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Turia: NZ Superannuation and Veterans Bill

New Zealand Superannuation and Veterans Bill (Entitlements of Spouses and Partners of People in Long-Term Residential Care and Remedial Matters Bill

Tariana Turia; Co-leader, Maori Party

Wednesday 1 March 2006

Räkau papa pangä ka hei ki te marae.

A weapon discarded can be an ornament on the marae.

In the context of this Bill, the whakatauki advises us that an older person, who has followed a career of a certain skill but is no longer agile enough or strong enough, can teach younger persons the same skill.

In its essence, this describes the unique relationship of reciprocity, of manaakitanga, inherent in our valuing of kaumatuatanga.

Of recognising that the elders, the wise ones, are the repositories of whanau stories and family histories. That they are the bridge to a world not lived by the young.

It is these characteristics that instruct us in supporting the proposed changes to amend the New Zealand Superannuation and Veterans Pension provisions.

We must ensure the adjustments provide for an equitable standard of living, pay for essentials, and enable the continued participation by older people in community life. Participation which is about the best opportunities for all - closing the gaps between rich and poor, between Maori and non-Maori, between older and younger.

This house will recall the New Zealand report from Professor Rodolfo Stavenhagen last year. The Special Rapporteur identified significant disparities between Maori and Pakeha in regard to social and human development indicators, in his visit to Aotearoa.

A key concern for the Special Rapporteur was the lack of significant disaggregated statistical data identifying ethnicity. If you do not have the right data, you cannot really target your social policy.

The information we do have in Aotearoa, is as a result of a 2002 report published by Professor Mason Durie. The Living Standards of Older Māori report shows a relatively high rate of material disadvantage amongst older Maori and clear disparities between the living standards of older Maori and non-Maori.

Professor Durie described a relatively high rate of disadvantage, poverty and material hardship levels for Māori, based on data collected using the Material Well-being Scale. One in five older Maori face severe difficulties.

It is data such as this which must inform the subsequent drafting of new legislation to broaden eligibility criteria, and to ensure that Māori are able to maximize their take-up from super-annuation and veterans’ pensions.

It is never too soon to plan ahead to help boost Māori material well-being and to ensure all super-annuitants and veterans’ pensioners living in the community are able to benefit from simplified rules, clear entitlements, and income support appropriate to assist actual living arrangements.

If we are to hold our heads up high on an international stage, we need to know how to respond to what Professor Stavenhagen observed as as “surprising differential of ten years in life expectancy between Maori and Pakeha”.

The urgency of this crisis, is also influenced by the demographic changes as the Māori population will age at a faster rate, but at a later time, than the non-Maori population.

In March 1996, there were 14,200 Maori aged 65 and over.

By 2011, the number of Maori in this age group is expected to have increased by 84 percent to reach 26,100 where Maori will comprise five percent of the population aged 65 years and over.

By 2031, the expected number of older Maori will be 59,000, more than four times its current size, and they will account for nine percent of the total Maori population.

In the space of one generation, we can expect significant population pressures, which this new legislation must take into account.

It is our moral, economic and cultural responsibility to take care of our older people. Such care is critical for the survival of mana-a-hapu. We must not short-change another generation.

If we can live up to this expectation, the benefits will accrue for the nation, as we nurture the leaders and wise advisors of our growing communities.

It is all about respect, and taking appropriate care of our elderly.

The broadening of eligibility criteria means that our elderly are able to continue to play an active role in our communities. The provision to extend the period of time a person can continue to receive Superannuation or Veterans’ Pensions while overseas and working voluntarily for an aid agency, is a particularly commendable move.

Mr Speaker, no one should leave this House today without acknowledging the fact that this is the Year of the Veterans.

This is our chance to thank all New Zealand veterans, of all ages, tangata whenua, Pasifika, tauiwi alike.

This is our time to honour their enormous sacrifices - an opportunity to recognise the inherent value of their service to our nation.

The Māori Party will continue to call for justice for New Zealand’s veterans who served in the Vietnam war, to ensure that their significant contribution to shaping our nation is also recognized.

In light of the year being distinguished as Year of the Veterans, we couldn’t believe it when we were first approached by Viet Nam veterans throughout the country incensed at the decision by the Joint Working Group on the Concerns of Viet Nam Veterans to refuse to meet on marae for their hearings.

We received emails, and phonecalls including a letter from one Vet currently living in Sydney who called the Working Group’s decision to boycott the Ngati Kahu marae in Tauranga, “a cultural insult, disrespectful and a slap in the face for Maori Viet Nam war veterans”.

We had to ask, how hard is it to hold a meeting on a marae - to respect the wishes of tangata whenua - to honour their request? Many of the veterans never received any support or counselling following their return to Aotearoa. Many experienced serious trauma and turned to alcohol to help them cope. So where were the hearings held? At the good old watering hole, the RSA. Far more suitable than the marae, or so the working group decided.

One would think that the long-term care and restoration of all our veterans, including those who served in Viet Nam, would be that they could be rehabilitated with as little trauma as possible.

It would seem to us simple good sense that those who were wounded in mind or body were adequately cared for, and compensated for their injuries. The well being of veterans' families is of critical importance.

Our veterans and their whanau, have waited for thirty years for the report released by the Health Select Committee, which confirms that Vietnam troops were exposed to a toxic environment.

In honouring the dedication of our own forces, we must never forget the innocent victims of war. The villagers, people and families of Vietnam who were also sprayed with the defoliant. The innocent non-combatants and whose voices here in New Zealand we do not hear.

It is time now for the Government to act.

The Government must honour its responsibility to respond to the devastating trauma experienced by Vietnam veterans, and the ongoing inter-generational impact on their children, in light of their exposure to Agent Orange and defoliant chemicals during their war service.

And they must do it now.

The Māori Party believes there is no better way of honouring the Year of the Veterans this year, than to recognise the genetic damage and serious health problems caused by the impact of Agent Orange on Vietnam veterans.

Taking action on Agent Orange, agreeing to hold hearings on marae, introducing amendments to the Superannuation and Retirement Income Act and the War Pensions Act, are all ways of commemorating, and giving tribute to the services so many of the peoples of this land gifted to future generations.

We as a society must ensure as Nelson Mandela, aged 77 at the time, said that “What nature has decreed should not generate undue insecurity”. Mandela said further that he wanted:

“to be able to sleep until eternity with a broad smile on his face, knowing that the youth, opinion-makers and everybody is stretched across the divide, trying to unite the nation”.

We will support this Bill as a mark of respect and for the principle of honouring our elderly, our pakeke, and our veterans the sons and daughters of Tumatauenga, many of whom as rangatahi sacrificed their youth in serving, so that we may sleep with smiles on our faces.

ENDS

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