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Pita & Tariana: legacies and looming threats

What a week it has been for the Māori Party, and for Tariana Turia and Dr Pita Sharples in particular. Today (9 July 2014) marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Māori Party, (even as the party’s survival becomes increasingly subject to question). On Thursday last week Pita introduced the new Māori Language Bill to Parliament. On Monday Tariana launched Te Pou Matakana  the new North Island commissioning agency for Whānau Ora. Not bad for a week’s work.

Both the Bill and the launch of the commissioning agency represent a pretty powerful encapsulation of Māori Party thinking. Both developments seek to displace core decision-making from central government to iwi Māori and urban Māori communities in regards to Māori frameworks designed to improve the Māori language survival (on the one hand) and healthy whānau development (on other).

To illustrate: both developments set up independent agencies with iwi/urban Māori representation that will oversee to a substantial degree developments in both spheres. In the case of te reo Māori, Pita is pinning high hopes on the ability of Te Mātāwai “to provide leadership on behalf of iwi and Māori regarding the health of the Māori language” despite some fairly widespread concerns about the proposed agency. Regardless of the criticism, the new agency looks likely to forge ahead, to be appointed by “regional iwi clusters”, taking over the governance of the Te Taura Whiri,Te Māngai Pāho and Maori Television.

The same phenomenon is at work with the launch of Te Pou Matakana, a new entity that was conceived and created out of the National Urban Māori Authority (NUMA) although not without some controversy. This new entity, (alongside the South Island commissioning agency (Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu) and the Pasifika Futures agency) will take over from from Te Puni Kōkiri in contracting out services, setting policies and distributing funding.

In one week the roles of several government agencies have been either placed under threat or significantly diminished.

I get this. There is a pretty powerful stream of thinking that holds that Māoridom needs to find its own answers, and that Government adoption of and interference in Māori generated solutions causes more problems than it solves. I have written about this before  in regards to Māori welfare outcomes, which are fairly closely connected to Whānau Ora:

New Zealand governments have never actively pursued Māori solutions to Māori welfare problems. One reason for this is because Māori welfare has been  intimately tied up with Māori self determination and notions of rangatiratanga, however that might be interpreted. A brief review of the history of social security in New Zealand shows that  the New Zealand state’s distrust of Māori ambitions has often meant the neutering of Māori initiatives that could have effected better Māori welfare outcomes.

(O crikey, quoting myself is a slippery slope..)

Anyway, bearing all that in mind I read something in the Herald yesterday that left a cold feeling in my stomach. That something was a headline: Labour Government would review Whanau Ora policy. As outlined in the article Labour has announced plans to review the policy should it lead the next government. Reviews often mean fundamental change. As Nanaia Mahuta stated:

“While the minister may feel emotionally attached to her programme it is important that future commitments under a Labour Government are based on outcomes achieved and evidence that underpin the strength based approach in the Whanau Ora model.”

Although, it is true that Whānau Ora must live beyond Tariana’s tenure as Minister, there are a couple of reasons I find this statement odd. For one thing it seems strange to link the Ministers ’emotionalism’ to an implication that Whānau Ora is somehow not outcome focused. This seemed to be a statement that reduces Whānau Ora to an outlier minister’s pet project.While there is no doubt Whānau Ora could not have existed without Tariana’s belief in it, it has very long roots indeed (once you take into account its conceptual beginnings under He Korowai Oranga in the health sector well over a decade ago).

For another, ummm…I thought outcomes-focus was integral to the design of the approach in the first place. Sir Mason Durie said as much back in 2010 at the time of the launch of the Whānau Ora Taskforce the momentum was gathering for the programme and shortly before the establishment of the Minister for Whānau Ora. When asked on TVNZ’s Q&A what kind of accountability Whānau Ora would provide for, Sir Mason said:

Absolutely, you’d expect that is there’s a Whanau Ora practitioner, that if they’re dealing with a whanau, they should be able to demonstrate that the whanau is better off financially, better off socially, more social cohesion, and better off culturally, so that they’re broad areas I know, but they’re indicators within all of those areas that will be useful in measuring the outcome, so I think the accountability will be greater not less.

This intention has been borne out, for example, in the prevalent concern exhibited by Te Puni Kōkiri for tracking Whānau Ora outcomes for 333 whānau engaged in the programme by the end of June 2012.

So if accountability and outcomes are already integral to the Whānau Ora approach (debates about measurement and analysis aside for now), I wonder what the purpose of this intended review would really be. My suspicion is that it would be aimed at a well worn story in New Zealand politics across the political spectrum: pushback – recovering a higher degree of Government control over Māori intitiatives, in this case over the functions and tasks that are now being carried out by the commissioning agencies.

And there is no doubt Whānau Ora is vulnerable to political winds of change. There is no legislation underpinning the policy, there is little mention (last time I looked) of Whānau Ora in strategic documents outside of Te Puni Kōkiri’s, The fulcrum of its existence is the Ministerial office and little else. This minimalist approach seems to be deliberate for the reasons I mention before, that Whānau Ora might have a greater chance of success with less, not more, Government oversight.

In which case, Tariana’s own words of unease yesterday (in a Māori Party press release  commenting on the observations made by a political panel at the launch of Te Pou Matakana) may have some foundation:

Whanau Ora leaders also described their despair at the word ‘review’, given they have felt under the microscope every step of the way in the Whanau Ora journey while many other services appear to escape such scrutiny,” said Mrs Turia. “Rather than a review, it would so wonderful if political parties could instead reflect and learn from transformation of so many lives that is occurring through the means of Whanau Ora.

Perhaps future more detailed policy announcements from Labour might allay some anxiety that could be gathering pace about one of the legacies of the last ten years of the Māori Party.



About Sparrowhawk/Kārearea

Legal academic and writer, Wellington. (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Pākeha. Nō te Hāhi Mihinare hoki)

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