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Speech: Katene - Government and Politics Seminar


Rāhui Kātene
MP for Te Tai Tonga |
Tuesday 12 October 2011; 9.30am
Lincoln University, Christchurch

New Zealand Government and Politics Seminar

In 45 days time you will be asked to go to the polls; to make a choice as to the most strategic options going forward; in shaping the political landscape of Aotearoa.

According to the media, we face the threat of the most boring election ever.

But as I travelled here today to Lincoln, I allowed my mind to reflect back over the year we have had here in Christchurch; and while I could think of many adjectives to describe this year, boring certainly wasn’t one of them.

There is no question in my mind that the experiences we have endured – continuing up to the aftershocks still reverberating in the last 24 hours – have changed the nature of the Canterbury psyche for ever.

And I truly believe, like the proverbial lotus bloom, that out of the liquefaction and seismic activity has emerged an incredible energy that will add vital new life to our national identity.

This afternoon, after over 2000 hours of labour intensive duties, students from this university are going to hand over two substantial cheques to two Christchurch organisations – Van Asch School for the Deaf and the Burwood Spinal Trust.

And I am so pleased to be here in person to express the admiration and respect of the Maori Party to you all, for the generosity of spirit you have expressed in your Lend a Hand initiative.

It is truly remarkable that in the midst of your own turmoil you would think to fundraise, and to make a significant contribution to inspire community strength; and I congratulate you all.

But how does this act of spontaneous compassion relate to Government and politics?

Basically it tells me everything about a student population seeking a better future; putting into action plans to build unity and create confidence. All characteristics we need in nation-building.

And of course, the random acts of kindness generated at Lincoln were not an isolated event.

We have had the excitement of the Gap Filler project –temporary art installations erected all over the city to make creative use of empty space.

We have had the epic response of movements like the Student Army and the Farmy Army; pitching in with a shovel, a broom, clearing the city of debri.

Or the accumulation of landscapers dreaming up new plans to not just restore Christchurch as a garden city, but to instead locate the city within a garden – a garden city of the world.

These are just a few of the remarkable events that have sprung out of Otautahi in the wake of what might otherwise have been perceived as a fatal moment in our history.

And so, I place my faith in all of you to carry that same spirit of optimism to the ballot box in November, as you have applied to the daily dose of crisis and upheaval.

It is about making a choice – a choice to pick up the shovel and dig; a choice to create new opportunities; to broaden our horizons.

Just over three months ago, the nature of the choice we face in our political future was put to print in the form of a report from the Waitangi Tribunal, responding to the WAI 262 claim related to Maori culture and identity. The choice was described as a crossroads, and I quote:

New Zealand sits poised on a crossroads both in race relations and in our long quest for a mature sense of national identity……A crossroads in history offers choices…….It is clear to us…that a future marked by interracial rancour must be emphatically rejected.

We say that not just because to choose a path of conflict is morally wrong, nor even because it is the antithesis of the Treaty’s vision. We say this because it would be economically and socially destructive for the country.

Demographers tell us that to assure the economic wellbeing of New Zealand in the next generation, the growing Maori workforce and Maori capital must move from the margins to the core of our economy; and quickly. It is obvious that law and policy must be developed with the express and urgent objectives of capturing – not squandering – Maori potential. Our collective future will depend on that objective being achieved.

What the experiences of the last twelve months have shown us in Christchurch, is that the people of this rohe are resilient, they have a resolve to make the best of their situation, and they are willing to embark on new opportunities, no matter how unsteady their every day may appear.

I would hope that those same characteristics are put to good use in thinking about the type of future we want as a country; and it must be a future which embraces tangata whenua as essential to our growth and development as a country. As the Tribunal concludes, our collective future will depend on right and proper priority being placed on Maori potential.

Demographics show that over half of the Maori population is under 25 years of age and that the next generation of Maori will constitute around a fifth of the total labour force.

It is a demographic breakdown that I carry with me every day as a politician. I think about how best to represent the issues of the whanau that are located within Te Tai Tonga – how will their children fare; what educational pathways are on offer; how are they accessing healthcare?

How do I act in ways to ensure a better future for them, which will of necessity become a better future for all of Aotearoa?

Not surprisingly, our key focus as a party has been to strengthen the capacity of our whanau to be self-determining; to have the confidence and the capability to create their own solutions.
Our focus has always been to create policies that focus on who we are, where we are heading and what we can do for ourselves not what we expect from others. We call this Whanau Ora.

Before I came to Parliament I would watch the potential in our whanau wilt and feel helpless and disconnected. I would ask myself, how do we reconnect? It seemed our families – or the providers that worked with them - were crisis orientated instead of being potential driven.

