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Flavell: Education (Polytechnics) Amendment Bill

Education (Polytechnics) Amendment Bill
Third Reading, Wednesday 16th December 2009
Te Ururoa Flavell, MP for Waiariki

Tēnā koe, Mr Assistant Speaker. Merry Christmas to you in case I do not see you later on, and a happy new year. Kia ora tātou katoa te Whare.

I do not think it is any surprise that every time the Māori Party stands in this House, we stand firm, I think, and I hope on a foundation of kaupapa Māori. What is kaupapa Māori? It is the inherited values of our ancestors. We hope that we bring those values to every debate as we seek to represent independent voice of Māori in this Parliament. Central to our approach has been the commitment to kotahitanga, to a common unity of purpose.

A commitment to kotahitanga is not mutually exclusive. It can also embrace diversity and difference. It importantly requires the representation of all interests within the scope of the overall design. So as we looked at the proposals for the new interventions framework for the polytechnic sector, we thought about how best to ensure representation issues were taken seriously

Our aspiration has always been for increased Māori representation on tertiary governance bodies, including mana whenua and Māori student representation. Yet the Education (Polytechnics) Amendments Bill moves in the opposite direction, in that the size of the polytechnic councils would be reduced from between 12 and 20 members to eight members, with four of the eight to be appointed by the Minister for Tertiary Education. In effect, this means that there will be no guaranteed seats for staff, students, iwi Māori, and community representatives.

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This legislation is completely against the aspiration we hold in the Māori Party, and as a consequence, we voiced our opposition in our vote in the first reading. We knew that providing for only one community member would mean that most Māori representative seats would be scrapped. There is no provision for Māori representatives of any kind in the current legislation. Although some might refer to the requirement of section 171(4)(a) of the Education Act that it is “desirable that the council of an institution should reflect so far as is reasonably practicable,—the ethnic and socio-economic diversity of the communities served by the institution;”.

In practice it is basically a toothless provision. At the Committee stage of the bill, I noted that we can not rely on those sorts of clauses for the special status of Māori, because they do not address the constitutional significance of the Treaty in any debate on Māori representation.

Our constituency have elected us into Parliament to do everything we can to advance their aspirations. Fear of failure cannot be a justification not to try something. Our members have always urged us to act believing that it is far better to try and fail than to fail to try in the first place. During the Committee stage I put forward an amendment to establish a process for Māori representation, which would be transparent and clearly stated, whereby the appointee truly reflects the values and aspirations of the community.

The idea was to create not just a requirement for Māori representation, but also for it to come from across the board: two academic staff positions with one for Māori and two student positions with one for Māori, as well as Māori community representation. All community representative nominations would need to at least be passed by local hapū and iwi.

The amendments increase the membership of the polytechnic councils from eight to 12 and they reinstate compulsory seats for the vice-chancellor, academic staff, students and community-appointed members. In addition, specific provision is made for Māori membership on the council in order to give real expression to the Treaty of Waitangi.

The issue of Māori student representation on councils has always been of great importance for Māori students and to Te Mana Ākonga, the association of Māori students across all campuses. That organisation has a Treaty claim to amend the Education Act to explicitly provide for Māori student membership, so the amendment we put forward was a positive signal to that very large constituency that there are members of Parliament who are willing to listen and learn from their leadership.

The issue of Māori staff has also been of much interest among our membership and, indeed, right across the education sector. We were keen that the polytechnic councils would be able to benefit from members who have the capacity to uphold academic standards in teaching, learning, and research. It was also a deliberate effort to try and layer in greater recognition of kaupapa Māori, both standards and methodologies.

Of course, it is not only solely an issue of representation but also the complexity of high-intention legislation with mismatched policy, inconsistent strategy, and mismatched business plans. I am reminded of that saying by another great Te Arawa philosopher: “Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic.”

The legislators, policy makers, writers and architects of the tertiary education governance arrangements sure had the highest intentions, but if it does not make a difference on the ground then surely we need to take the risk and look for solutions that will. That was where we were coming from in terms of our bicultural model that recognises Māori representation on polytechnic councils.

The Māori Party has greatly valued the support of the Waiariki Institute of Technology in developing this model. It is about representation within in new paradigm that was all about our recognition and representation against the Treaty model. What we want is very simple. As far as is possible, we want to see councils reflect the ethnic and socio-economic of the communities they serve. It is pretty simple.

There is an important element to the discussion that I believe members of the House need to consider. If we acknowledge that the larger proportion of Māori constituents fall within the lowest socio-economic bracket, which we also acknowledge extends largely from Crown policies retarding Māori social and economic growth from as early as 1840, then surely it makes sound economic sense to recognise that the clauses alone will not serve the wider interests of the group.

The greatest of high-flying intentions will amount to nothing unless there are faces at the table to speak to the immediate short and long-term needs of all the people across the community. Inconsistency within the legislation, the Treasury allocation to each ministry, the policy writers’ approach to give actual meaning to these clauses, and the strategic and business plan within our public agencies are what have let us down.

This repetitive failure forces us as a party to demand more on behalf of Māori, but what we are really asking for is clear consistency and equal access for all people within Aotearoa who sit within a less privileged position every day. Unfortunately for all of us, Māori make up a far greater majority within that grouping and this is why we are forced to ask the hard questions. At the select committee stage, Te Rūnanga o Manukau Institute of Technology took these views to the table.

It recommended that consideration be given for the inclusion of a Māori directorate function, in its case known as Te Amorangi. In the legislation, there is an acknowledgement of the high percentage of unemployed and uneducated tangata whenua in the Counties-Manukau area. Other submitters also echo that sort of view.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation suggested that diverse communities cannot be adequately represented by a single person. The Students Association of the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology also made the point that students are key stakeholders in polytechnics and contribute a lot to their councils, so their views should be heard. It is all now part of the record that we were unsuccessful in having our amendments voted into law, but we tried and we will continue to try to ensure that polytechnics are of the people, that Parliament is of the people, and ultimately, that the people are why we are actually here.

We will continue to work with the Minister to find a way to address our pleas and we are hopeful of some momentum being gained. In closing, I just reflect on the Hon Trevor Mallard’s statement. Even he will acknowledge that if legislation is going to pass in this House and can be done without the Māori Party, I suppose that is what the situation is in terms of the democracy of the House. But we have stated our case and we will continue to state our case into the future.

As a parting shot, I hope that if there are members who wish to espouse the place of Māori at the representative table, over the holidays it would be good for them to look towards a correct pronunciation of Māori words as a starting point. It would then give some meaning to the notion of allowing Māori at the representative table. Kia ora tātou.


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