Clark: Maori Women’s Welfare League Conference
Friday 3 October 2008
Rt Hon Helen Clark
Maori Women’s Welfare League
56th National Conference
Telstra Clear Event Centre
Friday 3 October 2008
Thank you for the invitation once again to open the annual conference of the League.
I acknowledge all those who have travelled from across our country to be here in Tamaki Makaurau for this 56th annual conference.
You come, as always, to support the League’s mission of promoting the well-being of Maori women and their whanau. Your members work at the flax roots of our communities, and you are very much in touch with the economic and social conditions of whanau.
So what can we say about those conditions today ?
We can say they are much improved on nine years ago, but there is still much to do.
Take unemployment. In the year to June 1999, Maori unemployment was 18.6 per cent.
In the year to June this year, it was 7.7 per cent – down almost sixty per cent.
That means many more families having the dignity of work and the pride which goes with that. That is a wonderful thing.
As well, Working for Families has given extra help to families with children, acknowledging that the task of bringing up the next generation is one of the most important in our country.
Yet significant as these improvements have been, we all know there is still a way to go when the overall unemployment rate is around half the Maori rate.
A large part of the answer I believe lies in education – something I have a passion for, and something I know that Maoridom values very highly.
Education is a good thing in itself. To have knowledge is to be empowered to take control of one’s own destiny.
To have knowledge is to be able to participate fully in our community life and in the economy.
To have a good education is to have many more choices about how we live our lives.
I’m proud that our government has made a big difference in education – and we have many new initiatives coming on stream which will make even more progress possible.
We’ve focused on early childhood education, the foundation for future learning. That was recognised by those visionary women who established kohanga reo, so that language and knowledge could be passed from one generation to the next.
The proportion of Maori children participating in early childhood education is now over ninety per cent.
We have focused grants for new early childhood centres on areas where children have been missing out, and that has helped drive the number of enrolments up.
The kohanga reo movement has done a fantastic job in boosting participation and in promoting Maori immersion education.
A majority of kohanga reo have come into the Twenty Hours Free scheme for early childhood education. Twenty Hour Free provides funding certainty for the services and is a great help financially to parents. Many families with a three or four year old in early childhood education are saving $80 to $90 each week – a big help to whanau budgets.
In our schools, a number of significant changes are happening.
This financial year we are ensuring that the new entrant classrooms are staffed for one teacher to every fifteen children. That ensures that each child can get a lot of attention from the teacher at the very beginning of their school years to get the basics right.
We have two new curricula:
• the first ever gazetted New Zealand Curriculum,
• Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, the first ever New Zealand curriculum for Maori medium education
• Supporting that, we have Ka Hikitia – the new five year Maori Education Strategy, and we have
• Schools Plus : a major new initiative to keep our teenagers in education longer and support them to achieve more.
Across New Zealand, 25 per cent of our young people leave school before their seventeenth birthday. Thirty five per cent leave without achieving NCEA Level Two (or the equivalent of what was Sixth Form Certificate).
For Maori teenagers, there are 42 per cent leaving before their seventeenth birthday, and 56 per cent leaving without NCEA Level Two.
Some might ask : why does this matter ? There are a lot of jobs out there, and unemployment has been low for years.
I think it matters for several reasons
• Those without skills are the last to be hired and the first to lose jobs when the economy falters.
• Those without skills have lower incomes and fewer prospects for life. That drives inequality.
• Those young people who leave without NCEA Level Two will find it hard to get into further education and training. That qualification is the entry level for apprenticeships in many of the trades.
If we want to reduce Maori unemployment further – as we all do – we have to support our young people to achieve more at school, as the foundation for a better future.
So what are we doing about it ?
We are establishing an age of participation in education and training – of seventeen in 2011, and of eighteen in 2014.
The school leaving age will stay at sixteen, but there will be no early leaving exemptions.
We are particularly aiming at the 30,000 15-17 year olds who are not in any kind of education, and at the 10,000 of them who are not in education, employment or training.
We are proposing significant funding and support for our schools so that they can keep a much wider range of teenagers engaged for longer.
This year we are trialling youth apprenticeships in schools, and they will be available in every school by 2011. This will be an option for students who are at risk of dropping out early because they aren’t interested in the traditional school subjects, but who are interested in doing courses which they see as relevant to their future.
By 2011, every secondary school student will be expected to have an education plan, first drawn up in Year 9 and kept under review. This already happens in leading schools. The school, the whanau, and the young person will agree on the plan. It will be a statement of what a young person needs to complete in order to reach their goals for what they want to do in the future.
These and many other initiatives are designed to make education more relevant and the system more responsive to our young people.
Already we are seeing great success from programmes like Te Kotahitanga, and from a programme aimed at reducing suspensions – which has decreased Maori suspensions from school by twice the general rate of reduction.
Maori achievement in NCEA Levels One, Two, and Three is rising sharply, as it is in tertiary education.
