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Sharples: The Challenges facing New Zealand

Cullen Employment Law; Thursday 26 October 2006;

7.15am Keynote Address: Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader, Maori Party

'The Challenges facing New Zealand over the next two decades'

Your Excellencies, the Honourable Anand Satyanand and Susan Satyanand; His Excellency, Masaki Saito, Japanese Ambassador; Mr John Dauth LVO, Australia's High Commissioner to New Zealand; and Gavin Brown, Consul General. Her Worship the Mayor; Kerry Prendergast; and other distinguished guests.

I am indeed honoured to be in the company of Presidents, Company Directors, Chairpersons; Commissioners; Managers, Board members; Chief Executives, and even an Ombudsman.

So if we, collectively, can't work out solutions to respond to the challenges facing New Zealand over the next two decades, I'll be demanding answers in Question-time in the House this afternoon!

Well, perhaps everyone except the Higher Salaries Commission whom I understand pays my wages.

There is a correspondent who regularly writes to me. His name is U Whakamaori. His letters are always typed, brief and to the point. He writes to all members of our team and he has written to Tariana for years. November 2005: You asked in the House why world history is accepted and Maori history is overlooked. The reason is that Maoris have contributed nothing to make the world as it is today.

April 2006: "I have read that Dr Rod Lea has discovered a gene in Maoris that is responsible for aggressive behaviour. I am sure that if he makes further studies he will discover other genes in Maoris: cowardice, dishonesty, stupidity".

June 2006: Another infant has been murdered by a Maori. This is a Maori problem. You are a Maori. Sort it out.

July 2006: Voluntary lobotomies amongst Maori sufferers could significantly reduce the prison muster. I haven't come here today to put you off your breakfast.

I have come to share some of the challenges I believe this nation must address to pay a pathway for prosperity that all will benefit from. The mail from U Whakamaori is not an isolated case - there are people who cut out newspaper articles depicting crime scenes - scribbling over it "another one of your followers Chief". It is hurtful. It is persistent. It is racism.

In a report released earlier this year by the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Professor Rodolfo Stavenhagen, he was asked to respond to the claim that Maori received special privileges. His response was stark in its simplicity: "On the contrary, he had received plenty of evidence of historical and institutional discrimination suffered by the Maori people". Racism, racial discrimination, admittedly is not a light breakfast topic.

But my contention is, perhaps racism should be something we talk about over tea and toast; to name it, to understand it, in order to deal with it. Racism describes the experiences people endure on the basis of "inadequately justified factors" other than ethnicity, which disadvantage an ethnic group. And who is affected by these inadequately justified factors?

Joris de Bres, Race Relations Commissioner, identified that in Aotearoa the most common targets of racial prejudice, discrimination or harassment are Maori, Pacific Island peoples (New Zealand born and migrants), people of Asian descent (New Zealand born and migrants), other migrants, Muslims and refugees. It would seem to me, that that's a fairly significant section of the employment workforce. I'm not about to trawl through the current disparities in education and training, access to housing, employment, health, justice, social services - I'm sure you read all the headlines, and know the issues preventing your companies from being able to access the best that is on offer. But I would ask us to consider:

- Why are Maori less likely to receive heart disease procedures?

- Why are Maori less likely to receive a grant than a loan?

- Why is the average weekly income for Maori at $471 per week a whole $127 less than the average weekly income of $598 for non-Maori?

- Why are there currently 30,000 Maori who are jobless?

Thirty thousand people - that's the threshold which Statistics NZ use to describe a Main Urban Area in New Zealand. A whole Big City of people, without work.

The impact of systemic bias, of institutional racism, the plight of the jobless are issues of great significance for this nation - and we must have the courage and strength to consider options. Last year, the Asia New Zealand Foundation report, Engaging Asian Communities in New Zealand, revealed that participants felt they missed out on jobs and promotions because of their ethnicity, and workmates pretended not to understand them or patronised them.

Other participants described a reaction they often received against new migrants moving out of "more traditional roles" into professional positions in society, Again - these were not isolated incidents - the focus groups involved Chinese, Singaporean, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Sri Lankan and Indian participants.

If we are to make genuine progress in the next two decades, the ever-constant issues of joblessness and inter-generational unemployment for Maori; the differential income and promotion prospects for many citizens of Aotearoa, must be confronted. Over the last year, I have been talking about the concept of a Genuine Progress Index wherever I go.

I have talked about it in the House in the context of debates around financial management, the Budget, Crown entities. I have talked about it with environmentalists, at justice forum, and at Takapuwahia marae in Porirua. And so it is only natural that I turn to the Cullen Breakfast Club now for further inspiration.

