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Sharples: Taxation Bill Speech

Taxation (Annual Rates and Urgent Measures Bill)

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader, Maori Party Parliament Debates; 4.30pm

8 December 2005

Mr Speaker, when my colleague, Tariana Turia, spoke at the first reading of this Bill, we talked about a War that is being waged on the Poor.

We hoped that in referring this Bill to the Finance and Expenditure select committee, consideration would be given to the questions we raised about how to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth. We believe it shouldn't have to rely on a welfare benefit disguised as a family assistance package.

It is what it is.

Whilst we are supportive of family incomes being supplemented, in this Working for Families package, we would much prefer that it be take home pay rather than a welfare handout.

We would rather see the smile on a face of a worker, because it was 'take home pay', than being seduced by a welfare payment. Which would the Members of this House prefer?

If an individual with a gross salary of $32,000, paying tax on that salary of $6240, then receives $1118 in family assistance - how much does it cost to get that $1118 to that family.

This is not a riddle - much as it may appear to many economists and political commentators. These are real questions which real families are asking us.

Would it not be better for the family to pay a reduced amount of tax - in this case, $5112 rather than $6240? Given the bureaucracy is absent from this second scenario, what is the saving to the country?

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I am not an economist or an accountant, but it seems crazy to me that you take money off people, and then incur costs to give some of it back. It defies logic.

In our mind, pride in being fairly rewarded for their work is more satisfying than a handout from a patronising, paternalistic state machine - and the expectation that gratitude can be signalled when the next ballot box needs to be filled.

Because believe it people, these workers will be reminded at the next election of the Hand that fed them!

I need to remind this House that Maori have always questioned the handout mentality.

I recollect a song of protest by one of my Ngati Porou whanaunga, Tuini Ngawai, who in the 1950s, wrote a song of protest at the introduction of a universal benefit.

She said at the time, 'he patu tikanga, he patu mahara, he patu mauri'; that the benefit would undermine our customs of self-help, our concern for each other, and the very essence of our lifeforce. When I look around to some of our people, I can see the wisdom of the words of Tuini Ngawai. She warned against dependency, and she would turn in her grave if she knew that what she warned against, has now happened.

Let us not assign the coming generations to that which currently afflicts many of us. I know there needs to be a safety net, but it should not be a net which entangles the life essence of a people.

We need to construct mechanisms and adopt philosophies which ensure that those in the net can see a way of getting out of it.

This does not mean severing the net, as this Working for Families package does, or introducing punitive penalties, as some political commentators might suggest.

This Working for Families package is targeted relief which offers no poverty relief for benefit-dependent families. Core benefit levels have not changed since the 1991 benefit cuts (inflationary adjustments only).

A better distribution of taxation might be found that allows all low-income families to receive targeted tax relief, without discriminating between those in paid work and those not.

The Maori Party finds itself in an uneviable position. While we would want to support this bill for working families, we also know there are many other families who will not get the benefits of increased resourcing.

We have applauded this Bill for introducing additional targeted tax relief to 160,000 working families.

Yet we also know, that this is an irony, that this Working for Families package, is in itself a dressed up Welfare Payment. It has the potential to create a nation of welfare dependants.

I need to ask the Government what action it is taking, or planning to introduce, to specifically address the policy deficiences of the Working for Families package, which discriminate against parents who are not in paid work.

This House must not forget the 250,000 poorest children in Aotearoa. This House must also not forget the recent findings of the United Nations expert on human rights of indigenous peoples, that there are in fact significant disparities between Maori and Pakeha, with particular concern for

"the situation of Maori children in poverty and the problems facing sole parent households".

It is our obligation and responsibility as Members of Parliament to look carefully at the results of the September 2005 Household Labour Force Survey which reported a 9.1% unemployment rate for Maori and to ask ourselves - why is the rate so high, more than four times that of the Pakeha rate of 2.2%?

We will continue raising this issue until it is addressed. We will not desert the poor. It is not they who have created poverty. Indeed they do not have an investment in being poor, so if the poor doesn't have an investment in poverty, who does Mr Speaker?

The Working for Families package does not sufficiently address poverty, or child poverty, in Aotearoa. This package, along with the government's Single Core Benefit system, rolls out the expectation that all beneficiaries should be in or moving towards paid work (often low-paid work) - regardless of being full-time parents or living in areas of job shortages.

The Minister of Maori Affairs has for some years now, spoken about his concern for the working poor. We look forward to working with him, and the Government, to address this issue which is of concern to all of us.

Na reira, Parekura, tena koe. Anei matou hei awhina i a koe. Mena kaore e taea e koe te korero, kei te pai ma matou tera.

Another of the key issues that has concerned us in the Taxation Bill, are the implications around the Student Loan Scheme 1992. We are concerned about the disproportionately high levels of student debt incurred by Maori, and the limited capacity of Maori to be able to repay their student loans.

Often a capacity outside of their control, as I will relate to you.

In September of this year, Te Mana Akonga, the National Mâori Tertiary Students Association reported that the percentage of debt belonging to Mâori students shows Mâori student debt sky-rocketed above $1.5 billion.

This figure, $1.5 billion, is more than the fiscal envelope - the capped Treaty of Waitangi putea - still existing today.

Of those who last studied in 1997, 18 percent of Mäori students had fully repaid their loans and a further 28 percent had repaid some of their loans by 2003. This compares with 30 percent and 32 percent respectively for non-Mäori students.

This may look as if Maori are reluctant to pay their debts. A deficits approach would blame the debtor.

A keener analysis shows that one reason for making little or no progress with repayment is low income.

The high level of non-repayment among Mäori who studied for level 1-3 certificates for example, is attributed to the notably lower earning capacity of these students.

Average incomes for this group are just above the repayment threshold.

How do we explain the fact that the average income for Mäori with level 1-3 certificates is notably lower than for non-Mäori with the same level of qualification?

What does one think that Maori would be thinking when they discover this? Is there some sytemic bias within the working environment?

Is this one standard for all?

The Maori Party does not have any interest in attacking individuals who others may think are responsible, or political parties who others may think are responsible.

What the Maori Party is interested in, is eliminating structural bias which permeates our society. Let us, as Members of this House, look at this together; and let us join together to ensure solutions that will fit for this nation.

When ever any of us here apply for a job we talk about a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. We talk about equity, we talk about a good deal, and yet what I have referred to in these statistics from August 2005, demonstrates that this is not always the case for some of our citizens.

Mr Speaker, we are acutely aware that the Working for Families package is a flawed package, a programme to strengthen political dependency on the minority Labour Government.

However, we recognise, that despite the dangers of dependency, we will be supporting this Bill, in the interests of the 160,000 working families, and the students saddled with debt.

We remind the Government however, that we will not forsake the poor - and neither should they. And we will continue to raise the issue of policy neglect and to join with like minds to fight the injustice of poverty.


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