I am absolutely committed, as is the whole Labour Party, to making the education system work with and for Maori, because I believe that is so critical to achieving the equality of opportunity we all want for our country.
Over the years the League has worked hard on health issues. Here too, we are seeing improvements, including in life expectancy – and also in what is called health expectancy, the number of years in which a person can expect to live in good health. It stood at 64.7 years for Maori women in 2006 – up from only 59 a decade before.
It’s been a matter of pride for our government that we have been able to deliver much cheaper doctors’ fees and prescription charges. We want people to be able to check out health problems as early as possible. For small children, a doctors’ visit should cost nothing in regular hours.
The cost of going to the doctor for most people is now half the market rate, and standard prescription charges are down from $15 to $3. That makes the overall average cost of going to the doctor and picking up prescriptions a little over $30, a big drop from the over $80 it would be without Labour’s big investments in making health care affordable.
But above all we want to support people to be well – and that’s where the work we support the Maori health providers to do is so critical.
Maori health providers have improved immunisation rates for children, and have heavily promoted health screening and healthy lifestyles.
Smoking rates are down, but there’s still a long way to go. Tobacco is a big killer of our peoples – across communities, and it takes a heavy toll of lives in Maoridom.
Fighting obesity and the onset of diabetes also is a big challenge for all our communities.
Persuading all women to have their cervical smears and their breast cancer screening is critical to saving and prolonging lives.
In a big new initiative, we began last month an immunisation programme for all girls, before they are sexually active, against the strains of human papilloma virus (HPV) which are the most common cause of cervical cancer.
This is truly preventive health care. Around 160 women in our country are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, and sixty women die of the disease each year. At this time more than half of all Maori women do not have their three yearly cervical smears and so are at real risk. I hope, working together, we can do more to promote these literally life saving health checks.
Last year at your annual conference, I spoke of the major campaign being launched against family violence.
Since then, we’ve all seen the “It’s not OK” campaign on our television screens.
Many Maori social service organisations have been involved in local promotions against family violence. Community intolerance of violence in the home is rising – and much of the reported increase of violent crime comes from greater reporting of violence in the home. More and more people are prepared to speak out – and that is the first step to addressing the issue and making our homes safer.
The League has a strong record of working with vulnerable families which other organisations would find very hard to reach.
The League has been concerned about the level of funding for its programmes, and I do have officials looking at the issue.
What I can say is that our Labour Government has committed to a full funding model for essential social services, of which Whanau Toko I Te Ora is one. We are phasing in the new funding model over four years – and that should bring considerable funding increases to essential family services like this important one run by the League.
In the time available today, it’s not possible to address in detail the wide range of progress Maoridom is making on every front and which our Labour Government is proud to support.
There is economic progress, there is social progress, and there is a cultural renaissance in Maoridom. The Treaty settlement process is truly in full swing, with agreements in principle being signed, deeds of settlements being finalised, and acts of Parliament effecting settlements coming thick and fast.
All of this progress has led to the lifting of mana and to great confidence in the future.
But it’s election year – and that always throws up questions about the future.
I believe the election is about trust.
Who do we trust the future of our whanau, our community, and our country with ?
This election is between our Labour-led Government which takes principled positions and works for a better life for all our families, for reconciliation, and for inclusion, and an opposition which flip flops on every major issue.
Every progressive thing we have done as a government they’ve attacked :
• like Working for Families – they said that was “communism by stealth”.
• like the cheaper doctors’ fees – they didn’t want to limit what doctors can charge.
• like the interest free loans for students – they said that was a reckless and irresponsible policy !
• like the Twenty Free Hours in early childhood education – they tried to discourage the centres from even joining up for it, and they won’t commit to keeping those hours free of charge.
• they attacked us for buying back the railways and Air New Zealand.
• they attacked us for staying out of the war in Iraq – actually that was one of the smartest things we ever did !
The long list of attacks on our progressive policies goes on.
A change of government would most certainly mean change for the worse in the most fundamental areas of policy - in health and education, in services for the old and the young, in foreign policy, and for workers’ rights, our ACC, and our state assets like Kiwibank. So much of what we value today is only safe with a Labour-led Government.
And that includes the Maori electorates.
You have my word : under Labour, the Maori electorates will stay as long as Maori want them to stay.
Every five years, the Maori electoral option gives Maori that choice.
It would be wrong, wrong, wrong for a Pakeha majority to take that choice away.
Yet under National Party policy, there would only be one more election with Maori seats after this one.
In electoral terms, that’s gone by lunchtime.
So I come back to that issue of trust.
Who do we New Zealanders trust the future of our whanau, our communities, and our country with ? The choice is over to you.
Given the privilege of a fourth term in government, I look forward to continuing our work with and for Maoridom. I know we are making a difference for the better.
Nau te rourou, naku te rourou, ka ora te iwi.