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Katene: Election Year Social Justice Forum

Election Year Social Justice Forum
St Josephs Catholic Church, Mount Victoria, Wellington
Tuesday 2 September 2008;
Rahui Katene, Tai Tonga Candidate for the Maori Party

It is appropriate as we begin this evening, to reflect on the vigil service taking place now, in Mt St Joseph Chapel, Whanganui, for Sister Paula Brettkelly. E te kuia, e te toa o te Haahi, haere, haere, haere.

Sister Paula was never one to hold back from a challenge, and I am sure that she is delighted that we are all here tonight, tackling the most critical issue facing our nation – the issue of poverty.

I am equally confident that she would also be urging us to consider solutions to the Government’s consistent neglect of treaty rights; the ongoing social inequalities and deprivations that arise from such neglect, the impact of institutional racism; and all of the other issues burning a hole into the psyche of this nation.

She would wonder why is it that 27% of Maori children are living in poverty?

Why is it that in the age group of 15-24 year olds that 22.6% of Maori are unemployed, compared to the national average of 14%?

Why is it that the median income for Maori of $20,400; is some four thousand dollars less than the median income of others who call Aotearoa home?

These are just some of the issues that keep simmering away, keep the fires of injustice raging in the hearts of tangata whenua.

The Maori Party was pleased to be invited to contribute to this very important forum on Poverty in New Zealand.

Pleased especially, to be able to publicly acknowledge the important resource you have created in ‘Look and look again: Poverty in an affluent society’.

The analysis that has emerged from Catholic social teaching on economic justice is of enormous relevance to these times.

We in the Maori Party are driven by the numbers – not the numbers in the House for the voting record– the numbers we reflect on are 230,000 children – one in four of our children – who are living in unacceptable poverty.

And of course, as we all know, the distribution of poverty is also of grave concern:

• ·Children living in households where parents rely on benefits still miss out on specific income support - most notably the in-work tax credit that used to be the Family Tax Credit which the Labour government promised to restore back in 1999;
• Children living in sole-parent families endure a rate of poverty five times as high of that of children in couple households.
• Around half of Pacifica children and over a quarter of Maori children live in over-crowded housing;
• Maori, across all income groups, have poorer health status than non-Maori;
• The poorer educational performance and disengagement of Maori and Pacifica students is correlated with their socio-economic status.

That means poorer educational outcomes, greater risks of physical abuse and neglect, social marginalisation, and living in houses which place them at risk of ill health.

We must be worried that hospital admissions for pneumonia, skin infections, asthma are three to four times higher for children living in the most socio-economically deprived areas.

It’s the basic elements of life. We have spoken out about the crime of food poverty. 40% of households in the lowest socio-economic areas said they could not always afford to eat properly – compared with 6% in the higher areas.

All the while the power, housing, bread, milk, fuel costs have outstripped income growth for beneficiaries and low earners.

We are concerned about the growth of homelessness, the ongoing problems of housing affordability, and of course the health effects of damp, cold housing and overcrowding.

We believe that injustice, poverty, discrimination afflicts not only the victims, but the perpetrators as well.

Social justice is a measure of our well-being as a society. It is said that the health of a society can be judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable members.

And so the real life stories, the anecdotes and statistics, the experiences that ‘Look and Look again’ articulates, is desperately needed to describe the impact of poverty for low paid workers, for beneficiaries, related to housing, healthcare, education.

There is a wealth in a society that cares.

The Maori Party is committed towards measuring an aspirational economy, which includes the true measures of what life is about.

In such an economy, the value of how people relate to each other, the strength of community cohesion counts.

Economists as well as social researchers tell us they can measure the costs of social injustice, in terms of under-performance of individuals in school, the costs of ill-health and unemployment. They can even try to measure the lack of community spirit and social networking in economic terms.

We believe the costs are real, but no economic measures, let alone the Gross Domestic Product, will ever reveal their full extent. That is why the Maori Party advocates a Genuine Progress Index as a measure of our national performance – in economic, social, environmental and spiritual terms.

Our President, the visionary Professor Whatarangi Winiata, believes Aotearoa should follow the shining example set by the Kingdom of Bhutan deep in the Himalaya Mountains.

In Bhutan, national achievements and progress are measured against the standards of a Happiness Index. What could be more important in life than happiness? So their government asks itself, what do people need to make them happy, and what else matters?

It is certainly a radically different perspective that challenges our assumptions about the importance of material wealth, personal achievement and status, and unsustainable development.

We want to see more emphasis on community cohesion, on rebuilding community capacity to care for their own, to support those who are preyed upon by gambling lords and loan sharks, to step in and help, rather than read about it in the news the next day.

We, as a nation, must recognise the expertise of caregivers and take actions which demonstrate that we value the wellbeing of our older New Zealanders.

We must work to promote and sustain mauri ora – that unique life essence of every person. Violence diminishes that life force; as does racism, discrimination, poverty, and criminal offending.

We in the Maori Party, truly believe that we have a huge opportunity in front of us, to restore social justice to this land.

And I want to just share the thinking behind our name, the Maori Party. In our logo, the name of the indigenous people of New Zealand, maori, in lower case, means natural. Our name incorporates:

• Upholding indigenous values to ensure our country maintains its natural beauty and is home for all New Zealanders;

• Te Tiriti o Waitangi – Upholding the founding document of our country and nurturing the relationship that has evolved between our peoples;

• Kotahitanga – As tangata whenua and Treaty partners we have the responsibility to ensure that all peoples that make Aotearoa their home are treated with fairness and dignity.

We do not believe it is natural for the ongoing disparities to corrupt the vision we have of this land.

I loved the concept in the statement from the New Zealand Catholic Bishops, Poverty in an Affluent Society, based on the scripture “you will listen and listen again, but not understand; look and look again, but not perceive”.

There is a school of thought with some people, that when they see it, they will believe it. You know, the “seeing is believing brigade” .

We hold a different view. When we believe, we will see.

And so I am part of a big team of believers.

Who believe in giving everybody a fair go.

Who believe that we can learn from our past to create a future that is better for us all.

Who know as thinking New Zealanders that from our learnings, will come the benefit of what is right.

Who know the hunger that so many New Zealanders have, for a sense of pride, of identity, of belonging.

Who believe that every person has a right to a decent education, a meaningful wage, a quality of life for themselves and their families.

I am therefore humbled to be amongst another group of believers today. People who BELIEVE in social justice and all that it stands for.

The Maori Party operates on the basis of kaupapa Maori – knowing that the aspirations of our ancestors provide a universal basis for moving forward as a country.

We must overcome the poverty of spirit that has tarnished communities throughout Aotearoa.

We can restore the responsibility and rights that we have to care for those who are most vulnerable.

I leave the last word to Rebecca of Te Puru who was quoted in A Fair Go for all children

“Poverty is your problem, it is everyone’s problem,
not just those who are in poverty”.

We are looking forward to a shared future in which our unique identity in living on this land called Aotearoa, is something we can all value. And then we will all truly live in richness.


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