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Deploying to Iraq: NZ & the nouveau (Facebook) isolationism

OK, so declarations straight up. I agree with our deployment to Iraq. There is a massive humanitarian crisis that has been created by Islamic State, known in the Arab world, and France as DAISH, with the internal displacement of up to two million people, including the rapid depopulation of Iraqi minorities.  While I don’t think the ultimate solution to DAISH is Western military intervention, we have an opportunity to answer an Iraqi request to help Iraqis try and protect their own populations and, perhaps, in undermining the territorial gains of DAISH. We are contributing the barest minimum we can decently do to maintain our international standing among the other participating nations that comprise most of our major security and trading partners. I make no pretensions at being an international relations expert, or particularly knowledgeable about New Zealand politics, let alone the quagmire known as Iraq. I have read as widely as I can, and try and make sure i am reasonably informed.

But I am fascinated as to why so many New Zealanders are opposed to deployment in Iraq to assist Iraqi forces to fight DAISH. Actually, at one level I’m not surprised by some of the opposition. So much death, misery and suffering has happened in the Middle East for so long, that I can understand a level of ‘give-a-damn’ fatigue. I can also understand those who oppose deployment on the grounds that we shouldn’t be aiming to help the weak Iraqi government; we should be helping some other proxy like the Kurds. After all, lots of other Western fighters are heading to help them.

I also have a certain level of sympathy for those who ask about other conflicts closer to home. What about West Papua, and the  massacres and abuses being carried out by Indonesian troops? What about poverty in our own country? We need to look after our own people. I could probably agree with all those statements. There is a pretty good argument, for example, to be made that New Zealand is not doing all it can to assist the appalling abuses in West Papua. But these statements don’t constitute an argument not to go.

But these are arguments for other things, but not against deployment in Iraq. We can build really good arguments off the back of those statements. But they are just not effective as arguments against deployment.  And they can set up false dilemmas: by saying ‘there is poverty in NZ therefore we should not deploy in Iraq’ the speaker is suggesting ‘if you choose to deploy in Iraq you reject helping the poor in NZ’. This is not self-evident.

Then there are other arguments that are similarly uncompelling…Iraq is a basket case. This is 2003 all over again. We are just going in as US lapdogs to protect the US’s oil interests. We can argue endlessly about the efficacy or otherwise of the US’s intervention in Iraq, and much of the time the US won’t look particularly great. But I just fail to see how arguments against the US and US foreign policy make any fundamental difference to our decision to go in this particular situation. And merely saying “We are the lap dog of the oil-hungry US” doesn’t cut it as an argument. Not only is this an over-simplifications, it is a deflection. A straw man. I might get sucked into debating whether or not Iraq really is a basket-case, or whether we really are the lapdog of the oil-maniacal US. I am not, however, any clearer as to whether we should deploy or not. Then what about the argument that says ‘We didn’t intervene in [name appalling tragedy, for example Rwanda, West Papua] so why should we intervene here? To borrow the words of Terry Nardin:

It makes little sense to argue that because a state has failed to rescue the victims of violence in one situation it should refrain from doing so in another

Perhaps the most useful area in the debate I’ve seen has been about the importance of our international relationships. Of course, the relationship with the US before and after deployment is an important factor to consider in deciding to go. John Key said engaging in the campaign against DAISH was (as he charmingly put it) ‘the price of the club’, namely, the Five Eyes agreement. The nature of our relationship with the member countries in that agreement is at the core of the decision to go.

So I have  been interested to see a degree of nouveau isolationism, in several Facebook posts I’ve seen. Many people seem to think our international relationships are like jumpers we can strip off on a hot day; there is no cost for dropping the jumper back on the woolly pile and presumably we can just put them back on when the cold wind starts to bite. It is impossible to tell how widespread this attitude is. One response to my own posts on this issue passionately and eloquently sums up a degree of this thinking:

This is not our circus, and most definitely not our monkeys! If Key, and anyone else wants to go play soldier, then go yourselves, and pay for it yourselves! We have enough problems here that need fixing, and the middle east needs to put on it’s big boy pants and sort it’s own shit out, or this will happen over and over for the rest of time. We’ve got involved in too many foreign wars that have had nothing to do with us, and gained nothing from the experience, except a lot of dead soldiers. But go on with your jolly-ho warmongering, and try not to vomit when the coffins come back.

