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‘Our Hope for a Secure and LivEable World’ - Turia

Political Leaders Forum –58th General Synod / Te Hinota Whanui

James Cook Hotel, Wellington

Tuesday 13 May 2008; 8pm

‘Our Hope for a Secure and LivEable World’

hon tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Maori Party

In 1963, in a speech entitled, ‘the Strength of Love’, a humble church Minister issued a challenge which I thought upon, as I considered the themes of this 58th General Synod:

“The hope of a secure and liveable world lies with disciplined non-conformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood”.

Such was the challenge of Reverend Martin Luther King, who forty years ago this year, lost his life, in the call of duty and justice.

His was a call for hope which demanded that we be socially ambitious.

His was a call for hope which would challenge structures and dismantle institutions that pretend to be neutral while all the time perpetuating disparity.

His was a call for hope which urges us to revisit and reform these social injustices, to overcome political inertia or indifference, and to implement actions which would bring about progress.

With such actions, the world could indeed become secure and liveable.

In 1998 in Aotearoa, this universal call for hope transformed into a hikoi which today we pay tribute to, a hikoi which called for solutions, not excuses, a hikoi which was motivated by a similar quest against injustice and social alienation.

And so, I think of the words of another Minister, the late Right Reverend Whakahuihui Vercoe, Bishop of Aotearoa, who said then:

"A Hikoi is used to draw attention of the public to an unjust structure and to call on the nation to join and become a joint voice, to bring their physical presence.

It shows you where to stand, and where you're coming from.

It is a way to arouse the public mind on issues people should be united about..."

The Hikoi of Hope was a moment in our history – along with the Seabed and Foreshore Hikoi – which transformed our nation.

These hikoi can be seen as a barometer on the mood of a nation, events which no politician can erase from memory.

And so, ten years on from the Hikoi of Hope we must ask what progress has been achieved in housing, education, addressing poverty, health, employment.

Has the hope of a secure and liveable world been achieved in 2008?

Tragically, the Maori Party would have to answer an emphatic no.

A right delayed is a right denied.

What we have seen for a significant and growing sector of New Zealanders is that their rights to benefit from relative economic prosperity have not translated into real, tangible outcomes.

Fortune has smiled on a group of New Zealanders who have enjoyed significant wealth while a growing number of New Zealanders are struggling to even make ends meet.

In the last two decades of the 20th century New Zealand had the fastest growth in income and wealth inequality in the OECD.

A 2005 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that the proportion of New Zealand children in homes below 50% of the median income jumped from 7.8% in the mid-1980s to 13.6% in 2000 - a bigger leap than in any other OECD country except Austria.

And in a report entitled Pockets of Significant Hardship and Poverty released just this weekend gone, we learnt that many beneficiaries are being hit by significant price shocks in food, housing, power and transport.

The report shows the value of benefits, relative to average earnings, are now even lower than they were after National slashed benefits in 1991.

In real dollars, the single adult unemployment benefit has dropped from 28% of the average wage, to now just 21% of the average wage – at a mere $184.17 a week.

Twenty six dollars a day (the same amount of money which would buy you Chicken Supreme at the restaurant in this hotel) is not a lot to go on when there’s rent to come up with, medical bills owing, power meter to pay or bus fare to get.

But for families forced to live on subsistence incomes, the reality is even harsher.

As the paediatrician at Starship Hospital, Professor Innes Asher recently revealed, the constraints of low incomes are being reflected in preventable diseases like gastroenteritis, skin infections, respiratory problems and other diseases which we should not be seeing in 2008.

We know in particular that Maori and Pasifika children are most at risk of poor health, with inadequate nutritious food, unequal access to healthcare, substandard housing and insufficient income all leading to increasing levels of distress amongst our communities.

Back in 1998, the Anglican Social Justice Commission produced the Hikoi of hope: te hikoi mo te tumanako mo te rawakore – the voices of the people. From that document, came the statement:

“We can no longer stand by on the side of the road and watch as poverty is portrayed as the fault of the poor, and the real value of benefits decline.

Above all, this is a Hikoi of Hope: a sign to every New Zealander who lives in poverty that we know their plight, find it intolerable and are walking to change it”.

Do we want to come back in another ten years and find exactly that same statement?

Our nation is still categorising our most vulnerable members as either the deserving or undeserving poor.

The Child Poverty Action Group reminded us in their report, there are some 150,000 children who are being lumped into the left-behind category, who are compromised by significant or severe hardship.

These are the children who fall prey to third-world diseases, who live in cold damp houses, whose parents can ill afford the transport required to get them to health services.

