.2million increase for community, iwi and Maori providers funded by Child, Youth and Family to deliver such essential community-based services as sexual abuse and family violence counselling and home parenting skills.

The Budget package also saw the Government invest $2.19 million over the next four years to support volunteering, including the work of local volunteer centres and the establishment of the Volunteering New Zealand network.

Budget funding has also been provided for a project to investigate any barriers to volunteering in legislation and government policy and practice. The project was a recommendation from the IYV Ministerial Reference Group. I understand information about this policy project has been provided in your registration packs with an invitation to comment on issues facing individuals and organisations involved in volunteering.

To support the voluntary sector in its plans to celebrate IYV in New Zealand, the Government last year approved a package of $455,000, which included:

- the establishment of a Ministerial Reference Group to develop and implement an action plan for the Year

- $280,000 of small grants distributed through the Community Organization Grants Scheme (COGS) - as noted earlier, this conference received one of these grants.

To complement this package, the Lottery Grants Board distributed $500,000 to community organisations to support them in their plans for the Year. The Board is now calling for applications for a further $250,000 of small grant funding.

I hope this shows that, even before the Working Party report was presented to Government, we have been aware there are problems and are committed to providing some real assistance to the sector.

Working Party report

I’d now like to turn to the Working Party’s report.

As many of you will be familiar with the Community and Voluntary Sector Working Party and its work, I’ll recap only briefly on the background to its work, the basis of its findings, its proposals and recommendations.

Then I’ll concentrate on what I know you are primarily interested in:

- what the Government is going to do about it, and

- how it will make a difference to the relationship between government and the community/voluntary sector.

Background

When the Labour / Alliance Government came to power in late 1999, we recognised that the community / voluntary sector was feeling under strain, stretched and pressured.

We heard a strong message coming from people like you that the “relationship’ with Government was not healthy, even “broken”. We knew this required urgent attention and established the Community and Voluntary Sector Working Party to establish what was wrong with the relationship and what might be done about it.

The Working Party listened to what the community said and identified five areas for action:

- concerns about the relationship between iwi and the Crown

- a sense by iwi and community organisations that they’ve been excluded from the policy process and decision-making and want a more participatory style of government

- frustration with government funding and accountability arrangements, especially contracting

- the sector is fragile but viable and needs strengthening

- concern that public sector officials lack understanding of community and iwi organisations.

Government response

The Working Party’s report raised many issues for Government to think about and respond to.

The report was presented to the Government in April 2001. I know many of you feel that a response has been a long time coming. I want to assure you that the time we have taken is due only to the depth of consideration given to the issues raised by the Working Party. Not to any lack of commitment by Ministers or officials to the process.

What is the government’s response?

In short, our response is that we largely agree with the Working Party’s recommendations and will act on them.

The Working Party suggested a Phase Two work programme to strengthen the relationship between government and iwi/Maori and community and voluntary sector organisations. We agree.

The first step in Phase Two is a firm Government commitment to the work.

This will take the form of a Statement of Intent to provide an important signal to the community - to you - that your concerns have been listened to and that that we are committed to a process of strengthening the relationship.

In committing to a Statement of Intent, we agreed with the Working Party that the time is not yet right for a formal two-way agreement between government and the community sector. However, there is an urgent need for the government to signal its commitment to a new way of working with the sector. A Statement of Intent provides an opportunity to articulate clear objectives for government agencies in restoring an improved relationship with the community sector.

I intend to have the Government Statement of Intent prepared by early September.

Relationship between the Crown and iwi/Maori

The Working Party’s task was to focus on the relationship between government and the community sector. For iwi, however, the primary barrier was one step removed from this.

To address the concerns about the relationship between iwi and the Crown, the Working Party proposed the establishment of a highly mandated body - such as a Treaty of Waitangi Commission - to consider Crown / iwi relationships and to advise on future directions.

Government recognises the depth of the issues that lie behind this recommendation. Ministers, in particular the Prime Minister and the Minister of Maori Affairs, want to consider the proposal further before responding

Identifying means of enabling Maori to determine their own needs, service responses and accountability measures will be included in the Phase two work on funding and accountability which I’ll talk more about shortly.

Community / Government relationship Phase Two work stream

We’ve looked at the other areas for action identified by the Working Party and grouped them into three streams of work as recommended:

- better participatory processes around developing and making policy

- improving funding and accountability arrangements

- strengthening the community sector

We agree that improving the “culture of government’ is something that should be addressed in each of the workstreams. The basic message to government agencies here is that people are to be treated with respect, dignity and compassion.

Let me talk briefly about each of the work streams.

Better participatory processes around developing and making policy - this will include work to identify ways of improving and modelling partnerships and effective consultative processes through sharing good practice and reviewing and developing consultation guidelines.

Improving funding and accountability arrangements - this will include work to review existing and potential arrangements for government funding of communities. The work will assess effectiveness, develop options and proposals for change and develop good practice models.

Strengthening the community sector - will be a key focus for the Phase Two Steering Group and will include work to build relationships across the sector, improve communications and develop a strategy to support the sector.

Steering Group

Obviously officials can’t do this work alone - what sort of partnership would that be?

The Working Party proposed that a five member joint community / government Steering Group be established to assist in developing and monitoring the progress of the proposed Phase Two work. We agree with this proposal.

The Steering Group will comprise a chair, three people from the community, and at least one government official. The Steering Group will assist me in developing and monitoring progress in this second phase of the work to build a better relationship between government and the community / voluntary sector.

I’ve asked Dorothy Wilson to remain involved as Chair of the Steering Group. Dorothy was an excellent Chair of the Working Party and has kindly agreed to make her expertise and time available to Phase Two.

I will announce the Steering Group members in September.

Conclusion

How will this next phase of work make a difference to the relationship between government and the community/voluntary sector?

I want and expect to see tangible changes in the relationship between government and community sector including,

- government 'walking the talk' by implementing the Statement of Intent

- community organisations seeing the difference and finding it easier to work with government

- people being treated with respect,

- government, iwi/Maori and community / voluntary groups working together in a genuine partnership.

But most of all I want and expect to see a blossoming of social and civic capital - because reinvigorating our spirit of generosity and participation is the key to realising a vision on New Zealand as a vibrant and creative, successful and inclusive nation.

Together we can make this country a place where everyone has a part to play, and plays it to the full.

That is the New Zealand I want to live in, and the sort of New Zealander I want to be.

Ends


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