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Gordon Campbell Interviews Tariana Turia

Election 08: Gordon Campbell Interviews Tariana Turia

Images Kevin List

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Under MMP, small parties are assumed to be niche players with clearly defined identities - but even in a small caucus of MPs, a diversity of personalities and ideological hues will co-exist. If nothing else, the mixture adds volatility to the negotiations, post election.

The Maori Party is no exception. On its good days, its diversity ( Hone Harawira, Dr Pita Sharples, Tariana Turia ) is one of its key strengths. Still, just how the party manages to achieve policy consensus remains something of a mystery to the outside world. Which can be a problem – especially when the media coverage of smaller parties is conducted almost exclusively around their role as pawns or wild cards in the big party game of government formation.

Policy hardly ever enters the frame. As the Canterbury political scientist Therese Arseneau has pointed out, a recent study found that fully 81 % of media stories about smaller parties filed during the 2005 election campaign were about their possible role in the political game. Less than a fifth of those stories actually carried information about their policies - and of 22 front page stories on smaller parties during the campaign, not one was about policy.

Scoop has tried to do both. Scoop political editor Gordon Campbell spoke to Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia about her views on a range of policies affecting Maori, and her party’s likely positioning, post election.

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Campbell: Behind the rhetoric of one nation, one waka, there is still a political reluctance to fund and target programmes to indigenous people, among whom, as the statistics tell us, the health, education and income needs are greatest. How does the Maori Party propose to square that circle?

Turia : I don’t believe that we’ve got one waka, and one nation. If you look at the way the systems in this country have been organised – and Parliament is one of them – then everything is seen through a particular set of eyes. And they’re not Maori eyes. Maori people don’t have any say how these things are organised, how the state operates, how state departments operate. So I’m not sure about the one waka or the one nation.

Campbell: One waka, one nation is an aspiration. Yet politically, isn’t it harder to promote affirmative action policies now, than even at the start of this decade ?

Turia : It is always difficult… Mainly because where [ the Government ] operates programmes that are based on need, they don’t trust people to find their own solutions. So what you’ve got is a lot of money being wasted because you have bureaucracy prescribing how to combat the issues that are confronting various communities – Maori communities, Pacific communities. Other people determine what the solutions will be, and how they will be achieved. You will never achieve them.

Campbell: Maori solutions tend to be highly de-centralised, and communal. Around Parliament, do you personally feel you are paddling upstream in that respect, within a political system that is highly centralised ?

Turia : Yes. I sometimes do feel like a fish in the wrong river. The other thing is, the majority of policies are very individually focussed around [individual] entitlements. Yet for us, we know you can’t treat a person with diabetes say, in isolation [ unless you treat] their whole family…

I’ll give you another example - the Human Tissue Bill that has just gone through Parliament. It was about organ donation. Culturally, our people have quite a lot of problem with donated organs. But more and more, our people are needing organ donation and will accept organ donation between live donors. They don’t of course, accept it when people have died. Yet the whole focus of that select committee was on people who had died, with traumatic situations. One sentence added to that legislation would have taken into account not only Maori but also every other culture…but they wouldn’t do it . All we asked for was that informed consent be within a cultural context. And they wouldn’t do it because it took away the individual right. You’re always fighting that, this whole individuality versus collective responsibility aspect.

The Foreshore and Seabed Act

Campbell: The contradictions are not all on the pakeha side of the fence. Can you tell me how the Maori Party can support the iwi agreements under the Foreshore and Seabed Act, while at the same time seeking to repeal that same Act. Isn’t this a case of decrying the cake and eating it too?

Turia : We’re not decrying the cake and eating it too. That’s because those iwi have chosen to take advantage of the legislation that the Government has put in place. But both of those iwi who have negotiated with the Government have also said they’re opposed to the Foreshore and Seabed legislation. However, its not the Maori Party’s responsibility - and nor would we take it on ourselves - to interfere with what iwi decide, to advantage their position. In general, at the end of the day, the Government is dealing with iwi. Particular areas of the foreshore however, belong to hapu. They do not belong to iwi conglomerates.

