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Dr Pita Sharples: General Debate May 14

General Debate; Tuesday 14 May 2008, 3.45pm

Dr Pita Sharples,

Employment Spokesperson for the Maori Party

Mr Speaker, yesterday was a Down Day.

The Minister for Social Development and Employment warned the nation last week that employment figures were likely to go"up and down" over the 18 months.

And down they went.

Tragically, the 466 staff at Oringi meatworks in Dannevirke realised the full effect of that warning yesterday morning, when the PPCScompany's "right-sizing programme" resulted in the closure of the works.

Last week’s ‘downers’ took place in the Coromandel – where Carter Holt Harvey dismantled 145 jobs on the spot at their Kopu sawmill and Whangarei when Tenix Shipbuilding let sixty jobs go.

Before that, there were Down Days in Mosgiel as 450 jobs disappeared from Fisher and Paykel and another fifty jobs lost when Tamahine Knitwear closed its doors; a possible 150 jobs gone in Ashburton when Designline shut up shop; a massive 11,300 jobs gone from construction industry, almost 6000 from manufacturing.

In fact there have been an awful lot of ‘down days’ in recent times.

So much so, that the latest quarterly employment survey has demonstrated a decline in the number of people in jobs on a scale that has been unprecedented and unseen since 1989.

Mr Speaker, if there was any doubt at all that we were experiencing some pretty dismal days in the job stakes, the economists removed any question.

ASB Bank chief economist Nick Tuffley described the jobs figures as "very grim". Council of Trade Unions economist Peter Conway said he had heard of employers in Te Wai Pounamu who are regularly seeing close up to one hundred hopefuls turn up for job interviews – whereas in other years they’d be lucky to get five applicants.

Westpac chief economist Brendan O'Donovan called the stats``an absolute shocker'; describing them as ``extraordinarily weak'.

Yet while all the commentators and economists and New Zealanders were worried by the loss of a massive 29,000 jobs, the Minister in charge had the audacity to say,“this is not a dramatic change if you look at the overall picture” and even worse she said, “I don’t think that this is bad news at all actually”.

Well try saying actually it’s not bad news to the workers of Dannevirke.

Families who are now struck by another blow – fast in the wake of last year’s closures at Norsewear and the closure of the Feltex carpet plant in 2006.

Mr Speaker, these figures are all down and no up.

But where things begin to get really grim is when we look at the differences and disparities between some groups of New Zealanders.

New Zealanders whose unemployment rates shot up to 8.6% and 8.2% respectively – Maori and Pasifika New Zealanders.

A pretty significant contrast to other groups of New Zealanders – Europeans – who sit on a rate of three percent compared to 8.6% for Maori.

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party has sat in this House for two and a half years, every day being reminded of the gigantic gaps that still exist years after this Parliament decided it was no longer fashionable to talk about closing the gaps.

We have sat witness to report after report which shows little or no progress in the alleviation of social and economic deprivation for certain groups of New Zealanders.

And we wonder when will they enjoy the fruits of economic growth that the Minister alludes to as the ‘ups’ of the cycle?

When will we see the equitable distribution of wealth, that will raise the standard of living of all individuals in this country, especially those on lower incomes?

How long does this nation have to wait before the gross disparity between the employment prospects of Maori and Pasifika peoples and other New Zealanders is removed?

The good news that we are all waiting for is the announcement of a Government that cares, that will take up the urgent social, legal, and constitutional imperative of fundamental change to end these injustices.

Until that day comes, Mr Speaker we will be forever relegated to the status of a nation in a position that is extraordinarily weak, an utter shocker.


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