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Budget Policy Debate - Making The Road By Walking

Budget Policy Debate - Making The Road By Walking

Hone Harawira, Finance Spokesperson for the Māori Party

Before I came to Parliament, cost-cutting, penny-pinching, keeping the freezer full, and ‘making do’, were just part of the challenge of raising a whanau up north.

After having spent some mind-numbing months on the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee, I realise that the same principles apply to Parliament and the National Statement of Accounts.

And folks, I gotta say - the accounts down here in Wellington just don’t add up.

1. One example is this - Government is planning to spend an extra thirteen billion dollars over the next four years but for some reason it can’t find the money to help the 250,000 poorest kids in Aotearoa.

That’s a damning indictment on Government, reflected in the view put to the select committee by the Public Health Association who challenged us that the health of children must not suffer because of Government policies.

And quite frankly, we should not be patting ourselves on the back about how good the accounts look, when our kids are going hungry.

2. In terms of income and growth, we note that the country has a 3.8% growth rate, but that sixty percent of Maoridom still has an annual income of less than $20,000. And in fact, at the time of the election, the average income for Tai Tokerau Maori was less than $13,000.

Again, the national accounts may look ok, but they sure don’t stack up for Maori.

3. And then, at the other end of our population, we note that government is expecting to have nearly ten billion in the superannuation fund by 30 June, but for some reason there is still a massive difference in life expectancy between Maori and Pākehā. And while every Maori taxpayer, like everybody else, will be expected to contribute to that super fund, very few Maori will actually get to receive the benefits of it.

Again Mr Speaker, the glitter of the accounts does not measure up to the reality of those most in need.

Mr Speaker, we need to take a harder look at the way we present our national accounts, and consider a more realistic and more honest measure of the state of our nation, because our well-being, our health and our future as a nation depends on the prosperity of our total environment, not just what’s in the wallet.

The Minister of Finance spoke to us last week and painted a pleasant picture with words like a ‘modest or mild slow down’, “retail numbers coming off a bit”; and the reassurance that the present track is within “government’s comfort range”.

But we also need to inject some reality into that comfort range, and that reality includes the Race Relations report released this week, which noted that:

“indicators of well-being remain relatively poor for Māori and Pacific peoples in a number of areas particularly health, economic standard of living and education”.

That reality also includes the big difference between Pakeha and Polynesians in health problems like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity, and smoking-related illnesses.

Which brings me to just one of those areas - smoking.

During the select committee process, the anti-smoking groups both argued for massive increases in the tax on tobacco.

Well, the reality in my electorate makes the tax increase argument a nonsense. Because when people are addicted to smoking, when you put up the price, smokers get pissed off, they stop buying cigarettes, they go out and buy roll-your-owns instead, the health problems get worse quicker, and the country starts paying out more for smoking related health care.

I am a reformed smoker, and some would say a bit of a pious and pompous prick about it as well, but I am also a politician, and a proud member of the Maori Party who are mounting a strong attack against the tobacco companies.

Nelson Mandela said that, ‘If you are a politician you must be prepared to suffer for your principles’. We in the Maori Party are prepared to do that.

He also said, ‘A political movement must keep in touch with reality and the prevailing conditions’.

And while some may think our position is a little wacky, the position is not that hard to understand. The reality is Tobacco kills nearly 600 Maori people every year, and jeopardises the lives of all those around the smokers as well - family, friends, workmates; kids are particularly vulnerable.

And the prevailing conditions of poverty and low wages are also part of that reality.

Whenever I see people light up, I think about things like:

1. how 25% of those who die from smoking, die 22 years earlier than non-smokers;

2. how, like me, my co-leader, Dr Pita Sharples stopped smoking because “it’s all about whanau” - and like me, he also wants to live to enjoy his mokopuna.

3. And regrettably, for all of their best efforts, the Just Say No campaigns aren’t working

Yesterday, the Australians said that based on an inquiry into the effects of passive smoking on passengers, particularly children, they were considering legislation banning people from smoking in their own cars.

