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Pacific health statistics linked to poverty

Hon Mark Gosche
Saturday 9 September Speech Notes
Pacific health statistics linked to poverty
Address to the Pasifika Medical Association

Embargoed until delivery: 9am, Saturday 9 September, 2000

Kia orana, Ni sa Bula, Taloha ni, Fakaalofa lahi atu, Halo Olaketa, Ia orana, Malo e lelei, Kia Ora, Greetings, Talofa Lava.

Thank you for inviting me here and welcome to our Pacific leaders – Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi and Princess Pilolevu Tuita.

This year's conference theme is healthy Pacific families in the new Millennium.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind us all that for most of the old Millennium, Pacific families, our families, were healthy families.

When the first European voyagers met Pacific peoples they wrote of an incredibly healthy people, who enjoyed a very high standard of living.

But things were to change dramatically.

Now at the beginning of the 21st Century Pacific peoples in this country are more likely to suffer ill health than other New Zealanders.

Our children in particular are plagued with illnesses not usually found in developed countries – they suffer the worst meningicoccal disease rate in the world. I don't need to lecture any of you about the health status of Pacific communities - we all know the statistics are inexcusable.

I am convinced that at the root of such third-world diseases is economic hardship and poverty.

The past ten years have been incredibly hard on low-income people living in this country. As Pacific families are some the lowest earners in New Zealand – the decade has certainly taken its toll.

As the Minister of Housing, I want to reiterate that this Government is convinced that decent, affordable housing is crucial to the health and wellbeing of all families and communities.

However decent, affordable housing in New Zealand has been under siege since 1991 when the previous Government introduced their market rents experiment.

Market rents saw state house rents rise 106% from 1992 to 1999 – this compares to a 23% rise in the private sector.

As at the last census 32% of all Pacific people in New Zealand lived in a state house and therefore state house market rents have had a huge negative impact on many of our families. The sell off of state houses added to the demand.

What happened next, was not surprising.

Food banks sprung up as did emergency shelters and caravan parks.

When you are paying 50% of your already low income on rent – then there is little left for healthy food, doctors' visits for adults, warm clothes, medicines, taxi trips to the emergency clinic, electricity bills.

To make ends meet people have made do, crowded together, sleeping in the lounge and sleeping in shifts because that is what they could afford.

Subsequently escalating housing costs over the past nine years have been identified by the voluntary sector as the single, largest cause of poverty in New Zealand.

Only last month the Ministry of Health released a new report showing that overcrowded housing, particularly in South Auckland, was the driving force behind New Zealand's meningicoccal epidemic.

As you know Meningicoccal hits Pacific babies worst of all – one in 100 likely to catch the killer disease compared to one in 2000 European youngsters. And South Auckland has the worst rates in the world.

I am convinced that it is no coincidence that the epidemic began around the same time state house market rents were introduced.

Scrapping market rents is one of this Government's priorities and will happen for all state tenants by December this year.

We will restore income-related rents for all state house tenants by December. Those on low-incomes will pay no more than 25% of their income on rent while other rents will depend on income. No one's rent will rise as result.

This is a simple, yet effective way we will ease the burden on thousands of low-income people nationwide. Letters asking state tenants to apply for their income-related rent have already gone out and I would like to encourage you to urge all tenants to apply.

Focusing again on our children, as Minister of Transport I have introduced new changes that will see more focus and funding going into road safety amongst Pacific communities.

It's the first time in six years that road safety has received a boost and the first time ever that Government has set resources aside specifically for Maori and Pacific communities.

LTSA figures show that many Pacific families do not use car seats and as a result Pacific youngsters are being injured and killed. Only half of all families in Manukau City buckle their kids in - that means hundred of our children's lives risked every day for lack of a car seat. Speeding vehicles in urban areas where our people live is another issue that will be addressed.

Basically far too many Pacific people, mostly children, end up in hospital as a restful of pedestrian and car accidents.

To tackle this Pacific communities will now have resources so they can set their own road safety strategies.

Last week I also announced four new scholarships to enable Maori and Pacific communications graduates to work on New Zealand's road safety advertising campaigns. From now on our communities will have input into all advertisments targeted at our peoples.

This initiative is part of the "Closing the Gaps" strategy which I am sure you will have heard of.

Why is this a priority?

Because the facts are clear - inequality in New Zealand has become a boom industry. The inequality has been unique because it shows a growing disparity between the life chances of Maori and Pacific peoples and other New Zealanders.

This Government's Closing the Gaps strategy will address disparity and disadvantage that too often defines our communities.

It is a $140 million commitment to Maori and Pacific communities from Government.

By 2050 around half of all New Zealanders will have a Polynesian ancestry and we cannot allow the future of our peoples and this country to be one of disadvantage and disparity.

Closing the gaps is an agency-wide push that involves all of Government and includes a committee of Cabinet Ministers chaired by the Prime Minister and of which I am a member.

We are working on a range of fronts – Education, Health, Justice, Housing, Social Services to name but a few.

A key facet of closing the gaps is a recognition that Pacific peoples must have a say in defining their destiny, determining their strategies and devising their goals. Government is determined to work in partnership with Pacific communities so that their capacity is strengthened.

This is already happening.

Over the past six months myself and the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs have hosted fono with our communities throughout the country. Consultation has begun with Pacific communities in eight pilot regions: Porirua, the Hutt Valley, Christchurch, Hamilton, West Auckland, South Auckland, Central Auckland and the North Shore.

Some regions are about to report back on the goals they've set for themselves.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech – for most of our history our peoples have been healthy and well.

Healthy Pacific families is a goal our communities can achieve but only with the support and resources necessary so that our aiga are healthy, happy, strong and confident in what the future holds.

I look forward to working with you all as we move closer to this goal.


Best Wishes, Ia Manuia


Mark Gosche
Minister of Pacific Island Affairs

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