Isolationism and self-interest has also been reflected by some influential Māori commentators, as was demonstrated on Waitangi Day. The Army, of course, is in the eye of many Māori, something of a Māori institution, with 22% of its members being Māori.

Mr Key, speaking off the cuff, had addressed the issue of Iraq after earlier speakers criticised him for considering sending New Zealand personnel to help with training against Isis (Islamic State). They included Maori Council head Maanu Paul, who said he was concerned Mr Key was putting Maori at risk “as you participate in the global problems and want to be a ‘family’ with the United States and England”.

When Māori party Co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell spoke in Parliament against deployment, he used most of the arguments mentioned thus far. According to Flavell, we are making ourselves a target, not only the deployed soldiers, but all of us in NZ: ‘we are raising our heads above the parapet’. He also surmised that ‘all that will happen is that everyone packs up and walls away.’ In addition, we have much to contribute, and a fine reputation, in regard to humanitarian crises, but we should look first closer to home, to West Papua. There was very little by way of graspable argument in this speech..it was a series of positions, that were deflections away from actual argument.

So, yes, sometimes the isolationism springs from a sincere belief that we need to act to assist countries closer to home, and more aligned with our sphere of influence. I accept that. And I also accept that we are inconsistent with whom we help whom we don’t. In the case of Iraq we have had a direct request from the democratically legitimate Iraqi government. Iraq is able, under Article 51 of the UN Charter to request assistance in matters of self defence, even collective self defence, without seeking permission from the security council. New Zealand may there provide assistance in the fight against DAISH. If we have the legal opportunities I would absolutely support our ‘getting some guts’  intervention in places closer to home.

In short…if we expect to receive a degree of protection from other countries, we must participate as best we can in world affairs where appropriate and where we have the legal pathway to do so. If we expect to benefit from, and contribute to, trade it is also a good idea to sustain good international relationships. If we expect to be able to challenge other countries on their human rights record or climate action record or whatever else, we have to participate in international affairs.

It surprises me how the debate I have been part of in social media seems to ignore how important our international relations are and how difficult they are to create and sustain. We learned harsh lessons from our last chairing of the UN security council when we failed to convince the permanent members to intervene to prevent the Rwandan genocide in 1994. We learned how others paid the price of our international failure to act.  Pablo at KiwiPolitico say it best:

After the Rwandan genocide an international doctrine known as the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) was agreed by UN convention to prevent future horrors of that sort. It basically states that if a defenceless population is being subject to the depredations of its own government, or if the home government cannot defend the population from the depredations of others, then the international community is compelled to use whatever means, including armed force, to prevent ongoing atrocities from occurring. There can be no doubt that is the situation in parts of Iraq and Syria at the moment. Neither the Assad regime or the Iraqi government can defend minority communities such as Kurds or Yazidis, or even non-compliant Sunnis, from the wrath of IS. That, more than any other reason, is why NZ must join the fight. As an international good citizen that has signed up to the R2P, NZ is committed in principle to the defense of vulnerable others.

Now is not the time for isolationism. I wonder if there ever is such a time.

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The Paris attacks, Derek Fox, and the chimera of free speech.

Freedom of speech. This extraordinary notion, in the wake of the French shootings and sieges this week, is now being dusted off, lauded, and reaffirmed as one of the centre-pieces of our modern democratic lives. And it is. The problem is that we seem to be losing track of the notion of speaking freely, concentrating instead on using the idea of ‘Freedom of Speech” as a pretext for whatever ideological barrow we want to push or extinguish. Over the last couple of days I’ve identified three kinds of pretexts involving free speech from the discourse in the wake of the initial killings in Paris. The first one accords with my opinion, the other two, not so much.

Freedom of Speech as a pretext for acts of terror

Freedom of speech, as employed by Charlie Hebdo artists, was not the reason for the attacks. Sure, the staff were exercising the right (more on this shortly) but their exercise of that right (some pretty blimmin’ offensive cartoons) was not really why they were attacked. Those set upon a course of creating their own war require pretexts upon which to act. The pretexts just have to resound enough with some prevailing ideology to ensure that at least some people will give a patina of ideological rationale to the acts about to be carried out. Offensive/satirical cartoons are as good any other kind of pretext. A girl sitting on a school bus, an Iraqi queuing to join the local police. The murder of some teenagers. Rationales can always be found when required for a course one has already decided upon anyway. For this reason I don’t really hold with those who wax lyrical about how the cartoonists and the cleaner and the cop outside at the Paris attack were heroes of free speech. They and their families deserve commemoration and respect. To be clear, though, they were the chosen victims, because of their connection to the most convenient pretext to serve as a rationale for what the terrorists wanted to do. 61 journalists were slaughtered around the world in 2014, 17 of them in Syria. I don’t recall any freedom marches for them.

