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Turia: When I'm 64

Mana – Tawa Grey Power Political Forum: focus on health

Tuesday 8 April 2008; 1.30pm

Tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Maori Party

In 1966, a young sixteen year old Liverpool lad composed a song which could have one day been the anthem for Grey Power.

The boy was Sir James Paul McCartney. That song, ended with lyrics,

Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four?

The population, 64 plus, is thriving, growing and increasing its proportion of the nation's population.

The results of the 2006 Census showed that 14.5% of our population in Aotearoa is 64 and over – which equates to over half a million New Zealanders in this age group.

Extrapolating from here, it would appear that in 2026, over twenty percent of the population will be in this age range – with figures suggesting just over a million of us will be singing the senior citizen’s song.

Interestingly, the look of our golden oldies will be browner. Whereas today, in every hundred people over 64 years of age, we may expect to meet

- five who are Maori,

- two who are Pasifika and

- three who are Asian, the demographics are going to change quite dramatically.

In 2026, out of every hundred people over 64,

- eight will be Maori,

- 3.5 will be Pasifika and

- ten will be Asian.

So the question, will you still need me, will you still feed me, must recognize our increasing diversity as a nation.

While we in the Maori Party celebrate the prospect that the numbers of older Maori will almost treble in the next fifteen years, we know too well, that there are many significant challenges facing our pakeke which will need to be addressed.

And uppermost in these challenges will be that of health.

Not only is our life expectancy about eight and a half years less than that for non-Maori, but we face chronic and persistent health concerns with diseases such as breast and prostate and other cancers, and diabetes, and we experience a high rate of conditions such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, and arthritis.

And so the pressure and demand for equitable, timely, affordable, accessible and culturally safe health services for older people is a priority for us.

Like no doubt many of you here, we were astounded at the sudden decision announced on 1 February this year, that Capital and Coast Health had decided that the accident and medical services at Kenepuru Hospital would suddenly, immediately, close from 11pm to 8am in the morning.

No consultation. No prior warning. No notice. They just closed up shop, that weekend, while the rest of Wellington was supposedly enjoying the festivities of the sevens.

It was one of those moments when I was absolutely furious about the impact of bureaucratic decision-making on high, which in effect just penalised further an already low decile community.

A community in which I have spent considerable time trying to support people who are living in sub-standard Housing New Zealand homes and then bearing the brunt of their housing conditions through poor health.

We all know that when the decision was made to build the tertiary hospital at Newtown rather than Kenepuru, both Kapiti and Porirua communities were promised a 24 hour seven day a week accident and medical clinic at Kenepuru. It is a promise the Maori Party has been raising with Government, and will continue to do so.

We must ensure that Government invests wisely in maintaining the provision of emergency services, instead of relying on voluntary community efforts.

And although we know that Wellington Free Ambulances Services nobly stepped into the gap and said they would station an ambulance at Kenepuru during the closure, it isn’t fair or right, that the local people of this region are denied immediate access to the 24 hour accident and emergency service you were promised.

Of course, Kenepuru is a perfectly good hospital – we also believe that free, high quality primary health care and free medical consultations is an entitlement we should be able to expect.

I’d be interested to know how readily Work and Income are supporting our elders, with practical help such as assistance for doctors and medical prescriptions; medical and health related travel; ambulance fees; extra power, gas and heating, dentures, reading glasses or hearing aids.

We don’t just want a Gold Card. We want Gold-star access and referral to primary, secondary and tertiary health services for all people, regardless of the ability to pay.

Further to all of this, we are firm believers in seeking our own solutions, and an essential part of this is whanau based and home based care options so that our elders can stay in their own homes with the love and care of their whanau around them.

Within this we want to see family based, home-based care properly resourced, including respite care.

The critical element that runs through all of our policy is the importance of remaining connected to our family and social networks.

Of course, we need to ensure that older people have sufficient income, and their families, to maintain active participation in community life.

That is why we have always advocated that superannuation policy should be reviewed with the intent of balancing the entitlement age from 65 to 60 for groups whose life expectancy is lower than average.

The shorter life expectancy of some population groups has implications for the length of time that they can enjoy government benefits, especially superannuation.

There’s still a huge gap between the fact that Maori men are likely to receive four years of support from super, while their non-Maori peers receive at least twelve.

We are all aware that the economic circumstances of older Maori are significantly and substantially less well off than non-Maori. Maori have lower income levels, lower levels of savings and assets and are less likely to own their own home than non-Maori.

We need to ensure that all people will be well provided for in their retirement years - both through immediate income from super, and by having enough income before retirement to enable things like home ownership and savings.

And so we support an increase to New Zealand Superannuation, as well as reviewing the appropriate entitlement age for groups whose life expectancy is lower than average. And we also support tax cuts for low income families and an increase in the minimum wage.

I want to commend the work of Grey Power, the vital advocacy role you play in ensuring that the health and wellbeing of our elderly is a priority not just in Election Year, but every day of every year.

For Maori, those of our whanau who have lived long are a cherished group, worthy of our utmost respect and support. They are held in the highest of esteem, their status unquestionable in our hearts and we would hope that our actions match this.

We have a saying

'I puta ai te pai a tera whanau na nga manaakitanga
e to ratou kuia.

You can see the positive results from that family because of the good nurturing and care of their elder – and families are judged accordingly.

The roles our elders fill are often a huge contrast to some cultures, which anticipate that their elders be troubled only by the luxury of too much leisure time on their hands.

In our world, our elders are vital cultural champions, carrying on and strengthening our protocols, guiding our young members, offering advice in hui and activities.

Elders may be called upon to resolve conflicts across the whanau, they may be called upon by local authorities for cultural guidance and advice, they may be called on to protect and nurture our young children. Indeed, my husband and I are supporting and raising grandchildren – and loving it.

And at the same time, we are expecting elders to be hosting visitors at our marae, uplifting our whanau through their spiritual leadership, representing our whanau at tangihanga, teaching, inspiring, leading, supporting.

That is why the health and wellbeing of our older people is so important – you need to be truly superhuman to be a superannuant in Maoridom!

It is critical to the Maori Party that the particular needs of our older citizens are not just acknowledged but also delivered on in all health and care services.

We look forward to hearing from you as to particular priorities for Mana, Tawa, Porirua – and we pledge to you our ongoing support for ensuring that all of our elders, throughout this land, are able to participate in and actively contribute to our communities. It is in the best interests of us all, that we achieve a nation which truly takes care of each other.


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