Taxation And Economic Development

Campbell: Reportedly, half of all Maori are located in the poorest three deciles of New Zealand. Is the right time for personal tax cuts that are bound to deliver their biggest cash benefits to the more affluent people in New Zealand?

Turia :That’s true. How we’re approaching the whole tax cuts situation is probably different to how we’re being read. What we have felt is that those who under $25,000 a year are the ones who should be receiving the tax cut. In fact, we don’t feel those people should be paying taxes. $25,000 is the poverty line in this country. If someone is earning $500 a week and their take home pay is $400 a week, and their rent is $250- 300 a week… its obviously very difficult for them.

Campbell: So you oppose sweeping tax cuts across the board ?

Turia : Yes, we’re quite specific about that.

Campbell: And for anyone living below a $25,000 poverty level, no tax?

Turia : No tax.

Campbell: Once those tax cuts are enacted, are you concerned they may limit the ability of future governments to redress the injustices that Maori currently experience?

Turia :That’s the argument people use. But we consider that a Government that has taken in excess of eight billion dollars of taxpayers money…it makes you wonder how much is really enough.

Our whole focus is on families. Our whole focus is on poverty. We have to have that focus, because that’s where most of our people are. Now, if we are talking about tax cuts that are meaningful, then the Government should be removing GST on food. The Government should remove GST on all medical services. Those are the kind of tax cuts [we advocate]. I will admit though, we did support lowering the taxes for small business, to the 30 % rate.

Campbell: Is iwi development still the best model for Maori social and economic development?

Turia : We are worried, when we look at our families. Iwi development is important for the overall wellbeing of an iwi…for collective strength. However, we have to get resources as close as possible to where the greatest need is. And its not at the iwi level. It is at the whanau and hapu level, which is the collectives of whanau. That where we want to see the greater focus in future.

Campbell: So what are the best delivery mechanisms to reach that level?

Turia : People are learning how to establish themselves and be collective. There is marae. All marae have an administration group. There is no reason why we can’t use marae to reach hapu and iwi. There is no reason why we can’t use particular Maori organisations in urban settings to try and get the services, or the opportunities - or even the money - as close as possible to that level.

Campbell: Can you be truly Maori in your business processes and yet be as commercially cut throat as you need to be to be commercially successful ?

Turia : You can be both.

Campbell: So you see no conflict between the cultural values and practices that signify a business as truly Maori and thus worthy of allegiance, and the values needed to succeed in the global economy?

Turia : We are seeing it happen, Though, there was a conference held last year that brought young Maori business leaders together here in Wellington. And it was interesting that they were saying you can’t claim to be a Maori business person, if all your practices are non-Maori.

Campbell:The Maori Business Aotearoa Scheme – using Maori trust funds - purports to be a source of scarce venture capital. What’s the problem there ?

Turia : Well, the fact of the matter is that money has accrued from money held in trust for the beneficiaries. And what the Maori Trustee fails to do and fails miserably, is to make contact with those beneficiaries. And when beneficiaries do discover they have got money held there, they’ve got to go to court and they don’t have the wherewithal to pay…It’s a betrayal of principle, I would say…

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Coalition Preferences

Campbell: Given its strong brand identity, doesn’t the Maori Party have more to lose than most small parties, by joining or propping up a government led by National or Labour?

Turia : That’s something we have to discuss with our constituency. All those arguments have been put to us, about being in the tent and part of decision making and therefore having more influence - and then of losing your identity, through being forced to keep your trap shut and not speak out on issues. Those are really important matters because we can’t give away, we cannot lose, the independence of our voice.

Campbell: Exactly my point. Because of the Maori Party’s direct and unique link to its constituency, doesn’t it have more to lose ?

