Harré Speech: Waikato Institute Of Technology
9 May 2002
Hon Laila Harré
Minister of Statistics
Speech to the Waikato Institute of Technology Faculty of Social Sciences Graduation
Founders Memorial Theatre
Congratulations to each of you graduating today.
For many of you this day will mark the beginning of a contribution to social development, for others it will be another milestone in a lifetime of community contribution.
You are social workers, counselors, childcare and mental health workers. You teach information technology and you are teachers of people with disabilities, of adults and of people who speak English as a second language.
The tasks you perform are integral to healthy communities.
Without you we’d be less educated, less cared for and more stressed.
You have chosen careers that will link people and communities together. Nothing could be more important in an age where many of those connections have been disrupted.
However the work that you go on to do will often be unacknowledged or undervalued, and today’s ceremony allows us to gives you the accolades you deserve.
On behalf of all of us who will call on your services throughout our lives, thank you and congratulations!
There is no doubt that our society produces some strange concepts of value.
There is also little doubt that we have not done a great job over the last 20 years in catching up with the massive change that has occurred in the make-up of our workforce.
So if you happen to be or become a mother or primary caregiver yourself, one of the most significant issues you will face in the years ahead is the management of your work and your family responsibilities.
But this is not just a matter of individual concern to parents, caregivers and their families. It is also important to our whole society.
As our workforce ages and we rely on less and less people of working age to be more and more productive, family friendly workplaces will not just be desirable, they will be essential. It just won’t be possible to do more with less unless we make it possible for women to combine their care-giving and work responsibilities more easily.
And if anyone doubts how much things have changed, look back fifty years. In 1945 on 18% of working women were married. By 1996 75% of the mothers of teenagers, 50% of the mothers of pre-schoolers and 30% of the mothers of babies under 1 were in paid work.
Yet our workforce arrangements still reflect a workforce composition that is no longer true – men at work with mothers at home caring for children, partners, and the wider community fulltime for no pay.
Waking up to the changing nature of the New Zealand workforce was the reason why the Alliance, and subsequently the Coalition government, made a commitment to introducing 12 weeks paid parental leave in this term of government.
If it’s good enough to replace the wages of me recovering from rugby accidents, then it must be good enough to pay women their wages when they take time off to care for tiny new born babies. Having babies is not a lifestyle choice but a normal part of most working women’s lives.
An estimated 20,000 families stand to benefit from the introduction of paid parental leave on July 1 – the first non-means tested piece of social policy to be introduced since the family benefit was abolished back in the eighties.
This means a significant number of families supported by working mums will see all or part of their mum’s income replaced to a cap of $325 for the first 12 weeks of time she or her eligible partner takes off work with their newborn.
And because women’s wages are in general so much lower than men’s (and mother’s lower still), for a significant number of those families all of mum’s lost wages will be paid. When compared to women’s earnings overall, $325 a week is 80 per cent or more of the earnings of nearly half of women wage and salary earners. For 61 per cent it equates to two thirds of their earnings.
And of course care-giving responsibilities and the gender pay gap are themselves the reason why the women here today will end up with a higher bill for the education that got you here than the men, if you have a student loan.
Because women take time out of paid work and earn less on average than men for the hours they do work, it will take women on average longer to repay their student loans. The discriminatory effect of the student loans scheme is a big concern, and one of the reasons why the Alliance will be actively pursuing our policy of dropping the student loans scheme and replacing it with a universal living allowance for students and the elimination of fees in polytechs and universities in the next term of this government. A start has been made with the freezing of interest on loans while you are in full-time study. More is possible provided that we as a community decide that we value education as greatly as it was valued by the visionary founders of our free public education system.
Your education is a good that we all share in, not a good for you alone. The children you look after, the adults you teach, the families you support will all derive benefit from the education you have gained.
While not all the best things in life – like education – are free – not yet anyway, from late May something pretty important to social scientists, students, business, local government and community organizations will be.
I am taking the opportunity today to make an announcement as Minister of Statistics that some have suggested might win me the geek of the year award but which really does excite me quite a bit.
That is the government’s decision as part of Budget 2002 to make detailed 2001 Census results will be available free of charge on the Statistics New Zealand (SNZ), a change that will make it much easier, and much less costly for many of you here today to carry out the work you have trained to do.
Over the next four years Statistics New Zealand will receive $617,000 to fund public access to Census data.
Some $455,000 of that will be allocated in this year’s budget.
Known as Census Table Builder, the programme allows users to build tables based on census data specific to their information needs.
The table building facility can pull information from over 300 census databases and where comparable can provide comparative information from the 1996 and 1991 census.
Tables can be built around geographical area, ethnic group, age gender, educational qualifications, income and employment.
For instance, the system could produce information on the characteristics of 15 to 19 year old Maori women living in Tokoroa as a first step in developing local employment solutions.
Up until now Statistics New Zealand has had to bear the cost of providing this information to communities, and as a result it has only been available via paid subscription to the Supermap service.
This cost a minimum of $3300, and up to about $25,000 depending on the level of information required.
This cost has been a major barrier to access for many communities, particularly those on limited budgets carrying out important demographic research into the shape of New Zealand society.
This change also means that businesses and economic development agencies that would previously have paid for such information can now spend their money in other areas.
The funding is important as we increasingly turn to communities to come up with local solutions to local issues. With free access to the census database we are giving them more resources to do so.
I have talked a little about family, work and community balance today, and I want to acknowledge those who have helped you through your studies, especially families and whanau, some of whom are here today.
Finally, to you all again, congratulations.
Education has always been equated with emancipation. It is a route to self-knowledge and it is a tool for the empowerment of whole communities. Like the magic carpet in the Shel Silverstein verse I will finish with today, what you do with your education is for you to now determine. He wrote:
I revealed to you a magic carpet
that will whiz you through the air.
To health and wealth and happiness if you just tell it where.
So will you let it take you where you’ve never been before?
Or will you buy some drapes to match and use it on your floor.