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John Tamihere Speech: Young people our future

John Tamihere Speech: Young people our future

Address to Massey University, one of a series of public talks, "New Zealand now", under the aegis of the School of sociology, social policy and social work, broadcast by Massey Radio


I saw an opinion poll the other day that made for some really interesting reading. And I don't just mean it was interesting in that I just about made it into single figures in the preferred prime minister rankings - though that was pretty interesting, I thought. The Digipoll survey of 1000 Maori voters was commissioned by the television programme Marae, and it showed that Maori voters have some very firm priorities when it comes to the issues facing them today. When asked "What is the most pressing issue or concern affecting Maori?" the number one response was education, closely followed by unemployment. Of those polled, 28.7 per cent said education was the most pressing issue, and 23.8 per cent said it was unemployment. Health followed third on 17.5 per cent, and then it was a sharp drop in concern on other issues - "the economy", for example, was considered the most pressing concern by just 1.7 per cent. You may hear my political opponents claim that Maori are "stuck in grievance mode" and other similar complaints - yet just 6.1 per cent of Maori voters thought "treaty issues" were of most concern.

What Maori voters know is that if we are to unlock the true potential and ability of our young people is education and economic success. I don't like to dwell on the negative, but at the moment, we're not doing too well. At the 2001 Census, 40.3 per cent of unemployed people in New Zealand were aged 15-24. The unemployment rate for 15-19-year-olds stood at 22 per cent - nearly three times that of the total population. Twenty-eight per cent of young Maori and 27 per cent of young Pacific Islanders were unemployed, compared with 12 per cent of young New Zealand Europeans. Young people are disproportionately affected by unemployment in times of economic recession; they are the most vulnerable when things take a turn for the worse. While things are getting better for young Maori as overall unemployment is currently at 15-year lows, they are still worse off than other groups.

Employment is a key determinant of income, health, housing, social wellbeing, family life and leisure. It is the key factor in determining socio-economic status. Not only does unemployment tie our people to poverty of financial means, worse than that a system which has endorsed the failure of Maori has brought poverty of spirit, poverty of self-responsibility, poverty of pride, and poverty in terms of hope for a better future for themselves and their children. Give Maori a stake and a role in building their future, and you are going to start to turn that around.

The main factor driving the disproportionate numbers of young Maori among our unemployed is their under-performance in education and training. Although the proportion of Maori leaving school with no formal qualification has decreased significantly, to where it is now at 33 per cent, there has to be more improvement in the relative position of Maori in terms of attaining qualifications, and they continue to be less well qualified than young people from other ethnic groups. In 1996, only 61 per cent of Maori left school with a formal qualification, compared to 85 per cent of non-Maori.

While numbers enrolled in tertiary institutions are growing, the rate of Maori participation in tertiary education is still only about half that of non-Maori. As those highly intelligent voters in the Marae poll know, the key to the future success of our people is education, education, education. As the son of a labourer and the first person in my family to participate in tertiary education, I can personally vouch for that.

And the statistics back up that personal experience: the qualifications young people hold are the key determinant of their labour force status. Those with the highest qualifications were most likely to be employed. There is no better way to arm our young people for the future than to educate them so they are fully informed, fully participating and contributing members of our society.

And this government is acting to ensure that in future we do better - not just young Maori, but all young people. In the Budget this month the government announced a $56 million package of initiatives to make sure all 15-19-year-olds are in education, training or work by 2007. That package includes spending - $23.6 million to expand the Gateway programme to all decile 1-5 schools by 2007, reaching some 12,000 students a year; - $14.6 million to increase the number of modern apprentices from 5000 to 7500 from 2006; - $7.1 million piloting a support programme helping young people leave state care and live independently; $5.4 million helping early school leavers enter further education, training or employment; - $3.7 million expanding support to young people in the workforce - $1.9 million enabling more 16 and 17-year-olds to apply for student allowances; - $290,000 piloting a programme testing different ways of supporting young people into work or training.

Another very positive move in this year's budget for education of our young people is the introduction of a 1:20 teacher-student ratio for students learning in te reo Maori. This means an extra 155 teachers nationwide, teaching in both kura kaupapa and immersion units in mainstream schools.

The government has also introduced a number of key strategies for supporting and ensuring the wellbeing of young people - these include the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa, the Youth Offending Strategy and Youth Health: A Guide to Action. What these measures all have in common is that they propose a shift from the way government and the respective agencies have traditionally viewed young people: a shift from seeing young people as "at risk" or a problem to be solved, to being valued participants in the community and improving their own wellbeing.