Too often the case would be that one family might have five cars down the driveway – the teacher, the social worker, the Plunket Nurse, the truancy officer, the youth aid worker – each of them working in isolation with individual members of one family.

The Maori Party – and in particular my colleague Tariana Turia – has said enough is enough. From the outset, Whānau Ora has been about transformation. Transformation to shift from focusing on all that is wrong to instead take full measure of those things we do well. And that starts with the basic belief in our whanau.

My colleague Pita Sharples has been working alongside the transformation of our whanau, to develop a Māori Economic Strategy which will address the drivers that underpin investment in iwi/Māori while at the same time growing iwi/Māori participation in the economy.

We know that successfully aligning New Zealand’s investments in science and innovation with Maori business potentially will lead to 150,000 additional jobs per year in the New Zealand economy by 2060; and an additional $12b pa in GDP from the Maori economy.

So why would we not try every opportunity to bring this out?

And how exactly do we do that?

When I launched my campaign a couple of weeks ago, my key focus was on an idea which will help to unlock the great potential; to make the difference we need for our collective prosperity.

And that is a simple idea called Cultural competency. Through this policy, all agencies will be monitored for cultural competency to ensure the quality of services, access and outcomes are achieved to bring out well-being. Chief executives will be required to report six monthly on how they are progressing positive outcomes for whānau. Cultural competency will be an employment standard in justice, health, education and social services.

So I come back to this notion of choice.

In 45 days you will all be asked two questions on the purple referendum voting paper you receive when you step up to vote.

The first question asks whether you want to keep Mixed Member Proportional (MMP, the voting system we use at the moment) or change to another voting system.

The second question asks which of four other voting systems you would choose if New Zealand decides to change from MMP. The four alternative voting systems to choose from are called:
• First Past the Post (FPP);
• Preferential Voting (PV);
• Single Transferable Vote (STV); and
• Supplementary Member (SM).
For me there is only one question at stake and that is the fact that a vote for MMP advances the notion of representation, of diversity; of establishing unique political spaces for the wealth and breadth of all of our communities to growth.

And if you want any further information about how representation can be enhanced – and particularly the protection and promotion of Maori interests – I would refer you to a paper by Janine Hayward who is an Associate Professor in Politics at the University of Otago.

In her paper, Guaranteed national and local Māori representation: the Crown’s duty of active protection; Janine describes the importance of combining guaranteed Māori representation through the Maori seats as one aspect of active Crown protection with the broader political representation provided by MMP. She says:

The introduction of the MMP (mixed member proportional) voting system in the 1990s has increased the number of Māori in Parliament. Māori are now represented in Parliament relative to their population size. This leads some people to conclude that the Māori seats are no longer needed to ensure effective representation for Māori.

But this view overlooks the fact that Māori representatives elected in general seats or from the party list are not able to represent the views of Māori because they are not representing an exclusive group of Māori voters. So even if Māori are proportionally represented in Parliament, the Māori seats are still an essential part of the Crown’s active protection of Māori.

I think Janine makes the case really succinctly for the active protection of the Maori seats as a key means by which the Crown can meet its Treaty obligation to actively protect Māori interests; while at the same time ensuring the widest possible representation distinguishes our parliament as being a parliament of the people.

It was a key reason why we argued, successfully, that any question of the Maori seats should be kept out of the referendum around MMP on the grounds that it would be confusing to the voter to be considering matters of constitutional significance like the status of the Maori seats; in the same breath as asking them to consider how best to achieve proportional representation.

In my brief time with you today, I have tried to express some of the key questions that I believe are being raised as we enter the crossroads leading to our future.

As a Maori Party MP my first responsibility is to the Maori voters that comprise the electorate of Te Tai Tonga. I have the largest electorate in the country some 161,000 square km (compared to say, 23km for Epsom/currently held by Rodney Hide).

The great position that we have found ourselves in, by virtue of our coalition arrangement with the Government, is that we can have direct influence into say how mana whenua are represented in the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority; or we can spell out what we might expect to see achieved through the introduction of a Treaty clause in the legislation establishing the Environmental Protection Authority.

But we can also hold the Government to account, by the fact that our votes and speaking power are recognized as the strong and independent voice of Maori in Parliament – a niche that we have particularly carved out in justice.

I looked back over my last three years and found that over 230 sitting days in total, I have delivered 262 speeches in the House and I asked 179 questions in question time – all of this representation is about holding the Government to account while at the same time enabling the distinctive worldviews of Maori to be brought to every discussion.

It is this unique balancing power – to be at the cabinet decision-making table, while also able to yield influence in the issues we bring to public attention – that continue to persuade me that I have the greatest privilege in the world – to be the best servant of the people – the MP for Te Tai Tonga – to work for a future where we can all see ourselves.

Tena tatou katoa

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