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Mahara Okeroa - Te Tauihu Economic Summit Speech

Mahara Okeroa Speech Notes
Member of Parliament for Te Tai Tonga
Contact Phone: +64-4 470 6652

25 September 2001

Embargoed until 5pm, 25 September
Speech to open Te Tauihu Economic Summit, The Marlborough Centre, Blenheim


Thank you for the invitation to launch your conference.

What I noticed about your invitation for me to speak was that you did not give me a topic.

I do not know why you did that but in reflecting on it I thought ¡§How typically Maori¡¨.

Here I am with an invitation and what I get is an opportunity to exercise my thinking faculties. It reminds me of interactions I have had throughout my life with older people.

Whenever I was troubled I would seek a solution from "a wise one". I would ask a question and all I ever expected was to get an answer.

What I got instead was a story!

This used to frustrate me - why the hell I used to think did they not just give me one simple answer.

I have learnt since then that what they were doing was offering me options, which I could choose.

I learnt also that at another time with a similar question the response I would choose from that same story would be different.

I believe you have used the same processes in your invitation for me to speak today.

While I did not ask you what my topic was you sent me a story.

Rather than being told what I should say you issue me with a challenge of working out for myself a topic, which might be of interest to you, just like my old people have done throughout my life.

You have not made it easy for me.

I thought about Karl Marx and his theories, I thought about George Soros and his book ¡§Open Society ¡V Reforming Global Capitalism¡¨ and I thought of a number of other economic theorists and entrepreneurs.

I even looked through a Phd thesis on "Maori Migration and Cultural Identity: The Australian Experience"

I also thought about Hugh Fletcher and Ron Trotter and the splitting up of the Fletcher Challenge empire.

Air New Zealand, Ansett, Quantas New Zealand and the Business Roundtable all flashed past me as I strove to focus on a topic.

However what in the end lead me to the topic I wish to speak on today was found in the background paper attached to your invitation.

A background paper which refers to the history of the Whakatu Maori Business Network Inc.

What I noticed were the names of people who were not only identified on the basis of their skill, they were identified tribally.

So we have a Susan of Rongowhakaata, Whakatohea and Ngatiporou, a Mere of Maniapoto, a Tom of Ngapuhi, a Ra of Te Ati Awa, a George of Tainui and Cathy of Tuwharetoa.

I wondered why these people thought it important to be identified by their iwi affiliations.

I also went and spoke with a Ngatiporou fellow who works in a colleague's office about this korero and we tossed around a few ideas.

As we talked I mentioned to him that we Maori people were good at recognising and harnessing people with skill which I told him was the reason I came to see him.

He said he was flattered by the approach but besides us being friends he was also responding to me on the basis of the contribution Taranaki made to Ngatiporou at the time of Ngata.

Taranaki contributed the dairy cows to Ngatiporou. In the mind and heart of this man lay the beliefs surrounding the principle of the koha.

Principles which span generations and which are about obligation, reciprocity and in this instance keeping alive the whanaungatanga which existed from the times of Pomare, Buck and Ngata.

My friend also recited that song "E rere ra te kirimi" composed to celebrate the occasion of the giving of the dairy cows.

And that e hoa ma is the reason I have chosen to speak the way I intend this evening.

I want us to celebrate the iwi part of us, which leads us to being the people that we are and which I will argue will be the reason for our successes as business people.

I need to say however that I reject the notion that Maori can only succeed in business by adopting individualistic capitalist western paradigms for conducting business.

Without having analysed your business practices I will take a punt and say that much of the way you do business has its origins in the culture of whanau, hapu and iwi.

It is about the formation of and maintenance of relationships, it is about whanaungatanga.

It is about alliances and allegiances you have formed with a number people.

It is based both on whakapapa and the ability to recognise the skill of others.

I will argue that while you have taken aboard western ways, the basis of your being enterprising remains indigenous.

I think it appropriate to say that when we get in to trouble in Business the media point out Maori failure such as that which occurred with the difficulties within Tainui which the media delighted in enlightening the country in ¡§the public interest¡¨.

I note that the Boards and owners of Ansett, Air New Zealand and Quantas New Zealand has not been identified or referred to on the basis of their ethnicity.

They are obviously not Maori, because if they were the country ¡§in the public interest¡¨ would have been informed!

The question perhaps is what is the reason that we engage in business.

„h I have heard people say "I am here to make money - not to make friends - that may be so but in any business if you do not have friends your business will not last and you will not make money. And then when you get in to difficulty who will bail you out?

„h What traditionally been the basis of economic activity of us as a people?

„h Traditionally we have always conducted business on the basis of skill and appropriateness.

„h Can any of you here name a pre-colonial economic activity of your iwi which ever went bankrupt? An economic activity which ever had to go in to receivership or have a statutory manager called in to save it.

„h You may also remember the massive bail out of the Bank of New Zealand a few years ago and were there any Maori involved in the Wine Box Enquiry?

„h If you consider the very institution of the tangihanga to be an economic activity and I put it to you that it is, how would you prepare a business plan for a tangihanga? Can you identify a tangihanga, which has failed to produce an outcome?

„h Can you identify a marae, which has gone bankrupt, pre and post colonial?

What I want to say is that while our material culture may have changed its appearance since colonial contact, there remains an essence of whanau.

While we have taken on aspects of a western culture including codes of morality which have their basis in Christianity, there are under the surface of many people in business, characteristics which are profoundly Maori and of whanau, hapu and iwi.

Characteristics which, can be found in the soul of a society which outwardly looks to be different from pre colonial times but which I believe retains vestiges of belief systems and a way of working where the iwi influences of whanau and whanaungatanga continue to hold sway.

