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Speech: Turia - Age Concern NZ

27 March 2012; 2.20pm

Hon Tariana Turia
Minister for Whanau Ora
Age Concern NZ National Conference and AGM 2012
Conference Centre, Comfort and Quality Hotels, Cuba Street, Wellington

Tena koutou katoa

I was both intrigued and excited when I read the name of this conference - “What matters?” It is indeed a question that I have asked myself, and no doubt, you too have pondered over the years about what truly counts in this lifetime.

What are the lessons we have learned? What do we want to leave behind? What would we like to pass on to our children and grandchildren? How do we want to be remembered?

The beauty of age is that we have the luxury of hindsight, and of reflection. It is the great depth of experience that we have to draw on, that I believe, leads us into wisdom.

If you were to ask me what matters most, I would tell you that it is my whanau, my family. I am sure that most, if not all of you, would share this view.

When I was young, it was my grandmother; my parents, my brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles and cousins that formed my view of the world and my experiences. My dad died when I was fourteen and my aunts took on a crucial role, shaping and influencing me at a vital time in my life journey.

When I was eighteen I met my darling– I joined his whanau, and he joined mine. George was one of fifteen sisters and brothers; each of them to this day who care passionately about each other. Our children of course extend that whanau even further, and now, I have 26 mokopuna, and 19 great-mokopuna.

I am sure many of you will have similar stories of the key movers and shakers in your life, who provided such a powerful message about the value of whanau.

We were always reminded of the expectations and responsibilities that came with being part of a family.

Whanau Ora, in its purest form, is about building on that love for our families, and working together towards ensuring that collectively we are able to produce the best possible outcomes for our children, our grandchildren and future generations.

You might have heard the saying – that children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see. To me, that is what matters most – that we pick up on our responsibilities to carve a future fit for all our mokopuna to inherit.

Some people think that a Maori ‘whanau’ is somehow different from families of other cultures. My position is that actually there is more that unites us, than divides us.

As I look around at this room, for instance, I am sure that we have in our midst people who are valued as the family historian; the family genealogist; the keeper of traditions, of photographic archives; of memory. Whānau Ora has much in common with the practice of upholding the significance of family in its widest dimensions.

Whanau Ora, is also about acknowledging and respecting the different cultural perspectives we have around whanau development.

When I talk of whanau, I am talking about the development of all of our families across the country, regardless of what culture they belong to. The beauty of Whanau Ora, is that it has been established with the purpose of being able to be inclusive, to recognise the different value bases that we hold, and to empower whanau to be self-determining, and to decide for themselves what is best and right for their own development.

As a grandmother, and a great grandmother, I want my mokopuna to value their whanau, and their place within it; I want them to know that they are part of a longer whakapapa, and that their actions today reflect not only on me, but their ancestors, and future generations.

I want them to know about reciprocity, and respect and the importance of taking care of each other; I want them to know where they come from, and to participate at the marae, and within our community; I want them to feel loved, and supported.

I want them to set their goals high, and work hard towards achieving those goals; and I expect that every member of my family will support each other towards achieving wellbeing and success.

Every whanau will have different values, as elders, I expect you too have values that you want to instil in your families.

In saying that, Whanau Ora is not a one way street. It does not trickle downwards alone. In fact, I expect to have input into decision-making, along with my whanaunga, and to be both a giver and a recipient of love and care.

And I am. I am looked after by my children and mokopuna.

They do not boss me around in a manner that takes away my dignity, but in their own ways they provide the care I need, when I need it.

And in fact I still have aunts who will contact me when they think I am in need of their advice and support. This is exactly how it should be.

In te ao Māori we refer to a concept of tuakana-teina. This is an integral part of our cultural framework – it represents an older or more expert tuakana helping a guiding a younger one. At any time, the tuakana-teina roles may be reversed.

In fact, I was thinking that you probably know this already – given your conference title, he manaakitanga kaumātua. This could be said to have two meanings – that we should care for and look after our elders – and also that our elders guide and protect those who are younger.

This relationship of mutual respect is something wonderful. Every person in New Zealand deserves to have this care. It is not something you can buy. It is something that is nurtured, and that blossoms with time, care and effort.

In much the same way, Whanau Ora assumes that healthy and resilient whanau are the building blocks of healthy and resilient communities. It works both ways as an approach towards supporting whanau and collective wellbeing.

The policy itself focuses on a two pronged approach towards achieving this goal. The first part is to support whanau to reconnect, and rebuild their collective aspirations, and sense of reciprocal responsibility towards achieving those aspirations.

We have established the Whanau Integration, Innovation and Engagement Fund to support these outcomes. It provides support to whanau, to allow them to come together and reconnect, to identify their needs and skills, and to both develop a plan of action and then implement it.

So far, over 2000 families have taken up this opportunity, and the planning process has become an important part of identifying the needs of all of the individuals within whanau, including elders.

There are often actions that can be taken by whanau members that do not require additional financial support, but work towards improving the quality of life of the individuals in a whanau considerably. Whānau Ora is about reinvesting that power in ourselves to do for ourselves.

As an example, a couple of years ago I was sad to hear about one of our kuia who had been loving the daily walks with her grand-daughter, not just for the health and wellness aspect, but also for reconnecting. Suddenly the funding for that particular health project was cut; and the walks stopped. But what really disappointed me was that the grand-daughter didn’t stop being a grand-daughter. It was as if the provider was the proxy for the responsibilities we should uphold from one generation to the next.

What I have seen happening with Whānau Ora is that while on one hand, we may be looking at the housing needs of kaumatua and kuia; each new initiative provides time to learn from our elders; and record their wisdom for the benefit of future generations

It may mean calling on support from outside the whanau; establishing someone to negotiate and liaise with different services; or in setting small tasks for each whanau member to go away and work on, and then coming back and meeting again.

These may appear to be small actions, but they are actions which can dramatically improve relationships within whanau, build resilience, and of course produce outcomes that improve the quality of life of whanau members.

The second approach of Whanau Ora, is aimed at establishing a provider framework which is geared towards providing quality services to whanau as collectives. We have established 25 collectives, representing 158 health and social service providers, to work together to provide a range of support services that are geared towards supporting whanau development.

The purpose of this is to ensure that whanau aspirations and needs are not segregated from each other. We have developed an approach that allows specialists to continue doing their very important work; while also moving us closer towards having our wellbeing services connected, and collaborating for the benefit of whanau.

Let me be frank. Working with whanau is a high risk business, but it also has the potential for a high return. There is no quick-fix solution to achieve the wellbeing of whanau, but we have to invest time, energy and resources in families to be self managing.

A brave government would admit that the state is not the ultimate solution. A bold government would be prepared to trust in the people, to acknowledge their potential, to enable whanau to set their own direction in making change happen.

This, indeed, is the hub of the political challenge – to find the point of equilibrium between prudent accountability of public funds, and an environment that supports the diversity of whanau aspirations.

So if I go back to the original question that you have posed as the theme of the conference “what matters?” Well, there is a whakatauki in our culture which my mind keeps returning to.

He aha te mea nui i tenei ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people

Whanau Ora is about people. It is about families coming together and supporting one another, and working together towards changing our future.

If we could all commit to that within our families, then it will create change which will ripple out across our communities, and across the nation.

I wish you well for the rest of the conference, and thank you for inviting me. I hope that you will consider deeply what I have said, and about the valuable role that elders play in their whanau.

Tena koutou katoa.

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