Turia : We have to be incredibly careful. Its not for me to say what decision the Maori Party will make. We’ve always said we go back to our constituency.

Campbell: So if say, the National Party said post election that it would continue with its plan to eventually abolish the Maori seats, but would agree in the meantime to repeal the Foreshore and Seabed legislation, would that be an acceptable trade-off?

Turia : No.

Campbell: So if say, the National Party said post election that it would continue with its plan to eventually abolish the Maori seats, but would agree in the meantime to repeal the Foreshore and Seabed legislation, would that be an acceptable trade-off? So National would have to move on both your key points?

Turia : Number one : we’ve always said the Foreshore and Seabed issue is the critical one. But you can’t reach an agreement, you can’t even sit down with anyone if you put on the table that the Maori seats stay, and they say ‘No.”

Campbell: Because it would be a suicide pact?

Turia : Absolutely.

Campbell:But if the Foreshore and Seabed Act is of such prime importance to you, isn’t there scope for saying other things are tradable?

Turia : Not the seats.

Campbell:Right now, we have record low numbers of Maori on the welfare rolls. Do you think those figures would have been achieved if National had been the Government during this decade?

Turia : Well, I mean I don’t think that’s for me to say. I wouldn’t know.

Campbell: What I’m asking is, in your opinion, does it make any difference for Maori which major party is on the Treasury benches?

Turia : At the end of the day we see them as pretty much the same. Labour has come pretty much past the centre line from the left, and National has come back to the centre line, from the right. And they’re both going for the same vote, so they’re both trying to appease the same group of people. Except at both ends of the spectrum they also have these other groups. With National, you have the more wealthy, while with Labour, they’ve got the poorer people.

Campbell: I’m not doubting the similarities. I’m asking you whether in the welfare outcomes – when it comes to policies that impact on the poor – is it better for Maori to have a Labour led government or a National led government?

Turia : We’ve got 230,000 children in this country who are living in poverty. We have got families in a worse situation of poverty than they were in 1988. They’ve both been in government since then….And I would say this : its one thing to be working. But its another thing to be the working poor.

Campbell: Do you agree with the principle that a small party should tell voters beforehand what its coalition preference will be after the election?

Turia : It depends on your kaupapa. It depends on the philosophy that drives you. We have always said and will continue to say and continue to do…that our people will make that decision. We owe it to our people once elected to go back and put all the options before them. They will be the ones who will decide what we put on the table for the negotiables.

Just for argument’s sake, if Labour got the most seats again at the next election, and we went back to our people and said look they’re not prepared to do the foreshore and sea-bed, they’re not prepared to entrench the Maori seats..Do you think they’re going to say to us hey, we think you should go with them? Even though pre-election, they might have said otherwise.

Campbell: So the prospect with the Maori Party is for a further round of consultation post election, to gain a fresh mandate for whatever options emerge in the negotiations?

Turia : Yes.

Campbell:The Greens want the Foreshore and Seabed law repealed too. Do you think it would be a good idea for both of you to agree on that beforehand as a common condition for either joining or propping up the next government?

Turia : That’s not for me to say.. to be deciding what the Green Party should be deciding is their principal bottom line. They may not see it as their main bottom line. Let me put it this way - that’s Act’s position as well. I mean, how many ways do we go?

Campbell: Well, wouldn’t it strengthen your hand then – to have a tacit agreement, if not a formal one that you will all jointly pursue?

Turia : Certainly it makes sense that we would do that. We are certainly talking across parties constantly, about common issues.

Campbell: People talk a lot about small party collaboration. Yet it only seems to be an information sharing exercise, rather than a policy sharing exercise . .

Turia : Yes, it is information sharing. As you get further into this year, collaboration might become more policy based.

Work For the Dole

Campbell: Last year , Dr Pita Sharples called for a compulsory work scheme for dole recipients. Is that what the Maori Party will be calling for during this election campaign?