Freedom of Speech as a Pretext for Cultural Imperialism

Derek Fox, who is something of a bloody-minded curmudgeon on a good day anyway, reckons the victims got what they were looking for. He, like me, thinks freedom of speech is being used as a pretext, but in his view, a rationale not so much for the gunmen in Paris, but for the actions of the cartoonists and the magazine editor; as an excuse to perpetrate cultural imperialism by magazines in order to sell more magazines.  “Well” spat Derek, “now they have been severely bitten on the bum.” Well, bitten on the bum, slaughtered, in the case of that particular magazine, but yeah, same thing, clearly, Derek. Putting to the side my niggling questions as to whether Derek has been taking sensitivity training from post-Steve-Irwin-stingray-attack Germaine Greer, one of the criticisms made by Derek was:

Power cultures all like to use the old chestnut of freedom of speech when they choose to ridicule people who aren’t exactly like them, and mostly they get away with it.

I don’t exactly disagree with Derek on this. Good arguments can be made that much bad stuff has been done upon the pretext of bringing liberation and the values of Western democracy and values to the ‘other’. But Derek’s notion of what free speech is restricted to, it seems, thing being said by:

…people who believe they can use the power they wield by way of dominating the media to abuse and ridicule others they believe to inferior to them – just like [in] this country

So in his view freedom of speech is merely a pretext if the wrong people are exercising the right, and saying bad things. But actually, that’s kind of how it works. Freedom to speak will mean that sometimes the wrong people will speak awful stuff. (By the way, Elipsister’s powerful and more eloquent critique regarding the use of freedom of speech as this kind of pretext setting can be found here).

Freedom of Speech as Enabler of New Zealand white male bigotry

In New Zealand there is a lot that people can say that is not prescribed by any kind of law. Cameron Slater, Muriel Newman, Rodney Hide, that woman who thinks women should ‘surrender’ to their men, that Alan Titford supporter, that pastor in Auckland who thinks and says gay people should go to hell; all of them can express these views within the bounds of legality. OK…that old Evelyn Beatrice Hall quote comes to mind: “I disapprove of what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it.” It’s a seductive tenet, right? But some of the comments emerging in the wake of the Paris attacks in support of Derek Fox’s comments have focused on the New Zealand context expressing the view that in New Zealand free speech is something of a ‘one-way street’ and apparently  extends to having to tolerate, or enable views that may be perpetrating oppression of whatever nature, once again. Another observation might be expressed like this: “by virtue of his/her privilege this person gets to be heard all the time anyway, and alternative voices get lost.” Free speech once again becomes merely a pretext for something far more sinister apparently: the perpetration of the right-wing agenda (not that I am entirely sure what that is..)

Flippancy aside, I have some sympathy for the view that only certain (usually Pākehā) points of view tend to filter through our mainstream media. But I’m not sure that the fact we have a fairly homogenous set of voices in our mainstream media means that freedom of speech has somehow become reduced to a mere pretext for this state of affairs. Freedom of speech, according to some of these voices, has merely become shorthand for exclusion, oppression and marginalization of various groups within NZ society. I was reminded by the reaction, on FB,  to Gareth Morgan’s  set of articles about the Treaty of Waitangi derived from his recent book. According to some of the reactions, he’s an economist with no background in the Treaty. He perpetrates disinformation, he is just another white male speaking to other white men. Maybe so. I don’t have time here to critique his writing (there are some problems with it, and some good stuff too, but I’ll leave that for another day) there are some interesting response pieces already out there, such as from Potaua Biasiny-Tule here, and from Morgan Godfrey here. But here’s the thing…he is speaking and writing freely, and we, in response, are speaking and writing freely. The structure and biases of mainstream media does not cancel out that freedom, does it?

Thinking back in wistfulness to Evelyn Beatrice Hall again…Just why is it that we seem, some of us at least, to presume that freedom of speech only really matters when we agree with what is being said? An interesting column on this can be found here. I guess my point is that for free speech to mean anything other than the pretexts other people load on to it we need to be active in speaking freely and (critically important) allowing others to speak freely. The greatest threat to free speech is not Al Quaeda or ISIS or Boko Haram, or even the editors of the Herald. The greatest threat to free speech lies within our own tendency to want to stomp on dissenting voices, from any part of the political, cultural or social spectrum. So let’s worry less about the pretexts for which the idea of freedom of speech is being manipulated. Let’s just get on with the business of speaking freely, and maybe, even once in a while, listening.

