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Speech; Annual Conference of the addiction treatment sector

Hon Tariana Turia

Associate Minister of Health

Thursday 6 September 2012 9.30am


Opening address to Annual Conference of the addiction treatment sector

Main auditorium, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

I am intrigued at the concept of this annual gathering – the concept of the Cutting Edge.

I am keen to learn more about the relationship between DAPAANZ, tangata whenua and Pasifika peoples, given the growing populations that constitute Aotearoa.

We are familiar with the cutting edge in connection with innovation and the marketplace. We might think of ‘cutting edge’ theatre being the performance that pushes you to the edge of your seat. Music that is ‘cutting edge’ has that raw freshness in which every note sounds as if it is being played for the very first time.

I liked a statement that Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, said in relation to information technology. He suggested that “kids are taking PCs and the Internet to new heights. They’re the ones that are designing the cutting edge web-sites”.

In all these arenas then, to be cutting edge is to be revolutionary and miraculous – creating new ways, new things by embracing risk. And of course, who better than our young people to be leading us in taking on new thinking?

But ‘cutting edge’ can also have a dangerous side in the sense that unknown opportunities may bring with it perils.

For standing on the edge of the precipice is not a comfortable place to be. There is always the chance of falling off into the abyss.

Living on the edge means that you can see the kinds of things you can't see from the centre – and that may bring with it levels of danger, of grief, of pain.

But we know too that the mechanical monotony of living within your comfort zone is not for all – the middle ground can appear as frightening to some as living on the edge can be to others.

For all of us gathered here today, we appreciate the excitement of the risk, and the horror of falling off – we know that to ‘feel the fear’ requires a huge leap of faith.

So here we are in Aotearoa, living on the edge of the world, contemplating the future ahead and setting ourselves the challenge of twenty –twenty – perfect vision.

It is a wonderful prospect – to be part of a collective force as we are today – preparing for the horizons with our eyes wide open.

How will we address the concept of being cutting edge in this hui? That spirit of adventure and challenge that comes with living on the edge will be well and truly invigorated by our first three keynote speakers today.

And I want to welcome to Aotearoa; Professor Michael Farrell; the director of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in the University of New South Wales; and Stephen Bamber – a Recovery Consultant and Workforce Trainer; from Liverpool Hope University.

Their keynote addresses will inspire us to face the challenges and opportunities; to dare mighty things for the future of drug and alcohol services – and most important of all for the wellbeing of whānau and families who come into contact – or collision – with this sector.

And to ensure that bright-skies planning is set in the best pathway forward, I know that the contribution of Te Rina Moke will help guide you in her speech entitled, Whai Ao, Whai Marama – literally to welcome the glimmer of dawn; to welcome the bright light of day; to welcome life.

This then, is Cutting Edge 2012.

As I come to you today one word kept coming to my mind – that word is ‘wai’, or water in Maori.

Since the release of the Waitangi Tribunal’s landmark report confirming the vital significance of Māori rights and interests in water, there has been a passionate debate emerge across the land, around the value we accord to wai.

But importantly ‘wai’ is a key part of our language of wellbeing. For tangata whenua we think of water - wai - as the essence of life.

When one Maori meets another, the first question we ask is "no wai koe" - meaning from what birthing waters have you come? What is your river, your lake, your spring? Where are you from?

That will inevitably be followed with "ko wai koe" - what waters define who you are? What is the whakapapa line from which you trace descent? Who are you?

‘Waiora’ – is another word for our health and well-being, ‘wairua’ is about our spiritual wellbeing, ‘waiaro’ is a word that describes our attitude.

Of course, there is another wai word that we have and that is ‘waipiro’ our word for alcohol - literally 'stinking water'.

It is interesting that the water debate has come at a time where there is significant work currently going on in the health and wellbeing space.

Over the last fortnight we have seen some nationally significant work being undertaken, including progress in the passage of the Alcohol Reform Bill through parliament, the launch of the Netherlands Study from Every Child Counts, the report by the Expert Advisory Panel on Solutions to Child Poverty, and the launch of the Wellington Living Wage campaign.

Many of you here are part of advancing this wider wellbeing agenda. In fact it all interconnects – none of these things arrive in isolation – the people you work with are affected by them all.

Your work informs what is a larger picture of advancing the health and social aspirations of our families and communities.

I think it is important that we remember all of these connections as we gather here today at this conference.

Waipiro or alcohol has a significant impact on our whanau. It is a mind altering substance that affects their ‘wairua’, our ‘waiora’ and our ‘waiaro’. And for this reason, this conference is not only timely but critically important to advancing the health agenda in New Zealand. It is, indeed, at the cutting edge.

I want to acknowledge all of you who are here today and the work that you do.