Turia : A compulsory work scheme for dole recipients, but not a work for the dole scheme. What he was talking about was a job creation scheme so that people who were on the benefit would go to work, and they wouldn’t just receive the benefit. They would be paid an award rate for the work they were doing. He is not talking about work for the dole – which is what National is talking about.

Campbell: The key difference being that these would be award rate jobs? Won’t that only be feasible while we’re in a boom economy?

Turia : While there’s a [labour] shortage. But they did [work schemes] while the economy was at its worst in the 80s. That’s when they had all the job creation schemes. They had Work Skills, they had PEP, TEP…every P you could think of. And now they’re out there smoking P, but with no work.

Campbell: Not a raging success, some of those…

Turia : I don’t agree. The contract work scheme was one of the best schemes we had around at that time. And what that did for gangs – and God help us if we talk about doing anything for gangs – at the time when gangs were actively involved in contract work, we had far, far less trouble with gangs. And it was a great opportunity for them to learn business skills, because they had to tender for those contracts…Also, when PEP and TEP schemes were around a lot of work got done that wasn’t able to be afforded by councils.

Campbell: So when you talk about the differences between what Dr Sharples and National are proposing on welfare, what parties do you mean when you talk about working together with other parties to break the welfare dependency cycle ?

Turia : I think Labour has been working hard to break the welfare dependency cycle. After all, they’re trying to force every woman to go back to work. Both [major parties] have a clear policy of breaking welfare dependency. And of course we’re interested in it, probably for very different reasons. Because when you look back at the history of benefits…You can go back to waiata that were written at the time when benefits were given to our people, where Tuini Ngawae made it clear that the impact on the spirit and the soul and the work ethic of the people, [then] our people were opposed to it.

Campbell:And Ngata ?

Turia : Well yes, and Tuini was Ngati Porou as well. A lot of our people at that time were struggling to survive, but they were opposed to that whole notion of getting money for doing nothing.

Campbell: Do you have any concerns about the compulsory aspect of this ? You’re saying welfare is bad for Maori, so we have to break the cycle by introducing a compulsory element –

Turia : We’re talking Maori unemployed. We’re not talking about Maori women on benefits.

Campbell: But it is a toughlove attitude to them?

Turia : Absolutely. Because we can’t see any good in it.

Campbell: If this emerged in the context of a National-led government – which has had a history of welfare bashing directed at Maori - wouldn’t you risk being seen as the agents of an anti-Maori agenda?

Turia : Yes. I think there are huge risks. But if we are genuine about taking our people forward, setting our sights a lot higher than what we’ve got them now, and having an expectation that we can achieve them...(shrugs)


Campbell: Would it be a good idea for the delivery of welfare to be privatised?

Turia : I’m not sure what ‘privatised’means, but I’ve heard John Tamihere talk about this in terms of west Auckland where Te Whanau Waipareira that he heads has talked about managing both the people and their benefits. A lot of people haven’t liked it, because they see it as dis-empowering those families. But I know what he wants to do. And he wants to take those people forward ensuring that all the right things are being done for their families. And that. over a period of time, they take them towards being independent. I don’t have any difficulty with that, if that’s the purpose of it.

Campbell: Well, National has talked about the greater scope for charities and the voluntary sector in welfare delivery. Is this what the Maori Party also has in mind?

Turia : I haven’t heard them talking about that. The only person I’ve heard give a concrete example of what he thinks needs to happen is John Tamihere.

Campbell: Private delivery can sound like we’re back in the 19th century, in Victorian England, dispensing charity to the deserving poor. Would you think it advisable to limit any role for the private sector purely to the delivery of welfare, and not let the private or voluntary sector anywhere near the setting of entitlements ?

Turia : Even though we’re happy for the Government to do that ?

Campbell: Because - hopefully – that will be done in a neutral fashion.

Turia : And who says we can’t be neutral? I’ve never gone down the track of wanting to manage other peoples’ money, or manage their benefits. But I remember at the Employment Summit, some of the proposals put up by a major Maori organisation was around that, of having all the benefits given to them. They would create the work. They would have those people working, and they would pay them.

