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General Debate Speech: Tariana Turia

General Debate Speech: Tariana Turia, Co-leader, Maori Party

Last Wednesday, the Minister of Social Development Steve Maharey, dropped a bombshell into the horizons. His press release pronounced:

“Social Report paints a positive picture of NZ Life”

Well that said it all really. We have had experience before of how much this government values the truth!

The Government has yet again chosen to ‘paint’ their positive picture of a situation which otherwise provides some fairly sobering reading.

Steve Maharey said the report shows a largely positive picture. "New Zealanders are living longer, healthier lives. We are better educated, safer and earn more than in the past.

Well that may be picture they are trying to paint, but Mr Speaker, the truth is the masterpiece is beginning to crack.

Why are there more people in prison than ever before?

Why are people, mainly Maori and Pacific peoples, dying of a diabetes epidemic? It is because the Government refuses to invest the appropriate resources as recommended by Pricewaterhousecoopers.

How does the ‘positive picture of this nation account for the fact that we are experiencing greater numbers of people in poverty, in situations of deprivation and social stress such as caused by poor housing, overcrowding and low incomes?

Why is it that a Maori girl born today can expect to live 8.7 years less than her non-Maori counterpart; and for a Maori boy; 8.2 years less?

It is precisely for that disparity that we have proposed shifting the age of entitlement for Maori to be reduced from 65 years to 60 years, in order to fit with current Maori life-expectancy.

Putting it in cold hard figures, that loss of life expectancy equates to something like $115,000 less in NZ pension for a Maori women; and $109,000 for a Maori man.

How is it that the masterpiece this Government is asking us to admire appears to have overlooked the ugly face of racism?

One of the most concerning findings in the Social Report is that 78% of respondents thought Asian people were subject to a ‘great deal’ or ‘some’ discrimination; 72% thought recent immigrants; and 70% thought refugees were the target of such discrimination.

Is it just coincidence that just three days after this finding appeared on the public radar that a rally was organised ‘in defence of tolerance’ at Aotea Square by the Council of Christians and Muslims?

The problem is that this Social Report is not about people of colour. It is about those who benefit most from the systems in place who treat the rest of us as ‘the other’.

Mr Speaker I want to say today that the nation has had enough of pictures being painted which are dishonest, which hide the real truth of the reality in front of us.

It is a very well-known fact that the health of mature and civilised nations is measured by the health status of its most vulnerable groups - indigenous peoples, children, people living with disabilities, and other marginalised groups.

This is the picture we must come to grips with before we go to the polls.

A picture of poverty.

The Minister cannot put his hand on heart and suggest the report is largely a positive picture when the current level of poverty among children at 21 percent. It is almost fifty percent higher than it was before the reforms of 1988 which was 14%.

We should not forget that as at the 2001 census 23% of all children under 18 identified as Maori; 11% Pacific and 7% Asian.

So the positive picture being painted by the Government doesn’t include the reality of life for many children of colour.

The Maori Party has particular concern with the fact that the proportion of children in sole parent families below the poverty threshold rose from 18% in 1988 to 66% in 2002. This group more than any know how recent Government decisions will disproportionately disadvantage them.

We have been concerned about the likely impact of the ‘Working Against Family’ initiative on those whanau living below the poverty line. About 300,000 children will miss out on the Child Tax Credit.

The Government’s package keeps the child tax credit in place only until 2006.

Furthermore, the Working Againgst Families package removes the child-related component of between $17 and $21 in core benefits. This equates to 175,000 children being deprived of the child-related component of core benefits.

We advocate that well educated and healthy whanau are fundamental to the stability and progress of Aotearoa. In this context we believe investment in whanau (of which children are an integral part) is key to achieving well-being of all who live in Aotearoa.

We can not sign our signature to a masterpiece of deception - where only some families count.

How can any New Zealand accept that the weekly per child payment of $15 for children whose parents are independent of the state will not be available to children in beneficiary families. How can we also reconcile the fact that a Labour Government has cut the special benefit by an average of $13.50.

We believe that a society is only as strong as its most vulnerable members, and that this new initiative will be at the expense of some significant numbers of children.

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