And yes - I can hear all those smokers shouting out, how can they !!! This is my car !!! I can smoke in it if I want to !!!

Well - folks remember when the bikies kicked up a fuss about helmets, and now they all wear them and nobody blinks about it? Remember what a fuss there was about us having to wear seat belts, and now the first thing we do when we get in a car is put one on. And remember how we all thought kids seats were dumb, and now everyone’s got one.

Sometimes folks - we have to put personal choice aside for the greater good. And banning the production and sale of tobacco is one of those times.

Mr Speaker, when we look at the health of the economy, we must also look at the health of the people, and the health of the nation.

And we must find a way of achieving genuine progress for Aotearoa.

The Māori Party has adopted what is known as the Genuine Progress Index or GPI, which measures progress based on positive contributions and negative activity.

Smoking for example is a negative activity because it takes $1.2 billion dollars out of our pockets, and adds millions of more dollars to the bill through health-care, and for what?

There are no positives about smoking. A GPI reading looks at the cost of cigarettes and tobacco, the cost of passive smoking, loss of earnings from those who die from smoking related diseases, health-care costs.

Mr Speaker, I remind this House: Smoking Kills, and the tobacco companies keep smiling. Last year, the number of cigarettes in Aotearoa increased to 2436 million. That’s 590 cigarettes for every baby, every child, every daughter, every son, every mother, every father - every grandparent - every single person in Aotearoa.

That's criminal.

And this is a good opportunity to remind ourselves that the GDP the government uses, or gross domestic product, is nothing more than a measure of economic scale.

GPI is the true measure of the health of our nation.

A true measurement of the treatment of crime and criminal in the nation must balance up the expenditure (and in our case massive projected budget blow-outs) with the impact on the nation of the drivers of crime and punishment.

I know this only too well from our experience of Ngawha.

When Corrections first proposed the building of Ngawha Prison, they talked about Maori this and Maori that, a great new employment project for the North. What they didn’t tell us was that Ngawha would cost too much to build, be just another 360-bed comprehensive regional prison, using the same obsolete practices that don’t help people to get rehabilitated, and having to be repaired all the time because it is sinking into the geothermal landscape.

The enormous financial and social cost of our record prison populations ranks as a negative on the GPI index, and one that we need to balance out, with rational and forward-thinking debate on criminal and penal policies, which encourage whānau to take responsibility for their own, which introduces alternatives to prison, and which can help victims, communities and offenders.

Mr Speaker, the Māori Party well knows the risk of raising issues of principle like tobacco control and crime, and the shots people will take at us for daring to raise them. But if we want to achieve, then we must also be prepared to take the risks.

Without the tragic contradictions between what is, and what could be, would we ever have the dream? If we do not take the chance to grab little pockets of hope and adventurism we may as well settle for a life of mediocrity, a nation half-fulfilled, forever thwarted by the untapped potential of the peoples who will form our future.

In 25 years, the population of this country will be more Polynesian, more Asian, better educated, and more multi-lingual. We need to consider Maori knowledge as an asset to this nation, and we must look at how we can harness the talents, the values, and the philosophies of our Pacific and Asian brothers and sisters.

Treasury has no structured mechanism for recognising and dealing with the browning of our society, but folks - a brown Aotearoa is like Pantene - it may not happen overnight, but it will happen, and we must factor that into all of our plans.

We must look at how it costs $2000 per Polynesian child in hospital costs, and instead, plan to insulate all homes to reduce the likelihood of asthma which occurs because 30% of homes simply aren’t insulated.

We must look to new approaches to deal with how to manage our natural resources better to cope with the peak oil challenge.

Finally, the Brazilian educational revolutionary Paulo Freire reminds us that “we make the road by walking”.

If we want policy statements that bring about positive social change, we just need to start doing it - to think outside the square, to open the debate to include indigenous peoples, to indeed make the road by walking.

“Happy are those who dream dreams, and are prepared to pay the price to make those dreams come true.”

Kia ora tatou.

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