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Hon John Tamihere: Seeking Nation Builders

Hon John Tamihere Dominion Post column
Seeking Nation Builders

I cannot defend the Brash attack on Government programmes funded to Maori. As a political strategy it is a breath-taking in its simplicity, but devastating in its impact.

Like many before me, I agonise over the poor performance of Maori. We disproportionately appear in large numbers at the wrong end of the employment queue, in education, health, welfare and justice.

The response to these seemingly stubborn difficulties is to ensure that Maori take responsibility, duty, management and therefore ownership of their problems to bring about lasting solutions.

Funding Maori health providers, is but one of many examples. There is no doubt that funding prevention upfront, rather than ambulances and hospitals, is the right thing to do. Just as importantly, it provides for significant skills, standards, qualities and a lift in the expectations of ourselves. These are basic attributes that many other Kiwi communities take for granted, but we must build.

It is right that 98 per cent of all health funding goes to Pakeha leadership, it is a fact that 2 per cent goes to Maori hands for Maori delivery. I don't begrudge Pakeha in the control of 98 per cent of the health vote and nor should I. It is not about whether the person getting all the money is a Pakeha or not. What matters is whether we are achieving the type of outcomes we need for the money received. Are we accountable for it? Are we getting better results for it? We hear that the Ministry of Maori Affairs will be done away with, but a Ministry of Asian Affairs will be created. We hear that affirmative action programmes to increase the number of Asian policemen is required solely on race, because Asian crime is increasing solely by race.

We hear that Maori children are to be given preference and made special by being allowed to wear a bone carving, but Pakeha children endeavouring to celebrate their Christianity are not allowed to wear a cross. There are not Government directions or regulations, but they are hurtful, even though they are untrue. We hear also that one should not hire a Maori because they are able to take unlimited tangi leave. The law is absolutely clear that all Kiwis have the opportunity for bereavement leave, notwithstanding their colour, race or creed. This leave is not given any more generously to Maori than non-Maori.

We now hear that Maori New Zealanders are put in positions they are not qualified for just because they are Maori, and non-Maori think they are incompetent, because they are Maori.

I do not expect to be judged any differently than a non-Maori. I serve in my position due to my education (an arts degree and a law degree, meeting the same standards of study as anyone else at Auckland University, and not gained through a "Maori quota") and my experience as a public servant, lawyer and chief executive of Te Whanau o Waipareira Trust, delivering services to Maori. Judge me on that record.

The issue is not whether I am a Maori. It is whether, as a citizen of this nation, I have the right to be what I am.

I know how easy it is to tell people why they should dislike each other and how easy it is to be seduced by those messages.

Opinion polls indicate that Don Brash's words have tapped into strong feelings among Pakeha, and I understand the angst and frustration that many people are feeling. It is OK to debate whether the pendulum has swung too far, or to question whether funding is going into the rights hands for the right reasons. That is a debate we must have if we are to resolve our differences and move forward together.

But we must have an honest debate, not one that exploits feelings of insecurity and anxiety to divide us.

It is the responsibility of leaders to not just state the problems - they must also lead the solutions. We know what National is against, but we have not heard them propose a better way forward. This ugly, reckless campaign has the potential to tear us apart, when what we need are nation builders.


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