Young people are an important group in New Zealand society, not only for the contribution they make now, but as tomorrow's adults, parents, leaders, workers and decision-makers. It is young people who drive change; their innovation and imagination determines what we will wear, what music we will listen to, what films we will make, how we will talk, and how we will do business. Although the proportion of young people in our population is expected to decline as our population ages, as a group they will continue to have an important policy focus in areas such as education, health, the workforce and welfare. We must work to unlock their incredible and dynamic potential and talent.

The policies of this government are not "special treatment," as some of my opponents have suggested. I am not asking for handouts; I am asking for equality of opportunity. We do not want to see a culture of dependency on which vested interests thrive, in doing so robbing people of their work ethic, independence, and responsibility to themselves, their families and future generations.

Earlier this month during Youth Week I attended the opening of a new kura kaupapa in South Auckland and the Manukau Youth Conference, and at those two events I saw kids of primary school and secondary school age who were there learning and participating and ensuring their place in the future of this nation. They looked great in their tidy uniforms - and you don't necessarily have to be wearing expensive blazers and ties to take pride in your appearance - and were positive and enthusiastic about learning.

Those young faces are typical are those I see time and time again in my work as Minister of Youth Affairs and MP for the very youthful electorate of Tamaki Makaurau. Increasingly, the young faces we will see in New Zealand will be brown faces and yellow faces. That's a matter of demographic fact. Higher birth rates among Maori and Pacific Island communities - and, coming from a family of 12 children, and as a father of five myself, I have to plead guilty to contributing to this phenomenon - and migration are literally changing the face of our future. The latest population projections from Statistics NZ, which were issued this month, show that the Maori population is expected to continue to grow at a faster rate than the non-Maori population. The Maori population is expected to increase from 586,000 in 2001 to 749,000 in 2021 - an increase of 163,000 or 28 per cent. Consequently the Maori share of the total population will rise from 15 to 17 per cent by 2021.

Further projections by Statistics New Zealand show the Maori population is expected to reach nearly one million by 2051, an increase of more than 400,000, or 81 per cent. The Maori population, at 15 per cent of the total population, currently represents one in seven New Zealanders. By 2051 it will comprise 21 per cent of the population - one in five. The number of Maori children under 15 is expected to increase by 54,000, or 27 per cent, to number more than a quarter of a million by 2051. At present, one in four New Zealand children are Maori; by 2051 that figure will be one in three.

The Pacific Island population shows similar growth trends. By 2051, the Pacific Island population in New Zealand will number some 600,000 - an increase of 181 per cent. Pacific Islanders will more than double as a proportion of the total population, from six per cent (one in 17) in 1996, to 13 per cent (one in eight) in 2051, and one in five children will be Pacific Islanders. Whether Winston Peters likes it or not, through a 50-50 combination of migration and natural growth, the Asian population is also on the increase. The proportion of Asians in the population will grow from 5 per cent in 1996 to 9 per cent by 2016, by which time one in nine children in this country will be Asian.

And it will not just be a matter of separate flavours exisiting alongside but separately in the cultural melting pot. It is often said that there is not a single full-blooded Maori left, and pretty soon there won't be any full-blooded Pakeha either - the revolution that will shape our future nation is going on in New Zealand bedrooms. But it is not just intermarriage and mingling of our genetic heritage: our cultural and social destinies are also becoming increasingly intertwined. Just one example: I recently visited an Auckland high school where the majority of the members of a highly proficient kapa haka group were Pakeha - piupius and all.

As politicians and policy-makers, we ignore the changing face of our nation at our peril. Maori representation via the Maori seats, an issue that hit the headlines this month, is just one facet of the challenges we face in truly reflecting the changing face of this nation. If, say, the current level of support among Maori for the electoral rolls continued, with around 50 per cent of Maori voters choosing to vote on the Maori roll, extrapolations based on current population projections could see as many as a dozen Maori seats in Parliament. It's no wonder Bill English and National want them abolished!

The thought of one in five voters being Maori voters, and one in eight voters being Pacific Island voters may be a scary thought for some, but it should only be scary for those who are not willing to share a future and a vision and a Parliament that reflects the differences and aspirations of many different groups within our society. The success of Maori is the success of New Zealand as a whole - as Maori succeed, the whole nation succeeds. The nation cannot afford our failure.

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