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Flavell: Housing (Information Matching) Bill

Housing Restructuring and Tenancy Matters (Information Matching) Amendment Bill

Te Ururoa Flavell; Member of Parliament for Waiariki

Thursday 29 June 2006; delivered at 5.12pm

I don't know if you will remember Mr Speaker, but when I was a young boy, I was hooked into a cult series in which an evil organisation, KAOS, attempts to take over the world.

The forces of good represented in the organisation, CONTROL, would constantly battle with KAOS to maintain order in the world. At the helm of Control was the Chief, with Secret Agent 86, Maxwell Smart - who was anything but.

Mr Speaker, the Housing Restructuring and Tenancy Matters (Information Matching) Amendment Bill is the 2006 version of Get Smart.

The apparent crisis of over-payment of benefits, is responded to with an over-the-top reaction of transferring vital details to any employees or agents of a host of agencies including ACC, the Chief Registrar of Electors, Department of Corrections, IRD, Land Transport NZ, NZ Customs Service, and so on.

And following the submission from the NZ Property Investors Federation Inc - it appeared the Department of Courts was also considered suitable in the information-matching programme.

In his fight against KAOS you might remember that, Maxwell Smart is assisted by his side-kick, Agent 99. She is the one, the beautiful one, the one with class; who attempts to talk sense into any sort of situation.

And so we come here today, the Maori Party, playing Agent 99 to this Labour Government’s Get Smart surveillance scheme, is obviously going to speak against this particular bill.

We have picked up on the submission from the Dunedin Community Law Centre who were concerned at multiple-type surveillance able to be brought to bear on one individual from number of different agencies.

As I understand it, originally the provisions of the Bill were to enable Housing NZ to disclose information about tenants and tenancies to the Ministry of Social Development who administer benefits and student allowances

But not content with MSD alone, the Bill extends the target of its surveillance over a wide berth, to help in the detection of fraud.

The Maori Party will not condone the abuse of power and privilege that is associated with any fraudulent behaviour.

But we have asked the question, right throughout this Bill, at to what justification does this control-freak, control-driven Government have for targeting beneficiaries for increased surveillance and monitoring to a level that compromises their rights.

If this Government was really committed to getting smart about housing provision in New Zealand, there are plenty of other responsible actions or interventions that Housing NZ could make to support better services for tenants.

Instead we have a reversal of the ‘one size fits all’ approach that politicians conveniently bring out for debate when all else fails.

This Bill unashamedly targets a particular population, the population of beneficiaries, for a mean-spirited attack on their rights.

An attack which implies that if a tenant is a beneficiary they have reduced eligibility for civil and human rights.

We in the Maori Party have seen such discrimination in New Zealand state housing before.

As Maxwell Smart would say, ‘would you believe’ that up until the late Indeed, up until the late 1940s Maori were excluded from mainstream state housing, on the grounds that their presence would allegedly 'lower the tone' of state housing communities. There was also an assumption that few could afford the rent.

These were the so-called golden days of the land of milk and honey. A time when ‘one law for all’ meant ‘one law for all except Maori’.

When Maori were finally admitted in to mainstream state housing in 1948, through a scheme administered by State Advances and the Department of Maori Affairs, they were ‘pepper-potted’ into Pakeha neighbourhoods to seemingly encourage their assimilation into Pakeha society.

But the question of the ‘right’ community standard returned, and it wasn’t long before the native neighbours were shunted out to ghetto-like concentrations in Porirua or South Auckland.

Discrimination in targeted housing policy didn’t just reside in the issue of location. The quality of housing provided was also ripe for analysis.

At the inaugural conference of the Maori Women’s Welfare League in Wellington in September 1951, Dame Whina Cooper, Foundation President; instigated a survey of Maori housing in Auckland.

The survey revealed large numbers of Maori were over-crowded in unsanitary dwellings. The status and profile of tangata whenua was reflected in the provision of bare housing features in each house, the lack of insulation, floor coverings, floor space, quality paint, wall coverings, concreting, fencing, sewage and community facilities.

The devastating data forced the Auckland City Council and the Department of Maori Affairs to demolish slums and provide a higher quota of state and council houses for Maori tenants.

Nowadays, more than 15,000 Maori households are in state housing.

This year marks the 55th anniversary of the Maori Women's Welfare League. Perhaps it could be timely to look again at the inspiration left behind by te Whaea o te Motu, the Mother of the Nation - and replicate the 1951 housing survey.

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party is interested in what rationale the Government can spin around the creation of two categories of tenants with different sets of rights.

Clearly, the one law for all dogs argument that dominated the micro-chipping chaos; cannot be said to apply in this Bill.

The government cannot have it both ways - and claim ‘a one law for all’ position like they're currently doing with the draft Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous People in Geneva, and then try to create a different set of rights for Housing NZ tenants. Both actions are actually a denial of human rights.

This Get Smart Bill might never have needed to have happened.

There are already sufficient and considerable measures available in the Ministry of Social Development to extract the information that is supposedly needed. We are advised that the Ministry of Social Development can obtain the same information through informed consent, and that ample powers already exist to achieve compliance.

All that the Bill does is to add another layer to their efforts to protect the benefit system.

We need to ask - what is the more important protection - the benefit system or the people?

We agree with our friends, the Greens, that we would rather see the focus be on people receiving the full amount of income support that they are entitled to, rather than introducing punitive measures which are aimed at cutting people off.

Mr Speaker, this bill sets Housing New Zealand Corporation tenants apart from other tenants.

The special privilege for Housing NZ Corporation tenants is that they will be subject to data matching with Work and Income.

It is KAOS in its absolute worst degree. One group of citizens being infected again, by this Government’s festering sore - their beef against beneficiaries.

Of course, in this chamber, we are all beneficiaries of the state. We are dependent on the generosity of the taxpayers of this land for keeping us in paid work.

And there is a considerable wealth of information that is available on each and every one of us - either through our own web-pages and promotional material - or through formal mechanisms such as the annual declaration of pecuniary interest.

But the difference between the beneficiaries in this chamber; and the beneficiaries in Housing NZ homes, is that we can sit behind the protection of parliamentary privilege, the power of position; or the safety net afforded by the Official Information Act in resisting the freesale trade of our personal information.

No such luxury exists for the beneficiaries targeted in this Bill.

If you like; it is as big a contrast between the class act of The Avengers and the comedy antics of Maxwell Smart.

The Maori Party will not stand by and tolerate the targeted injustice that we see represented in this Bill; and similarly in Working for Families.

The Maori Party will vote against the Housing Restructuring and Tenancy Matters (Information Matching) Amendment Bill.


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