The Maori Party supports the development of the Genuine Progress Index which is an innovative new way of sustaining all aspects of our wealth, human and other, through investment. The GPI basically tracks all the flows of income that are not in the cash economy - the widest range of measures that affect the health of the economy.

It is an idea which has been piloted in many areas - indeed I am heartened by the readiness of the Wellington Regional Council to be advancing work in this regard. With the conventional measurement of GDP, which as we all know, measures all economic activity the assumption is always that 'more' is better. With GPI we realize the assessment is like the GDP, always value based, and indeed as with the case of pollution, ill health, crime, building of prisons, racism and employment discrimination; it may be that less is best. So how does it work practically? In the Nova Scotia Genuine Progress Index, five of the 22 indicators in the total index, comprise a comprehensive measurement of workplace wellness.

They are: - The value of civic and voluntary work

- The value of unpaid housework and childcare

- Work time and under-employment

- Value of leisure time

- Income distribution. In our call for advice in the context of the Mapp Probationary Employment Bill, we put forward the argument that worker's rights must be considered alongside the right to work, as a right universally enjoyed by all citizens. But it would be fair to say, that the response we received was disappointing in as much as we received little in the way of practical strategies to address the fact that the Maori share of New Zealand unemployment is disproportionately high.

While we were flooded with letters telling us to oppose the Bill - or to support the Bill; we were calling for ideas about how to eradicate racism; strategies to achieve full and effective equality in the workforce.

Many of you will recall the savage attacks that took place at Wellington's Bolton Street cemetery; the assault on the chapel and headstones in the Jewish section of Makara Cemetery a couple of years ago. At the time of that attack, Dr Cullen, as Acting Prime Minister issued a statement, and I quote, "Racism of any sort is ugly and unforgivable and has no place in New Zealand".

The Maori Party looks forward to a time when the incidence of racism, racial discrimination and racial stereotyping is no longer demonstrated in the barriers experienced by so many New Zealanders in achieving employment and promotion opportunities. We believe Genuine Progress will only be achieved when the full range of strengths, skills, perspectives and experiences of all peoples living in this land can be truly utilized to achieve workplace wellness. And why? A report released earlier in the Year, carried out by Unitec New Zealand and Te Wananga o Raukawa; under the international supervision of London Business School and Babson College in the United States, gives one reason why we should bother.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor confirmed that Maori are the third most entrepreneurial people, out of a survey of some 35 countries. The report proved that New Zealanders across all ethnicities have the ability to be enterprising and particularly, that about 25.0% of Maori versus 13.1% of the general population say they expect to launch a start-up in the next three years.

However it also reported that while Maori are great starters up of business, only 37% of Maori entrepreneurial start-ups survive three-and-a-half years compared to 62% in the general population. The challenge in front of us all is how to sustain 'great starters-up' to be in for the long haul. What are the initiatives that we can share, the Cullen Breakfast Club and the Maori Party, to open the door to increased employment opportunities?

One thing that we are putting forward is a bill to address institutional racism, to create healthy and productive workplaces that are not held back by the stigma and strain of bias.

With the Genuine Progress Index our challenge is to count and quantify the cost of prejudice, the cost of a difference in remuneration between people of equal experience and qualifications where there only observable difference is the colour of their skin, the cost of unemployment, the cost of benefit dependency, of passive welfare, of ill health, of poor housing, of incarceration and of domestic violence.

Are we as a society prepared to "reap the profits" in years to come because we are currently tolerating these negative situations? Ten or fifteen years ago the idea of smokefree pubs or clubs would have seemed an off the wall idea - but nowadays it is just part of our everyday life. We believe that with the added incentive of legislation, we can achieve measures of prevention, education and protection aimed at the eradication of racism; and with that work towards the attainment of true and Genuine Progress in Aotearoa.

Finally, and perhaps on a lighter note, an article caught my eye the other day. The article announced that the Italian legend who starred in the film, "The most beautiful woman in the world", Gina Lollobrigida, at the age of 75 was about to marry a man of 45. Indeed, some would say, she is as old as the morning dew; as young as the oldest mountain.

The star said "There is no age limit for love. I am so happy I want the whole world to know: Love is the best rejuvenating cure there is". And with one interview, Gina Lollobrigida has broken through barriers, overturned prejudices, and established a new direction without even the blink of a heavy set of eyelashes. It reminded me of the words from another classic legend of love, Kahlil Gibran, who said:

"You can muffle the drum, and you can loosen the strings of the lyre, but who shall command the skylark not to sing?"

My hope for Aotearoa in the next two decades and more, is that we too can be so happy we want the whole world to know - that we can work towards Genuine Progress, where the contributions of all count.

A nation which achieves a more truthful and comprehensive picture of social, economic and cultural progress. A nation where entrepreneurship and enterprise is nurtured; where diversity is valued, where the skylark sings and we are all the better for it.


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