These are the children left behind by unjust structures which deny the children of beneficiaries the support of the Working for Families inwork payment.

One of the challenges of being the final speaker in a group of six, is in coming out with the breaking news that is different to anything you have heard before.

Nobody wants our children to be left behind, for Godzone to become known as the land of gaps; a land without bread and honey for far too many of its most vulnerable.

We must as a nation, take seriously the challenges posed by the Child Poverty Action Group, by the Churches, by citizens who care.

We must do better in lifting the minimum wage, in introducing a poverty line so that we can measure progress; in caring for te pani me te rawa kore.

We must do all that we can to achieve sustainable whanau wellbeing, to create he iwi ora – healthy people, living longer.

The Maori Party will work to eliminate institutional racism; to restore the impact of Puao-te-ata-tu as a framework for whanau ora.

We seek to bring relief to the poor and vulnerable, to support a new minimum wage of $15 an hour, we will be advocating for an official poverty line at 60% of the median household disposable income after housing costs.

But we must also deal with the sixth key area that the Hikoi of Hope raised.

The removal of cultural bias in the provision of services was proposed as one aspect of progress towards achieving a separate and independent Maori nation.

It would be fair to say that when this was raised in the meetings with politicians ten years ago, the proposal was not well received.

The Prime Minister at that time, Rt Hon Jenny Shipley did however, respond in Question Time of 15 December 1998, that if a separate system had served the Church well, and they believed that this would work for New Zealand, then it would be up to them to demonstrate that they enjoyed widespread support for such a proposal before they could expect to see the proposal taken seriously.

I would suggest, therefore that this ten year anniversary of the Hikoi of Hope gives us an excellent opportunity to reflect on how well the“disciplined nonconformists” of the Anglican Church have achieved the challenge laid down by the former Prime Minister.

The removal of cultural bias in the provision of services was an over-riding imperative that was meant to guide the five key planks of jobs, health, poverty, housing and education.

And where better to look for progress, than to examine the institution of this church itself.

When the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia revised its constitution in 1992, it established a tripartite structure that truly embraced the church’s three branches – Pakeha, Maori and Pasifika – the three branches that source their unique relationship from the Hikoi of Hope.

The constitution required that any decisions made by the General Synod – the Parliament of the Church – must have the approval of all three parties – tangata Pakeha, tangata Pasifika and te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa.

This was a generous vision, which the Maori Party considers the nation would benefit from learning more about.

It is a model in which the principles of partnership and bicultural development require the Church to organise its affairs within each of the tikanga of each party, a model which keeps open the possibility of all avenues leading to common ground; a model which maintains the right of every person to choose any particular cultural expression of the faith.

As Te Hahi Mihinare ki Aotearoa observes the developments that have taken place through the influence of tikanga Maori, tikanga Pakeha and tikanga Pasifika, you will be aware there has been achievements made which could well be a lesson for the nation.

Contrary to the nervousness of the politicians who received the Hikoi back in 1998, the Church has not fallen apart, congregations have not been split asunder through the impact of the Pihopatanga.

Indeed, the proclamation of the gospel has been promoted through the growth of many more minita-a-iwi, and as a consequence many more new believers have been nurtured into the Church.

The redistribution of resources has provided Maori with the means to do the job. Te Whare Wananga o te Pihopatanga has provided a pathway for undergraduate and graduate students which has in itself done much to raise the educational development of the church.

The constitution is in its very nature a radical means by which to challenge unjust structures, while at the same time contribute to the survival of tangata whenua.

And so, again I return to Dr King’s words,“The hope of a secure and liveable world lies with disciplined non-conformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood”.

The Hikoi of Hope was a statement of defiance against an unjust society which perpetuated social exclusion and economic deprivation. It gave us all a platform, a physical presence, to unite the nation.

The revised constitution of the Anglican Church, with its commitment in seeking to transform unjust structures of society, has demonstrated that there are models of change which are secure, which are lovable, which represent the vision of a just and inclusive society.

The Maori Party celebrates the disciplined non-conformists amongst your midst, and appreciates the model you have shown the nation, that a strong and independent Maori voice is welcome and valued in the business of Te Hinota Whanui, the General Synod, and indeed the structural operations of the Anglican Church.

We thank you for your leadership and acknowledge the impact that the Hikoi of Hope has had on all of our policies for the new dawning of Aotearoa – i te wheaio ki te ao Marama.

The voices of hope from the church community, along with the driving call for justice from across Aotearoa, must be the major area of political leadership in next week’s budget, in this year’s election, in the next few days, weeks, months.

We must not allow another ten years to pass, before all those who call Aotearoa home, benefit from the hope of a secure and liveable world.

Ends


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