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Turia Speech: AGM of Volunteering NZ

Tariana Turia Speech: AGM of Volunteering New Zealand

E nga mana, e nga reo o tenei rohe, tena koutou. E nga iwi e huihui nei i tenei ra, tena koutou katoa.

Thank you for your invitation to come here today. I welcome the chance to build and maintain relationships with community and voluntary organisations. Networking and communication are the life-blood of community organisation.

Looking back, I see that my roles in the sector have changed. For years I coached netball and raised funds and worked on the marae; later I became a paid manager of a number of community organisations; and now I find myself the Minister for the whole sector.

But it’s still the people on the ground who do the work. Those of us who are co-ordinators, managers or even Ministers must not forget that we are here to support our volunteers, and the communities they represent. It’s important to our integrity and our effectiveness to maintain our networks.

Now, you have asked me to comment on what the community and voluntary sector can do to support Maori and Pacific volunteers.

First, I want to say that I don’t have the answers. I would say, though, that before you can start to work with any community, you first need to identify who they are, and get to know them. Then you can work out what kind of relationship you want with them.

The fact that you ask the question, however, tells me you are aware that cultural issues are involved.

I believe that to be able to support and work with other cultures, you have to be clear about your own cultural base. You have to understand your own culture and how it functions.

Otherwise, with the best of intentions, you can unwittingly impose your own values and structures on the group you are trying to support. And that can create new problems.

When we talk about Maori and Pacific Island volunteering, we must be aware of whose eyes we are looking through. Our peoples’ notions of volunteering may be different from yours.

If our people do voluntary work with no formal organisational structure around them, their work may go unseen, and not be acknowledged. On the other hand, putting around them the kind of structure we have for volunteering could quite possibly disenfranchise our people, because they will not necessarily fit into the structures of a different culture.

Let me give an example. For several generations, many of our people have lived away from their home marae. They have established urban marae where, among other things, they hold tangihanga.

When someone dies, the people of the marae turn up. They carry out all the necessary rituals and practices to maintain the proper cultural environment. They man the paepae, cook and serve the food, clean the showers and toilets, and provide critical emotional and spiritual support for the people in mourning.

The people of the marae are not necessarily related to the deceased person and their family. They come anyway, because they care. They do this for days on end. A thriving marae will be constantly in use.

Now this volunteer effort costs those people dearly. They organise their private lives around the demands of the community, they pay for their own petrol, they make toll calls to distant relations.

Many of the volunteers are pensioners – the workers among them use up their bereavement leave pretty quickly! The demands of the job can affect their health.

There is no volunteer centre co-ordinating this amazingly complex logistical exercise – just an informal network of friends, family and neighbours who share common values and beliefs.

Because there is no formal organisation, they may have problems getting funding, for example. But you could not put a volunteer centre around a marae without compromising its integrity.

I want to make clear that our people are not expecting to be paid for their work, but a koha to cover some of their out-of-pocket expenses would be a great help.

According to the census, Maori women put in the most hours of voluntary work of any group in the country. But again, their contribution to this nation goes largely unrecognised, and gets little acknowledgement outside our own communities.

Is it reasonable to expect Maori to form a recognised legal entity to receive funding for their volunteer work? Or is the system imposing its own structures on our people as a condition of funding?

In practice, I can think of many effective but informal grass-roots organisations that got quite small amounts of funding, then collapsed under the burden of accountability and compliance requirements. Others restructured themselves, and lost credibility with the groups they were supporting.

There are ways to get around this problem, but it needs those who hold the funds to be aware of how their culture impacts on our people, and to open their hearts and minds to alternatives.

One organisation that has done this very well is the Nursing Council. Their programme of cultural safety training is a model that the community and voluntary sector might wish to consider.

Some groups I have worked with over the years got tremendous value from treaty training courses. They came to see themselves through the eyes of others, and to understand some of the history that impacts on our relationships today.

Treaty training is not a substitute for getting to know tangata whenua and Maori community groups in person, and working out a proper relationship.

Tangata whenua are developing their own strength and capabilities, using their own indigenous structures and processes.

They welcome assistance from others that will facilitate and enable their own development. They do not want others to take over or manage their development programmes. They expect equal access to resources, without others prescribing how they deliver services and measure their performance, for example.

Tangata whenua are also very conscious of their relationships with the Crown and its agencies. They expect that their tribal organisations and recognised leadership should deal directly with the Crown, and not through intermediaries.

Tribal organisations may establish their own agencies, such as health services and business development organisations. These may be the groups that participate most actively in the community and voluntary sector.

In some respects, the government’s relationships with tangata whenua are a model for our relationships with the community and voluntary sector.

You will have seen the government’s Policy on Volunteering, which I released at the end of last year. I hope you have also seen the announcement that a Community and Voluntary Sector Office is being established in the Ministry of Social Development.

The office will provide me, and the Cabinet, with cross-sectoral advice on community and voluntary sector issues. It will also be responsible for implementing volunteering policy. $3.6 million of new money has been allocated to this.

I expect the office to promote the kind of development that empowers communities to take control of local affairs, and manage their own development, with government agencies co-operating fully in support. I hope that Volunteering New Zealand will work alongside the MSD in establishing the office and advising on its operations.

Finally, I want to assure you that the current Support for Volunteering Fund assistance is ongoing.

Kia ora tatou katoa.

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