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The Nation: Northland community panel

On The Nation: Northland community panel

Moko Foundation founder Dr Lance O’Sullivan says the government needs to make some tough choices about legislation against tobacco and pokies, rather than relying on personal responsibility.

Te Runanga o Te Rarawa Chair Haami Piripi says his iwi is about to launch a new initiative with police, identifying families at risk of domestic abuse and intervening early.

Local agencies say they’re desperate for qualified staff. Ngati Kahu Health and Social Services Chief Executive Marihi Langford and Te Whare Ruruhau o Meri Trust Dee-Ann Wolferstan say the government should incentivise them to move to the north.

Lisa Owen: Well, the Far North sometimes hits the headlines for the wrong reasons. Our next guests, though, are working very hard in their community to make things better. And joining me now are Dr Lance O’Sullivan; Dee-Ann Wolferstan, who works in social services; Marihi Langford, who works with young, unemployed people; and Haami Piripi from Te Rarawa. Good afternoon to you all. Kia ora. I want to start with you, Lance. In the past, you have said that we need to improve the lot of Maori, and you’ve suggested some quite radical changes — stuff like banning smoking, getting rid of pokie machines, limiting alcohol. So what do you think is the state’s job, the state’s responsibility, versus personal responsibility?
Lance O’Sullivan: Okay, so, look, that’s quite an easy answer. The state’s responsibility is to set the context and the environment by which people can make the right decisions. So, yes, I agree that individual responsibility and decisions that they make are important, but that’s in the context of the environment that we as a country and a society set for them. So when I see child poverty in Kaitaia and then I see policies that allow a proliferation of pokie machines that take probably $100 out of the households of these children per week and millions out of the Far North community, I’d say that’s our government, whether local or central, not showing the leadership and courage that’s required.
So those are tough decisions, especially if you’re in politics, which is somewhere you may be moving to, you know, because do you get voted in on those kinds of platforms?
O’Sullivan: Look, I think if you go back to the point I was making — is there a link between pokie machines, alcohol outlets, cigarettes to the poverty that children in Kaitaia and communities like Kaitaia experience? And the answer is absolutely yes. There’s a very direct link between the people that are using or practising these lifestyles and the fact that children are going without food, kai, in the evenings. And so the… Sorry.
So you think that these tough decisions do need to be made by people in power — politicians?
O’Sullivan: Yes, they do need to be made, yup. And I think New Zealanders— The point I was trying to make was New Zealanders actually think child poverty’s important and most New Zealanders don’t think pokies are that critical.
Marihi, your programme focuses on high-risk young people, and you offer them wrap-around services, help them get into work, and help them stay into work. Do we need to hand-hold young people like that? Do we need to do that for all young people? We’ve got about 80,000 of them who are not in education, not in training, don’t have a job.
Marihi Langford: I think the circumstances here in Kaitaia are totally different. I think this is a unique community. I don’t see us as actually hand-holding these young people, but actually putting the supports in place and also giving messages to these young people that there is more to life than sitting on a benefit at $3.56 an hour when they can actually get a job. One of the biggest issues for them is that a lot of their issues are generational and they don’t actually feel that they can add value to this community. So I believe that the work that we’re doing, which is supported by Work and Income, is to actually help these young people find their dreams, their aspirations, but also keeping it real, and some of those changes that we’ve seen in these young people through this manaakitanga is that they want to work. They change. They’ve got these issues where… They’ve got all these social issues, of course, and then, of course, we’ve got drugs. The Employment and Work Act has now changed employers’ ways of thinking. They now have to make sure that when an employee comes in, they’re going to be safe. So drug testing is one of those main things that we encourage our young people to do so that we can put some services in place to actually help them overcome the addiction of drugs.
Dee-Ann, you’re involved with a number of social services providers in the Kaitaia area. What do you think is the benefit of having decisions that are made at a local level rather than at government level?
Dee-Ann Wolferstan: Oh, that’s pretty simple. That’s around local solutions. You have the ability, like Lance’s and Marihi’s programmes, to localise; they know their people; they see their people; they live in the community, and so then they’re actually building services that relate directly to the whanau that they’re dealing with. When you have central making decisions with evidence-based international programmes, they’re actually just plotting a programme over people that it’s not going to suit. And so it’s really critical for Kaitaia that you’ve got kaupapa Maori programmes that have the infusion of clinical practice with it. And I think that’s what’s being delivered up here at the moment, and it has to be recognised by central government.
So, Haami, you are about to actually launch a localised programme in conjunction with the police — an anti-violence programme. What do you think this can do that other programmes like that haven’t been able to do?
Haami Piripi: Well, what’s different about this programme is that it’s a combination of local and iwi-based information and input combined with what has been an orthodox approach by the New Zealand Police, and both parties are looking to develop something that’s new and innovative and much more effective. So I’m hoping the process is cultural-capital — cultural understandings about the individual, about the whanau, and about their circumstances. I agree totally with what people are saying, but values, norms, and practices often develop as a result of your socioeconomic circumstances, and so if we’re going to attack those inappropriate values and norms and practices, I think we have to approach it from an area of understanding. My experience has been that if people understand why, then it’ll be much easier to work with the how.
So in terms of this programme that you’re launching, are there going to be plain-clothes people, non-sworn people, going into homes where domestic violence is an issue?
Piripi: Yes. So the focus is on family safety as opposed to domestic violence, which is another way of looking at it, I guess. And, yes, it’s necessary because the normal approach that has been taken in the past hasn’t led to much of a success, and so we need to change that approach. And I know the police have already been quite responsive in that respect. And we need to combine that change with local responsiveness, local responsive groups and organisations that know families, understand families, and we put the two together to create a result.
We’re going to have to go to a break shortly, but I’m interested that a couple of you have raised the issues of drugs. So I want to ask you — there’s going to be a referendum this term about whether cannabis should be legalised or not. What way will you vote? Will you vote for legalisation or against? Lance?
O’Sullivan: I’d vote for decriminalisation.
But not legalisation?
O’Sullivan: But not legalisation.
Wolferstan: Not legalisation.
Langford: Decriminalisation.
Piripi: Not legalisation, I don’t think, but I think decriminalisation, because, to me, it’s a bit like gangrene; you’ve got to chop off the bit that’s not going to kill you, you know, and dealing with the rest of it is a really important issue. I think drugs is a really important issue for us. It’s a destructive thing, and in order to address it, we have to get it into the right context.
So that context is from you saying decrim is a health issue, then, obviously, you’re coming at it from?
O’Sullivan: Yeah, absolutely. But also social impact there. We spend way too much money on policing marijuana, and it’s really a health problem. And the Misuse of Drugs Act sits under the Ministry of Health, or came out of the Ministry of Health. It is a recognised health problem. How do we get the people the health needs that are associated with an addiction rather than a police or a justice response?
So redirecting resources?
O’Sullivan: Yes.
All right, we need to take a break now. We’ll be back with more shortly.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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