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Turia Speech: Civil society in Aotearoa

Civil society in Aotearoa

Tariana Turia Speech to Commonwealth Pacific Regional Forum of NGOs, Manukau City, 10am

E nga mana, e nga reo o tenei rohe, tena koutou. E nga iwi e huihui nei i tenei ra, tena koutou.

E nga manuhiri tuarangi, mai i tua o te Moana Nui a Kiwa, haere mai, haere mai, haere mai ki tenei motu.

It is a great pleasure to support the tangata whenua, the Deputy Mayor of Manukau City and other dignitaries, and the organisers and hosts of this meeting, in welcoming our manuhiri tuarangi – our distinguished visitors from afar.

Madam Rudo Chitiga, Deputy Director of the Commonwealth Foundation, and your staff who have come from London; Representatives of community and non-government organisations from around the Pacific Ocean, and from around Aotearoa, welcome to you all.

First and foremost, I greet you all as a descendant of my tribal ancestors, acknowledging our close relationships with our whanaunga from the Pacific, as I offer our hospitality to all our honoured guests.

I also greet you as a former colleague, in the sense that I have been involved in many non-government organisations during my life.

I expect most of us here have been involved in schools, sports clubs, churches or trade unions, social service organisations, marae and iwi organisations, helping to manage the social, economic and cultural affairs of our communities.

About twenty years ago, our iwi moved strongly into health and education, establishing our own Maori-language pre-schools and primary schools, our own health clinics and social service agencies, and training and employment trusts.

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This move was part of our peoples’ drive for self-help. We were determined to take our destiny into our own hands, and our own organisations were a vehicle for our people to organise, to plan, to set our own goals and pursue our own pathways to development.

The relationship between tangata whenua and the government has not always been easy. In our own case, it included a long reoccupation of ancestral lands along the riverbank in our main city. This resulted in an agreement with the local authorities for joint management of the park, which we are working through.

Interestingly, perhaps, this was my path to Parliament. Today, it is my honour to represent the government as Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector.

I understand that the purpose of your meeting is to discuss aspects of democracy and development in the Commonwealth, and to formulate the views of civil society, to be presented to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Nigeria this coming December.

I am pleased that ANGOA, the Association of Non-Government Organisations of Aotearoa, has been able to host this very important meeting. It is ANGOA’s role, not mine as a government Minister, to represent New Zealand here today.

However, another purpose of your meeting is to network and to share experiences, and on that basis, I thank you for inviting me to speak.

As Commonwealth countries, we are all products of colonisation. Colonisation is what has shaped our democracy and development. The form of our modern nations, and even the colour of our people, reflect the impacts of colonisation on our indigenous societies.

New Zealand’s colonial history has seen constantly changing relationships between the government and local communities, and our indigenous tribal communities in particular.

For tangata whenua, a central question has always been: ‘How do we build an inclusive society, where people honour and respect diversity and difference, instead of fearing it?’

In Aotearoa, colonisation followed the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between tribal chiefs and the British Crown. The treaty recognised our indigenous status and customary rights, and promised us partnership in nation-building, for mutual benefit.

Within a generation, however, many tribes were at war with the government over lands. Military defeats were followed by the imposition of land laws designed to undermine our autonomy, our leadership and social structures, to make tangata whenua less capable of independent action.

As the Treaty partnership became unbalanced, tangata whenua became second-class citizens. Many of our people came to depend on the government for employment or welfare payments, and subsidised housing and health services.

Gradually, however, the welfare state which was created in the 1930s became unsustainable. So twenty years ago, New Zealand undertook drastic economic reforms.

Publicly owned assets were sold, public services were corporatised and user charges were applied, import tariffs and government subsidies were removed, welfare benefits were cut, and government budgets were slashed.

This radically changed relations between the government and the people. The new policies assumed that individuals would look after themselves. Huge gaps opened up between the rich and poor. Local community support networks and voluntary agencies were overwhelmed by those in need.

The effects were felt very strongly by tangata whenua, who were already among the most vulnerable, and whose collective culture had no place in the new order. Rural people and other communities also suffered.

Facing crisis, our people had to look to their own strengths, instead of relying on others or the government.

So, in the face of colonisation, our traditional society and culture have proved to be very resilient. A century ago, it was widely assumed we would die out as tribal peoples. Today, our iwi and whanau are a springboard for a tremendous resurgence, which I have mentioned already.

In recent years, the government has clearly recognised the value of civil society in our democracy and development. Support for the community and voluntary sector has been a priority for this government.

During our last term, we established a Community and Voluntary Working Party. We also created a portfolio for a Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, to lead and co-ordinate this important work.

One of the outcomes of the Working Party report to the government was a Statement of Intentions for an Improved Community-Government Relationship. I understand copies will be available for you to consider.

The Statement of Intentions has been followed up by a Community-Government Relationship Steering Group. Their further report recommends practical steps for giving effect to the statement of intentions.

The lead agency for this work will be a Community and Voluntary Sector Office, which is being established right now within the Ministry for Social Development. In general terms, the Office will work across the whole of government to ensure that official policies promote community development, and that the government is able to respond appropriately to community needs.

I believe that these steps that the government is taking are important. They are bringing the Treaty partnership back into balance.

But what is even more important is what is happening in our communities.

By definition, community development is something that only communities can do themselves. Governments can respond and support, but communities must take the initiative.

Let me give an example.

When tribal organisations first began to receive government funding to provide social services, each government agency funded a single service, which was specified in a funding contract.

So our organisations were structured accordingly – a tribal health service to deliver services specified by the Health Ministry, a tribal housing service for those who met government criteria, a tribal welfare service organising care and protection for children according to government policy. We even had services that no-one really wanted, just because there was government funding available.

We soon realised that our tribes had become mini-governments, and they were acting as agents of the Crown! What our people really needed was integrated services designed to meet their needs and circumstances, building on their collective strengths, in accordance with their cultural values.

This is now happening. And as our people take the initiative, and draw up tribal development plans, the government is able to respond. We have undertaken a ‘Review of the Centre’ to improve coordination and collaboration among government agencies, and their ability to contribute to community development.

The advantage that tangata whenua have is a clear sense of their distinct identity, and their status under the Treaty as equal partners with the Crown.

This is not a threat to other community groups – rather, tangata whenua can break new ground, making it easier for others to follow. As models designed by iwi get established, I see them being adopted or adapted by all communities.

There are tremendous benefits for our nation from more effective services, which we can develop through improved relationships between the government and the community sector.

I hope this meeting will assist us in this process, and I look forward to you coming up with ideas and proposals that we can support and promote through the Commonwealth system.

I wish you all the best for your meeting, and I hope you enjoy your time in Aotearoa. Kia ora tatou katoa.

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