Campbell: But if you hand it to the private sector – whether its brown or white – you will have people with a loaf of bread in one hand, and an agenda in the other.

Turia : But we hand it to the private sector now. Because we subsidise them hugely to take these people on jobs. So we already do it in one form or other, even though WINZ may be the ones holding onto the puti in the first instance. People are being manipulated now. Go into factories where people are being subsidised. Some employers take the subsidy for a year, take the people, then get rid of them and get another lot. Or take them on as casuals, so they never have to pay them holiday or sick pay.


Campbell:New Zealand is said to need more skilled migrants. How do the Maori party think the Government should go about attracting them?

Turia : Oh look, I’m sick of that argument. I’ll be straight up with you. I was involved in employment right back in the 80s. That’s the argument they were using then. Not enough skilled people. And they ran all these silly bloody training programmes around the country without thinking of giving those kids apprentice-able skills to fill the gap. Oh no, they weren’t prepared to do that. But now they want to bring all these people in, because we don’t have enough skilled people in this country.

I might have bought it back then, but I don’t buy it today. We have 50,000 people coming in here every year. There’s only four million of us, total. Half of them through the skilled migrant category. And we still never have enough skilled people. So.. what’s happening?

Campbell: So we don’t need more migrants, or we should train more people already here?

Turia : We don’t have enough doctors, but then we pay the doctors who are working long hours in the hospital $23 an hour, while we’re also quite happy to pay $180 for a locum. So you get people falling out of the system, and setting up to be a locum here there and everywhere. Whereas, if they paid doctors properly in the hospital, you wouldn’t need people running round being locums

Campbell: Are you saying we can meet our skills needs from inside New Zealand?

Turia : Generally, generally that’s true. There may well be areas where we do have specific skill shortages, and we should address that. But we should also be investing in many of those people who we have here in this country right now, and give them the opportunity to upskill themselves...

Campbell: So the Maori Party is not opposed on principle to New Zealand seeking to attract more skilled migrants?

Turia : No.

Campbell: Maori are the tangata whenua. Even so, isn’t there a sense in which we are all migrants, whether from the Pacific or from the world beyond?

Turia : That’s what some people might believe.

Campbell: What’s wrong with that argument?

Turia : Well, because I come from three iwi who believe that they’ve always been here.

Campbell: So the Hawaiki argument doesn’t cut any ice?

Turia : The Hawaiki argument is OK for some, if you can tell me where it is. The bottom line is that the Maori people are the first people of this land. The Treaty of Waitangi established that status. And they signed the Treaty of Wajtangi allowing others to come. And they allowed a government to be established to take care of those people. What they didn’t anticipate is being taken over. When you open your house to somebody, you don’t expect to be relegated to the toilet.

Campbell: Do you and the Maori Party buy into the stance that Winston Peters and his party have towards Asian migration?

Turia : Absolutely I don’t. When I look at Asian people and when I think about my own family, who have married Chinese, to me their values, their beliefs, their practices, are probably more like ours than when I stand alongside some Western people. So why would I resent them in any way, coming here? More than I would resent someone else?

Campbell: Because people would assume you would see them as a threat. The latest, in a line of threats, subsequent to the signing of the Treaty.

Turia : Well, we have gone through all the threats. We are still here. We have come out the other end. A lot of us haven’t married. And though people think I have never moved on, most of us have moved on. And we value the relationships that we have.

I think that if we do nothing else while we are here, if we can bring about a sense of respect - between people - for difference, and for the different ways that people may view the world, and if that can be encapsulated in the way we put together legislation….then I’ll be a happy person.

I don’t want anything more than that. Its that families be able to take care of themselves, to take care of the ones they love, and that they have sufficient income to be able to live. And that people just learn…to get on with one another. That’s really important for this country, as we go forward.


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