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Sharples: New Zealand Forum on the Family

New Zealand Forum on the Family

Life Convention Centre, Airport Oaks, Auckland

Monday 8 September 2008; 9.30am

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader of the Māori Party

In the Māori Party we have a highly sophisticated, extensive network of intelligence coming in to prepare us for events such as this.

While other parties employ marketing companies to run focus groups or conduct voter research, we have a far more exciting methodology that we use to gain first hand insight into what people think.

We ask them.

But that’s not all.

The most important component of this approach is, wait for it….we listen.

One of the things I like to do most in a weekend, is to take a wander around Otara or Manurewa Markets, where we receive comprehensive and up to date analysis of every single issue facing the Parliament - and more.

And so it was that when I looked at your riding instructions for this forum, to look at tax policies for families, child abuse, the Families Commission, parenting issues, and so on, I was well informed by our facts at the flax-roots - the experiences of families.

I use the words, flax roots deliberately.

Some of you may know the waiata,

Hutia te rito o te Harakeke, kei whea te komako e ko, ki mai kia ahau, he aha te mea nui, he aha te mea nui te Ao, maku e ki atu, he tangata, he tangata, he tangata hei!

If the centre shoot of the flax bush were plucked, where would the bellbird sing, if you were to ask me, what is the most important thing, what is the most important thing in the world, I should answer it is people, it is people, it is people.

Anyone who has heard the makomako sing, those precious four or five bellnotes that ring out in the early morning, will know how precious their waiata is.

Snuggled deeply in the midst of native and exotic forests, orchards and gardens, the dawnsong of the makomako fills you with wonder. In that moment, you immediately gain perspective.

Just as we are committed to hearing the bellbird sing, we want every family to flourish, every child to know they are loved, every home to be a site of restoration and wellbeing.

And yet, the song my families in Tamaki Makaurau are singing is more like a lament than a song of joy. They are worried that:

• 27% of Māori children are living in poverty;

• children living in households where parents rely on benefits are missing out. The Child Poverty Action Group has identified 150,000 children in this group, living in severe and significant hardship.

• Children living in sole-parent families endure a rate of poverty five times as high of that of children in couple households.

• A child growing up in poverty is three times more likely to be sick ;

• hospital admissions for pneumonia, skin infections, asthma are three to four times higher for children living in the most socio-economically deprived areas;

• one in two Maori boys leave school without even level one of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement; compared to one in five Pakeha boys;

• in the age group of 15-24 year olds; 22.6% of Maori are unemployed, compared to the national average of 14%; or that

• last year 45 families lost a family member through murder.

These are not the statistics that make the bellbird sing.

These are not the figures that enable families to flourish.

The discriminatory state of the economy as it falls on these families is, we believe, the most critical issue facing our nation this election, this year, this lifetime.

How can we reconcile the fact that 15% of New Zealand households own an investment property - a timeshare apartment - an overseas home - with headlines like last Friday, ‘Injustice killing Kiwis on grand scale”. The gap between the rich and poor is crippling us; and it’s getting worse.

That headline related to an article in the New Zealand Medical Journal which outlined that the neo-liberal economic and social agenda has disadvantaged poor people and specific locations, as well as Māori and Pasifika persons.

We are all awaiting the results of the court action brought by the Child Poverty Action Group, which describes the way in which the children of beneficiary parents are being deprived of up to $60 per week, in being excluded from the Inwork Tax credit.

The question we have always asked about this policy is how fair is it to deprive our most vulnerable citizens, our children, from their right to a decent standard of living, on the basis of their parent’s employment status?

We believe that support for the child should not be jeopardised because of issues relating to the parent. We believe that children should be entitled to every support available to them, if we are to invest in the leaders of our future.

We all have a vested interest in our children succeeding.

It is more than a matter of Mum, Dad and the kids.

In Te Ao Māori, we believe that every child exists within a society of extensive relationships, a proud culture and history based in their whakapapa. This requires an understanding that the broader whanau also has a shared responsibility and obligation determining the future of tamariki Maori. Our challenge is to live up to that goal.

In the Māori Party, we talk about a whole of whānau approach - ensuring we are committed towards the creation of communities who care.

And I want to touch on an issue that I know some of the groups here had varying views about - the use of physical force as justified under section 59 of the Crimes Act for the purpose of disciplining a child.

I was absolutely shocked to see comments in Friday’s papers from Inspector Chris Graveson, that teachers shouldn’t be scared to manhandle difficult children, even if it means leaving bruising.

The reactions over the last week about how to respond to challenging students have worried me. It has made me wonder how quickly our society slips out quick fix solutions which fit a culture of violence.

We, the Maori Party, want to promote the possibility of a world without violence – where the principles of aroha, whanaungatanga, manaakitanga, atawhai i te tangata stand for something.

This nation has a horrific roll call of outrageous and shameful violence to our young. As long as we live in a land where a child is beaten so savagely that their blood splatters on the ceilings above, none of us can sleep easily at night.

Our stand to remove physical force as a defence under section 59 of the Crimes Act, was a mark in the sand, to say, that from this time forth, we must do all that we can to change the attitude towards children, towards our families.

We must replace violence with love. We must prevent the senseless, horrendous abuse being served out to our children. We must unite to do all that we can to stop this gruesome reality playing out in far too many homes.

And so we chose to be aspirational; to say we truly believe our children our taonga; and our role is to protect and promote them from further harm.

There are other things we must do, to allow our children to sing.

We need to pledge to end child poverty in terms of all poverty measures by 2020. We will set a 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. We will:

• extend the formula applied in the in-work tax credit to ensure all families with children benefit from support;

• provide a universal child benefit;

• set a deadline to eliminate child poverty by 2020 so that progress can be achieved;

• exempt those who earn $25,000 or less from income tax;

• raise the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour; and

• remove GST from food.

We believe that opportunities must be provided for every person in this land to achieve to the highest levels of their potential, regardless of the ability to pay.

We need a savings culture which is not just about living within our means, but it is also about investing in our future. We want to see our world being a clean, green haven once more.

We know that ultimately healthy families come from healthy communities.

We know there are many communities where the families have never had the opportunity to reach their potential.

We are calling these communities, Opportunity Communities. It is our pledge to honour our commitment to those in need. We want to ensure they have every chance to seek out new and sustainable opportunities to achieve their aspirations.

We believe in communities working together. We will support and resource those communities and organizations within them who can demonstrate the greatest success in achieving safer families, healthier babies, happier homes.

Māori orators sometimes use the phrase,

‘Ka rite ki te kopara e ko nei i te ata’ -

like the bellbird singing in the morning’.

It is a statement of hope, that our families can be strong once more, that our communities are safe and thriving, that everything is right with our world.

The challenge before us all is - what can we do, to hear the bellbird sing?


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