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Turia - "A great nation is a compassionate nation"

General Debate, Wednesday 19 July 2006
Tariana Turia, Co-leader, Maori Party

Tena koe Madam Speaker, tena koe te whare.

In the Nobel Peace Prize Lecture of 1964, the late Dr Martin Luther King challenged America to consider that a great nation is a compassionate nation. He said:

“The well-off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst.

The poor in our countries have been shut out of our minds, and driven from the mainstream of our societies, because we have allowed them to become invisible.

Just as non-violence exposed the ugliness of racial injustice, so must the infection and sickness of poverty be exposed and healed...we must not be afraid to pursue the remedy no matter how formidable the task”.

Last week, the Government stated that for certain New Zealanders they have higher living standards than they did in 2000.

While I will never diminish the importance of celebrating success, the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth in Aotearoa is a divide that I will not close my eyes to.

For etched in my mind, is the shocking revelation that forty percent of Maori and 58 percent of Pacific people have substantially lower living standards than the population as a whole. Or that 30% of beneficiary children are in “severe hardship”.

And the Government is quick to come out and suggest Working for Families will achieve miracles.

If that is true, why is it that in May 2006, less than two months ago, Anthony Byett, the Chief Economist for the ASB Bank described the weakness of this year’s Budget as leaving a large number of children, an estimated 175,000, in a parlous state?

How can anyone sit comfortably in this chamber, and ignore the spectre of poverty in the midst of plenty?

Yet be prepared to vehemently criticise beneficiaries, single parents, people trapped in the net of dependancy.

What hope do the children in these families have when they hear politicians continually berating their parents, their relatives, their race?

What honesty is there when politicians deliberately cast the underclass of the poor as being privileged? Families whose children go to decile one schools, who live in poor housing conditions?

How can any of us reconcile the rhetoric of political debate with the precarious situation of an underclass of citizens?

The misery of the poor detracts from the abundance of the rich.

In Te Ao Maori, the perilous state of our neighbour reflects poorly on our capacity to care.

The concept of manaakitanga acknowledges the mana of others as having equal or greater importance than one’s own, through the expression of aroha, hospitality, generosity and mutual respect. In doing so, all parties are elevated through the act of giving.

In practical terms this means that the hospitality and generosity of the home people is extended willingly to all who pay you the respect of a visit; nobody left behind, and no-one forgotten.

The capacity to care is also reflected in the law of gifting. Judge Eddie Durie encapsulated this concept in a momentous speech given at the time of the Te Maori Exhibition in September 1986. He talked about

“hoatu taonga, hoki taonga - a gift given is a gift that comes back. Riro whenua atu, hoki whenua mai. Land that is taken, is land that must return”.

The gifting concept affirms a commitment to reciprocity from generation to generation. That if we look after those who need it most now, our children and our grandchildren will be cared for.

As products of the system of power, we must do all that we can to remove the conditions of poverty and instability which make fertile breeding ground for the growth of injustice.

But first, we need to look to ourselves for the revolution of values that will restore hope in our families that we are all part of the solution. That our families can be transformed into sites of well-being. And that we will truly be working towards the goal, that Aotearoa is a great nation because it is a compassionate nation.

A nation that cares for its greatest assets - the people - the wealth of collective prosperity to be all that we can be.


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