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Superannuation and Veterans’ Pensions Bill

New Zealand Superannuation and Veterans’ Pensions (Entitlements of Spouses and Partners of People in Long-term Residential Care and Remedial Matters) Bill

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader, Maori Party

Thursday 11 May 2006

There is a very ancient waiata which includes the phrase:

He räkau tawhito, e mau ana te taitea i waho rä, e tü te tähiwi.

This is a metaphor for an older person whose body is ailing, but whose spirit is indomitable.

Within our world, the spirit of our elders permeates through every decision, every discussion, every hui.

And we sit up and listen.

I had the privilege of nursing my mother and caring for her in our home, right until the time of her passing.

When it came to any decision about whether to attend a hui, to travel to a tangi, or major family decisions, she was boss. Her word was law.

Sometimes we were not always happy with that law - my children remember the way in which she would discipline them by giving chocolates to the dog, rather than the naughty mokopuna; and we remember the long ash of her cigarette, and how we were scared she would burn the house down.

But she was very much in charge.

I remember at one of our aunty’s tangi in Hastings, telling Mum I had to return to Auckland on the third day for some key meetings. It went like this.

“Mum, I have to go; I’ve just been appointed the Race Relations Executive Officer”;

“Son, I know that’s important, but you should stay” she said.

I proceeded off to the marae kitchen, doing my poroporoaki, my farewells to all the whanau and my mates gathered there, and headed for the car. Mum was sitting in the car and uttered three little words.

“Son, you stay”.

My cousins in the kitchen couldn’t contain themselves when they saw me walking back in, somewhat sheepishly, duly reminded of my obligations, my priorities, my responsibilities.

And all it took was those three little words.

The Maori Party therefore comes to this Bill, fully appreciating the vital importance for continued participation by older people in the community life.

Our policy commitment has always been to ensure that super-annuation provides for an equitable standard of living and pays for the essentials.

We are therefore happy to support the amendments proposed, specifically:

to extend eligibility for the higher single rate to all married superannuitants living in the community who have a spouse in long-term residential care;

 to remove the ‘sharing expenses rule’ for determining entitlement for the living alone payment; and to

• extend the period of time a person can receive New Zealand superannuation while they are overseas and working voluntarily for an aid agency.

But we also do so, recognising the relatively high rate of material disadvantage amongst older Maori; and the ongoing disparities between the living standards of older Maori and older non-Maori.

Decades of disparity that result in a higher likelihood of poverty and material hardship levels for Maori, as based on Professor Mason Durie’s report, The Living Standards of Older Maori.

So while we support the three initiatives to extend eligibility, we would hope that the Government is also taking responsibility in considering other amendments in the distribution of superannuation which take into account the disparities evident in life expectancy.

The figures are shocking.

The 2005 Social Report revealed that the independent life expectancy for Maori men - that’s without requiring the assistance of another person or complex device - that is a staggering 58 years.

The general life expectancy is :

- 69.0 for Maori males compared to 77.2 for non-Maori; a difference of 8.2 years;

- and 73.2 years for Maori females compared to 81.9 for non-Maori; a difference of 8.8 years.

Eight years of life less for me, for Hone, for Ron Mark, for Shane Jones, for Mahara Okeroa, for Tau Henare, for Winston Peters - and so on - compared to many of the other men in this House. Is that fair?

No wonder we pack so much into every moment we have.

I am intrigued that those Members on the Government benches can always quantify and qualify the excellent benefits to Maori of every initiative they have ever created - and yet when we ask sensitive questions, which do not fit with the spin, they are silent.

Like in so many areas of social policy, these pre-determined arbitrary age limits, which seem to be set for fiscal reasons, generate inequities - and we challenge the thinking behind it, that that creates the disparities.

It was precisely because of these dramatic disparities, life and death disparities, that the Maori Party raised the question before last year’s election that eligibility for super-annuation should be reviewed in light of reduced life expectancy for some groups of the population - such as Maori, Pasifika, Pakeha on lower socio-economic levels.

Dr Cullen was duly asked about this very serious policy issue in Parliament on the 26th July 2005, and his response was:

“I am advised by Treasury that it cannot cost that accurately, because it has no breakdown by ethnicity of New Zealand superannuation payments”.

I just ask, what sort of an answer is that? Hansard never lies. If you don’t have the data, why not?

This is precisely why a key recommendation from the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Professor Rodolfo Stavenhagen, suggested that more targeted research, evaluation and statistical data bases was required in order to respond to the unique needs of Maori.

Of course, we are not simply saying that reducing eligibility for super-annuation from 65 to 60 is the only way we will achieve change. We are saying it is one measure - out of many.

We must invest in our greatest resource - the diversity of human capital - by addressing access to health services, by assisting state agencies to be responsive to the needs of all communities, by initiating strategies for recruitment, participation and retention across all areas, and so on.

Services which do not recognise diversity will never work. But it seems, this Government - and many people in this House - appears to be committed to a one size fits all ethos; in their blind pursuit of the cliché One Size fits all.

Mr Speaker, provision of responsive services for the elderly must reflect choices and preferences we all can make about valuing the participation of older people in our society.

I was proud that my Mum lived out her life in our home. That was a choice of our whanau.

Mum always said that she only had kids so that we could look after her in her old age. We were her insurance policy. She had paid the premiums - seventy years of enduring love, of discipline and of washing nappies and all that stuff.

This is what we have done.

This was our custom. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

In days gone by, this was the norm. The inter-generational disparities have taken their toll on whanau to do what was done in the past.

What are we going to do about that when we know that one in five older Maori face severe difficulties of material hardship and disadvantage?

We in the Maori Party believe that the economic miracles which every Government profess to have performed have led, in part, to this further fragmentation of whanau and family.

Is the fragmentation of whanau and family and the consequential loss of care and responsibility of one human being to another, genuine progress?

We think not.

Will next week’s budget and its accompanying fanfare trumpet out the glorious differential of eight - to nine years loss of life for Maori as opposed to non-Maori?

Or will it be silent?

Again.

The Maori Party will not be silent on critical matters such as reckoning the national accounts to ensure Genuine Progress is achieved.

We will be judging that Budget on the basis of the Genuine Progress Index [GPI]. Our analysis will expose the deficits of that Budget and propose an alternative - as we believe this Bill - and every Bill - should also have reflected.

We support the Bill.

ENDS


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