If there are two people who fit the definition of what it is to be cutting edge, it would be Professor Doug Sellman, for your work, guidance and passionate advocacy for the health and wellbeing of our whanau, and Gerard Vaughan of ALAC fame for your leadership, commitment and wonderful leadership.

Thank you for always living on the edge of your seat and pushing yourself and in doing so, pushing us to go that bit further.

And I of course, I acknowledge our hosts DAPAANZ, the Addiction Practitioners Association Aotearoa New Zealand. Tēnā koutou.

This conference is driven by the knowledge that alcohol is a substance that can cause tremendous harm in our communities. It is a substance that affects our social well-being and safety, and also impacts on our wairua and our spiritual wellbeing.

In an ideal world, we would hope our children are protected from mind-altering substances that affect their wairua; we would not allow a substance to be sold which has been linked to a high number hospitalisations, police apprehensions and various social ills such as violence, impaired decision making, and death to continue to be offered to people amongst our communities.

And yet we do. Because as a nation, we have normalised alcohol as part of our culture and social norms.

This is a conversation best had on another day without my Ministerial hat on, but I know that right across Parliament there is a recognition of the need for change in how we regulate alcohol, how we limit the accessibility of the substance, and ultimately how we work towards addressing excessive alcohol consumption and breaking the cycle for our young ones.

It is not so much about prohibition as it is about wide-scale attitudinal change - all of us working to change the current culture in which alcohol misuse is tolerated and accepted as just part of who we are; part of everyday life.

It is because of our current climate, that the work that you do in treating alcohol addictions and addressing the harm caused by the abuse of this substance is so important.

It is a vital service that you provide to our communities, but it is also a tremendously large burden that you carry.

But you must not carry this on your own. We must all take responsibility to make the changes required to make our communities safer.

I am sure that many of you here know my views on wellbeing – and that is the same now as it was when I last addressed this hui - that the central focus of any health and wellbeing policy must be based on our whanau or families.

Eleven years ago I addressed your sixth annual hui and commented on the leadership you were demonstrating in advocating for the role of whanau and family, partners and our community in improving health and wellbeing for the individual.

I want to share a comment I made in that speech:

“I myself believe that whanau, hapu and iwi have the knowledge and the ability to assist their whanau overcome difficulties they may face. I have an absolute belief in our whanau. While others may disagree, it has always been my belief that if the problems affecting us reside in the whanau, then, therein also lies the solutions”.

Those words are as true today as they were in September 2001 – and they will be equally as valid for 2020; for the future we are planning at this forum over these next few days.

We must place whanau at the centre of our hearts and minds when developing legislation and policy, and we must always be working in a way which improves their outcomes.

We want our families to be healthy and strong. We all want our children to be safe and for their limitless potential to be fostered and nurtured. If this is truly our aspiration for our whanau then we must work in a way that empowers them, and that enables them to dream big, to aspire to great things and work towards achieving those aspirations.

We must also look at how we work together to achieve these outcome for our whanau. Whanau Ora is about recognising the strengths and expertise that we each have as providers and specialists and most importantly as members of families ourselves - and drawing those skills together under one umbrella.

It is an approach which sees providers working with whanau, not doing to whanau. It is about strengthening families and empowering them with the resources and knowledge, but it is also about finding strength from your peers and colleagues to be able to address root causes of issues which may manifest in different ways.

In essence it is about working together to address common problems, to transform the lives of our whanau, but also to work towards providing a more supportive environment for our health and social service work force.

I want to return to the impact that alcohol has on our wairua.

Alcohol misuse and abuse changes your attitude, your outlook and your behaviour. It takes on an entirely new persona of its own. Alcohol forces people to behave in ways and do things that they would never do without the influence of alcohol – to me that is the impact that this substance has on our spiritual wellbeing, our wairua.

While I do not have any ministerial responsibility either for alcohol law reform or for alcohol and drug treatment, personally I would love to see a change in the way that we regulate alcohol, and I would love to see us move alcohol reform down the same pathway as tobacco. I think that this could make a huge difference to the wellbeing of our whanau.

And with another hat on – in my role as co-leader of the Māori Party – it is for that reason that we have introduced a range of amendments to debate in the context of Alcohol Reform, to ensure we do indeed protect the interests of whānau from the trauma and toll of alcohol use and abuse.

Finally, I want to truly commend all of you here – for your courage and your commitment in walking on edge – for seeking every opportunity to consider innovation as you focus on the rich myriad of challenges that face you every day - ongoing recovery; treatment; on relapse; on co-dependence; on cultural competency; on health literacy; on new technologies and addiction.

Yours is not an easy task at all – but you are fortunate in having a workforce that understands the need for perseverance; and is driven by a belief that every person matters; that every whānau deserves care.

I thank you for the making the difference.


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