Consider my earlier reference to the guy who responded to me on the basis of the relationship between Pomare and Ngata.

These influences continue to hold sway over the hearts, minds and spirit of Maori in business.

The Whakatu Incorporation here in this part of the island is a good example of that as is the Kaikoura Whale Watch and for those of you who may have watched TV1 last night - the success of those Harley Davidson riding Tamaki brothers.

What we need to do is analyse the successful Maori enterprises and find out how they add not only to the economic capital of the area but what they add to the social capital of whanau, hapu, iwi and community life.

How have these economic activities enriched the activities of local marae?

Activities, which we are now saying, adds to the accumulation of social capital.

While there are critics even within my own party who say that those who espouse the notion of iwi are locked in to an 1840's paradigm or mindset, any analysis of the aforementioned enterprises will clearly see that the glue which holds them together, the spark which lit the dream and the solid foundation from which they were launched, emanated from the very rich tapestry and fabric of a society based on the whanau, hapu and iwi.

Perhaps in the current economic climate what we need to recognise (if indeed we are blessed with the wisdom) is the existence and vitality of this element within Maori society and adjust policies accordingly.

We could add to this the advantages of education, the experience and knowledge of a modern economy, and the personal qualities of the flexibility of thought of our ancestors.

If were to add even more value by harnessing the creativity and agility of the Maori mind the economic results will be remarkable.

We must continue to look for a leadership, which is energetic, which shows the qualities of wise diplomacy and astute judgement.

A leadership which demands that economic resources and this includes hapu and iwi economic resources be directed to further social and economic development of whanau, hapu and iwi.

While it may true that material culture of the White man has largely replaced the pre-colonial material culture of our people, the change in my view has only been external.

The very essence of the soul, which was found in our ancestors I believe, exists within many of you here today.

If you do not believe that consider if you will the mechanical ability of our old people who built big meetinghouses without the use of any machinery.

How did they raise the tahuhu of many of our whare whakairo?

What of the creativity of the carvers, house-builders, canoe-builders and navigators in the economic activities of iwi?

Consider if you will who controlled the economy of the country prior to the land wars. Wars which may in time be referred to as the war against a tribally controlled economy.

Consider if you will the political and administrative ability so often displayed by the men and women leaders of our iwi both in a pre colonial and a post colonial Aotearoa.

In business we often hear about the 'triple bottom line'.

I do not consider myself to be an expert on business, but I have a few ideas.

I have worked in a number of areas (name them, pub, etc).

I know how to budget and I know about the 'triple bottom line', but for this korero I will add a fourth line.

I know there is 'an economic line' and that may have something to do with income and expenditure, what I could afford to spend and what I could afford to invest, who I could afford to invest with and what return I might get.

Another line is 'the environmental line'.

What impact I could ask, would my investment have, whether as a dairy farmer like my relatives in Taranaki or as the owner of a meat works, on the human and natural environment where my investment was sited? (I know what happened in Patea and Waitara)

The other line of course is 'the social impact line' of me investing or withdrawing my investment.

If I withdrew my investment, how would that then affect the lives of the people who play a very important part, in adding value to that which I had invested in the people who created profits, profits for me to enjoy as an investor and shareholder and owner?

What responsibilities, moral and financial do I have towards them?

The fourth line is the ¡§cultural capital¡¨ line.

I need to ask myself how my activities enhance the ability for me, my children, grand children and cousins to participate in hui, tangihanga, huranga pohatu and the other activities of the marae.

I need to ask myself how I and mine can recapture a reo lost, a waiata never sung and a haka or an action song never performed.

This fourth line which must be added to the triple bottom line is the cultural capital line which I believe has lead you all to the enterprises you are now pursuing.

I used to think I didn't know anything about business, as I believe many of you probably did, mainly because I used to feel that I didn't understand the words that were used.

I realise now, however, there was much that I learned by working and listening as a young person to the stories of economic success of our ancestors and in my case the very special part Parihaka played in demonstrating economic success in a hostile colonial environment.

I did not realise at the time, that those conversations that I was fortunate to have been a passive party to were all about running a successful business.

I consider us to be smart business people. We are conscious about not exploiting the land we farm. We do not overstock it for short-term gain.

We do ensure that what we have will be available to our children and grandchildren.

We are conscious that the community that we worked in, also benefits from our economic activity.

Our communities are important to us because we are of them. Our whanau, our hapu, and our iwi are also us.

Economic behaviour as we all know affects health.

As members of whanau, hapu and iwi we need to be very clear that decisions made in a board room both far and near are more than decisions that affect the shareholders.

They are decisions that affect whanau, hapu and iwi, like they affected the communities of Patea and Waitara when the meat works were closed in those respective towns.

The question I want to ask is how much control do we have over our health when we have little control over economic decisions?

A recent study by the Eru Pomare Research Centre very clearly shows the relationship between economics on the one hand and the health of our people on the other.

What you represent today are role models who demonstrate we as a people can have a modicum of control over economic and business decisions.

This can lead to the accumulation of assets I have identified as not only being of a material nature but assets which lead to social, psychological and spiritual well-being.

In other words your business activities will lead I believe, to the building of the cultural capital eventually leading to the ability of our people to operate in the environments of both the board room and the marae with equal confidence, maintaining at all times the pride of belonging to the social structures with which Susan, Mere, Ra, George and Cathy, identified.

In conclusion therefore I want to express my sincere thanks to you for giving me the honour of launching this conference.

I want to congratulate you on your ability to recruit people who have the skills to assist you and I also want to recognise and thank the friends of Maori who played important roles in supporting this group of Maori businessmen and businesswomen.

Na reira etc.


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