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Parental Leave & Employment Protection - Harawira

Third reading
Wednesday 10 May 2006

Hone Harawira, Spokesperson for Employment

In her 1984 autobiography, Helen Clark joked that if she was elected, the whole of our society would change overnight.

Well today, we live in a society where the importance of parents, children, and whânau is constantly being eroded by government policies. Policies which have deprived 230,000 children simply because their parents cannot work; policies which have ruthlessly cut the lifeline that many mothers and babies rely on through Plunketline; and policies which punish 63,000 Mâori families by denying them the benefits of the Working for Families package.

Twenty years later, the Prime Minister’s joke has worn thin.


A month or so back, Labour’s Mâori Caucus called a media briefing to promote this package to the media. Unfortunately though, one of the journalists was so underwhelmed by the presentation, that he was moved to say: “No-one could explain how many Maori will benefit from the package”.

The fact that Labour felt the need to trot out its Maori MP’s to sell a package that denies nearly 100,000 Maori children the support they so desperately need, is an indictment on Labour’s discriminatory policies, and a sad commentary on those Labour Maori MPs who willingly gave their support to that denial.


Make no mistake - the Mâori Party will support this Bill because we want people who are self-employed to be able to get paid parental leave, because we see parents as being critical players in a stable society; and because we have always believed in the importance of financial security for whanau.


We also support this Bill because it will benefit Mâori women who make up an increasingly greater proportion of Mâori with jobs - although like John Tamihere, I too wonder at the adverse effects that the fall-off in employment for Maori men may be having on whanau, hapu, iwi, Maoridom, and society itself.

A recent Ministry of Economic Development report revealed that Mâori women are still very much under-represented amongst the self-employed. It also noted that what gains Mâori women had achieved in the workforce, were just as quickly being worn away through a lowering in their quality of life.

In fact, Mâori women interviewed in the report, admitted that they had spread themselves too thinly and were having to wear too many other hats.

And this, Mr Speaker is one of our biggest concerns - promoting employment initiatives, without properly recognising, protecting, and enhancing the role of the whanau.

And whanau is what counts. We count the cost of parents being forced to work at low-income jobs. We count the cost to society of a generation being brought up without the support that we enjoyed as children.


Economically, the benefits of self-employment are a significant feature of Mâori business success.

In fact, a report to the Hui Taumata stated that businesses owned by self-employed Mâori are valued at over $5.7 billion - an impressive statistic by anyone’s estimation.

These assets constitute 63% of all Mâori owned commercial assets, largely invested in tertiary industries such as wholesale and retail trade, property, transport, social services, hospitality and tourism - and we commend those Maori business-people for their energy, their commitment, and their willingness to take risk.

But despite this undeniable prosperity, other factors need to be considered, particularly about how to improve workers’ work-life balance.

Is paid parental leave designed to support child health and child development, or is it designed to keep women hooked into a paid workforce?

What is being done to prevent poor health in mothers and their babies, caused by mothers feeling the need to return to the workforce, earlier and earlier?

What progress has the Government made in eliminating poverty?


The Mâori Party is particularly aware that for many Maori, a return to work is becoming increasingly an economic necessity, in a society in which profit has become more important than the needs of it’s members.

For if society were to truly value the importance of parents, then as well as paid parental leave for self-employed parents, we would look to provide support for parents in casual work, and those forced to hold more than one job.

Furthermore, if we truly valued the importance of parents, we would also give special consideration to the needs of Mâori and Pasifika, who are the sector most affected by any changes to employment legislation, especially given the fact that Polynesian populations are growing more rapidly because of a higher fertility rate (go whanau go!!), and will make up an increasingly larger component of the workforce, including the self-employed.


Another issue that has been brought to our attention is the status of matua whangai, or the caregivers of children, often their own mokopuna, who they have chosen not to adopt, and the fact that they have been excluded from recognition under this bill.

Whangai are an integral part of Maori society - indeed our party co-leader Tariana Turia has a whangai of her own, as do I, and neither of us has bothered to adopt our mokopuna, but to simply raise them in the time-honoured Maori fashion.

Including whangai in legislation is a vexing one for Maori, and one that Maori are still not formally resolved on. Suffice to say though, that the Maori Party finds it difficult to accept that those who take care of children under any terms, may be denied support because of their different cultural practices.


Maori have a saying

- he aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata -

what is the most important thing in the world?

It is people, it is people, it is people.

We in this House are those who would have a say in the governance of our nation, and we must guard against allowing economic pressure to force us to devalue the significance of parents and whanau.

We have an obligation to hold fast to the importance of those who gave us life; who shaped and nurtured us, who are the inspiration for what we are today, and who give us the values upon which we base our decisions.

The Mâori Party will support this Parental Leave And Employment Protection (Paid Parental Leave For Self-Employed Persons) Bill, but we urge all members of this House to give further thought to protecting and enhancing whanau, for whanau are the heartbeat of the nation, and parents are its heart.

Kia ora koutou katoa


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