Sharples: Budget Debate
Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader of the Maori Party
Thursday 22 May 2008; 4.10pm
Budget Day is the day when one side of the House rise to their feet in applause while the other side throws brickbats and dissects the dollars.
The meaning of life doesn’t feature much in that classic piece of political theatre.
But for over four million New Zealanders, the meaning of life is the quintessential conversation point of every significant discussion.
It is the motivation which separates out those who live by their dreams from those who live in regret.
It is the question not about whether we will die, but how we will live.
And so today, how will the great New Zealand public assess the difference this Budget will make to their lives?
A four billion dollar tax-cut package is all well and good, but there is so much more to do, to address inequalities and need.
The tax cuts will relieve pressures on many families, but we really wanted to see a much greater emphasis on eliminating poverty – and this Budget doesn’t do that.
How does it affect the 1.8 million people on incomes under $25,000; whose hope is being extinguished them by a Government that ignores them? 1.8 million people who are struggling to make ends meet.
And we need to recall that it is not just the unemployed who need help with feeding their families, but those in part-time work and on low pay scales.
Of this 1.8 million people, ten percent of this group are children whom the Child Poverty Action Group has revealed are living in severe and significant hardship.
These are the children that the Public Health Association describe as an underclass, poverty and poor housing making them sick.
What too, is the meaning of life for the people who inhabit our dormitory suburbs, those communities like Titahi Bay, Otara, Mangere, Flaxmere, where people may sleep but their working life is elsewhere?
The meaning of life, Mr Speaker, must be about a qualitative difference that brings our aspirations within reach.
The Minister referred to a vision for a sustainable nation – trouble is, if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.
We need to be bold, to make statements of faith to lift the quality of life for all.
Some of that policy courage has been demonstrated in this Budget amongst the loads of lollies designed to reward lobby groups.
We welcome the investment in rail and ferry infrastructure to deliver a better service, to reduce the number of cars on the roads, and decrease our greenhouse gas emissions.
We commend the initiative of the Greens in their work in achieving a state house insulation programme – a programme which will improve the health of tenants and achieve energy cost savings.
And we are of course pleased at the investment of $450m to improve partnerships with community based social services; $80m for child and adolescent oral health and $30m to create healthier environments. All elements of progress, but are they enough?
For we can not be blind to the newsflash from Statistics New Zealand that the number of New Zealanders leaving for overseas in the past year, some 48,000 of us, has never been larger.
And what is even more shattering is to learn that quality of life has displaced pay as the biggest single influence on finance professionals weighing up whether to leave New Zealand.
Ironically, the factor which most attracts immigrants to our shores – our quality of life – is pushing us on to the first plane outta here.
When we talk quality of life, we think about traffic congestion, poor air quality, the management of waste, poor beach and stream quality, the need to protect our bio-diversity. We think about crime, violence, child abuse, white collar corruption, poverty.
We think about the 29,000 who have lost their jobs; we think about the fact that unemployment rates for Maori have shot up to 8.6%. and for Pacific peoples 8.2%, compared with 3% for Europeans.
It would seem that our pursuit of wealth as our saviour has sacrificed the sustainability of Aotearoa as a place people want to live in.
The Maori Party has constantly raised the need for a Genuine Progress Index to ensure we measure progress on all levels.
If we don’t set a baseline standard for what is acceptable, the nation will end up with a quality of life that is far below what we deserve.
We need to pledge to end child poverty in terms of all poverty measures by 2020. One part of this is to designate an official poverty line at 60% of the median household disposable income after housing costs – how else will we know we have made the difference if we don’t have a benchmark to begin with?
The need to bring relief to the poor is urgent.
While the bringing forward of the Working for Families adjustments related to Family Tax Credits is welcomed, we still believe there is much more to do to respond to what the Minister described as the twin pressures of food and fuel price increases.
We need to adjust income support levels to maintain and improve their relativity with what CTU has recommended to be required - a new minimum wage of $15 per hour.
If we were to increase benefits by wage movements rather than the CPI, that would equate to an annual increase of a little more than 1.1% on average. Based on the current forecast for benefits in 2007/08 at $16.4 billion, the extra cost would be about $180 million – not a great deal in the scale of things.
Although the business tax regime has been simplified, we would have supported the introduction of Business tax incentives to move to ‘limited employment zone areas’ – those regions which are economically under-developed.
We want to turn our ‘dormitory suburbs’ back into communities of hope and promise – where we know our neighbours, we enjoy sport and recreation together, we rebuild our communities as sites of safety.
We want to see our world being a clean, green haven once more. We know that means facing the costs of greenhouse gas emissions, including CO2, which someone has to pay – either the polluter, the taxpayer, or future generations.
We need a savings culture which is not just about living within our means, but it is also about investing in our future.
For tangata whenua, our quality of life is associated with our cultural values and customs; our responsibilities for our traditional lands, water, sites, waahi tapu and other taonga; our capacity to live as Maori.
While the Government announces $750m will go into developing our unique national identity, it appears to be focused only developing that identity in Asia, Pacific, Latin America – in fact anywhere but Aotearoa.
No matter how important, national identity is more than a Wharewaka on the Wellington waterfront or reappropriating funding to pay for Waka Umanga.
When will we learn that our greatest opportunity for success is in upholding our indigenous values to ensure our country maintains its natural beauty and is home for all New Zealanders?
We want to see an investment in diversity. Diversity should not be redefined as the way in which we understand the persistent disparities, the social and economic disadvantages associated with low levels of educational participation and attainment; those who are preyed upon by gambling lords and loan sharks.
Diversity is about the strength of all our peoples in Aotearoa, the added value our nation achieves through valuing the importance of working together and living together, our shared heritage – our home.
And most importantly of all, our quality of life is about happiness.
What we might call - 'wairua tau', 'mauri tau' – that general sense of wellbeing.
But if there is one thing that New Zealanders want now, it is to know that leadership is being provided by people with a purpose, by people who have the knowledge about what one needs; by people with a burning desire to achieve that success.
That leadership is being provided already in whanau, hapu and iwi. It is being provided in families of the working poor, families in hardship, families in business and enterprise, families enjoying success.
The Maori Party respects that leadership, and our biggest job now is to ensure that the qualities displayed by that leadership are not hindered by structures and systems designed to undermine them.
The Maori Party is committed to working together with those who are committed to staying in this country to make Aotearoa great once again.
This Budget is but one more reason demanding we do so.