Māori broadcasting & the year of living dangerously

Māori broadcasting & the year of living dangerously

This week there will be yet another one of those end-of year functions. Perhaps you are familiar with such things. Perhaps you have been press-ganged into a few yourself. Or perhaps you have managed (like me) to use your children as an excuse to avoid anything remotely Christmassy/Secret Santa-ish. Well. spare a thought for one of those functions that will be held this week; the break-up, in more than one way, of the Māori and Pacific programmes department at TVNZ.  There will be, no doubt, much kōrero, sadness and reflectiveness as the current staff look back over many decades of service that this department has given in the pursuit of New Zealanders understanding ourselves just a little bit better. Ernie Leonard, Whai Ngata, Mihingarangi Forbes, Stephen Stehlin, Ngaire Fuata, Mātai Smith, Hineani Melbourne, Quinton Hita, Osone Okesene, oh crikey. Need I go on? You get the picture. A whole lot of talent pooled in order to create some damn fine TV over three decades, or near enough to.  As you might be aware TVNZ  announced in October that it will divest itself of most Māori and Pacific programming. In fact, TVNZ announced last week its preferred production companies to take on producing the other shows. but rest assured, TVNZ will still charge those lucky independent programme makers premium rates for the use of TVNZ facilities to make the same programmes. So…effectively this  “cornucopia of Māori production” will be no more (except for Te Karere). Whither now TVNZ’s legislative function that sets out, in s12(3) of the TVNZ Act 2003 that TVNZ  “must provide high-quality content that— […] reflects Māori perspectives” I wonder. I certainly don’t doubt the talents and skills that reside in our young, independent production houses. I wish them all the best for this new, and no doubt, exciting path. But make no mistake, the indefinable something, that collective enterprise that was just big enough to make a change to NZ broadcasting culture, that  trained and welded generations of Māori and Pasifika broadcasters, journalists, technical staff together to create something bigger than the sum of those individuals, will vanish. That job of cultural transformation must not be left to independent Māori and Pasifika vehicles. There must be space for difference within the machinery of the mainstream. More on this later. But for this moment…spare a thought on Thursday night for that sad celebration. Actually 2014 is a red-letter year for Māori broadcasting, it seems to me. For one thing, it was the 10th anniversary of another important source of Māori images and voices: the Māori Television Service, MTS, or better known just as Māori Television. Actually, the most annoying thing Judith Collins ever said, in my view, happened way back in May 2014 at the time of the 10th birthday celebrations.  Now, I get that some people will be somewhat ideologically ill-disposed to MTS. Fair enough. Each to their ideological own. But this reported comment, made with the trademark Collins curled lip,  got my goat and just about killed it:

Mrs Collins said most of the time when she tuned in the station was broadcasting “reruns of things that were running 30 years ago”. “I would like Maori TV to be considered one of our icons but at the moment it is not,” Mrs Collins said. “It’s not dealing with the big issues. And when it does deal with them it is often seen not to be evenly handed in its treatment of them.”

The absolute barefaced untruth of the first line of this comment was easily demonstrated by the most casual perusal of the channel’s programming for that month. So it was quite obvious she had either never actually tuned in to Māori Television more than, you know, that ONE time [at band camp], or she had happened one day upon a repeat screening of Koha or Tangata Whenua on Heartland and thought she was really was lost among the natives. This insulting dismissal of all that MTS has tried to achieve over ten years felt like a punch in the gut to me, and I don’t even work there! Nor do I think the programming is perfect either, but the accusation she makes is one of which that station is simply not guilty. And as far as I’m concerned, her egregious first comment negates what might have been marginally debatable points in the other lines. People who just make things up simply don’t get to be a critic that anyone listens to. But her comment did raise food for thought at the time, and still does. What is it that we expect an organisation like MTS to achieve? And, likewise, what do (or did…) we expect of our more ‘mainstream’ broadcasters such as TVNZ, RNZ and others in regards to promoting Māori content, training new broadcasters and, oh I don’t know, upholding or creating the authentic vision of how we think Māori ought to be portrayed? Let’s just say that there have been some pretty big events this year that are setting the scene for Māori media in this country. I don’t really know how the cards are going to fall, but there is a lot of shuffling going on at the moment. in addition to the gutting of Māori and Pacific programming at TVNZ we also have:

  • MTS in the middle of a restructure, and ‘scoping’ a possible move,  with a couple of its high profile figures (and a few others not so high profile) recently jumping ship; Julian Wilcox and Carol Hirschfeld.
  • Native Affairs (on Māori Television) is still weathering some ongoing ructions about the nature of the programme, and  debate about the future of investigative journalism at MTS. A particular series of examples arose in the election campaign pursued by Hone Harawira and the MANA Movement to highlight what they claimed to be threats  against NA and Te Kāea by MTS and its Board. This series of claims has been running for a few months now, culminating a few weeks ago in Harawira’s accusations about political interference in the content of Native Affairs by Paora Maxwell (MTS Chief Executive) reportedly rescinding an invitation for Hone Harawira to attend the final show of the year (although we only really have Hone’s account to go by). In addition, there are the ongoing consequences from Native Affairs’ investigation into the commercial arm of the Kohanga Reo National Trust,  Te Pataka Ohanga. For all the many admirers of Native Affairs investigative journalism in the Pākehā world (see here, and here for example), opinion is more divided within Māoridom (see the second half of this Te Putatara post  critiquing Native Affairs’ objectivity in that saga, and We Take Manhatten’s account of some of those critiques).
  • The current progress of the Māori Language Bill through Parliament and the forthcoming implementation of Te Mātāwai, a new governance agency that will provide direction on the future directions for te reo Māori, taking control of Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Maori (the Maori Language Commission) and Te Mangai Paho (the Maori Broadcasting Fund Agency). This new entity will also absorb Te Putahi Paoho, the electoral college for Maori Television;
  • In May this year Māori radio stations received a boost in funding of $12 million, for the next four yearthat has set up a challenge, and perhaps a point of debate and even tension for those stations about how best to use that funding and develop the existing stations and yet still keep a door open for new radio stations to develop.
  • and then there has been the launch, this year of the first modern Māori mainstream newspaperMāngai Nui in collaboration with the Rotorua Daily Post.

Crikey. That’s quite a lot to be going on with. There is always risk in expecting any one organisation to bear the weight of all Māori and Pākehā expectations of what Māori media should be.  One of our problems is that we are not always sure what it is we think Māori broadcasting ought to achieve, so, when big changes are signaled we don’t quite know how to read them. Or at least, I haven’t been sure. Take MTS, for example. What will be the result of the current changes at MTS? It may, actually, be better and more focused on doing what it was set up to do, provide a way and means of protecting, preserving and promoting the Māori language and tikanga Māori. Actually, however much we might want MTS to reflect the diversity and dynamism of modern (Māori) New Zealand, however much we might want it to be THE public broadcaster, it wasn’t set up to do that. The fact that it does those things, and with aplomb, is a testament to its staff and its ingenuity. But make no mistake…it has a legislative job to do. s3 of the Māori Television Services Act sets out the recognition that Crown and Māori together have an obligation under the Treaty of Waitangi to preserve, protect and promote te reo Māori. S8 of the Act sets out the principal function of the Act, which is:

…to promote te reo me ngā tikanga Māori through the provision of a high quality, cost effective Māori television service, in both Māori and English, that informs, educates, and entertains a broad viewing audience, and in doing so, enriches New Zealand’s society, culture and heritage.

In 2009 the review of the Act found that there was an inconsistency between the implementation of ss3 and 8. The reviewers said:

In effect the Act is successful in providing for the promotion of te reo Māori, but is less clear in providing for its preservation and protection.

But legislation be blowed, in on sense. Programme-makers, broadcasters, journalists, writers, presenters..all these people bring themselves into the public sphere in some way and change our cultural landscape even when we don’t know they are doing it. Whatever our Treaty-based, legislative, cultural or emotional expectations of our Māori media in general, and broadcasters in particular, this country owes a massive debt to Māori media in all its forms. This has been the case ever since the beginnings of Māori newspapers in the 1840s. Māori media, with all their faults, and variance and ideologies and truth-constructions,  have helped to foster a sense of connectedness and fellow-feeling between disparate members of Māori communities. They  have reflected Māori back to ourselves, even as we can argue endlessly over what distortions might be writ large in those images, words and sounds. They have given true glimpses of Māori life to those who don’t share that life. And Māori media have, for over 160 years, offered a portal into Māori thinking that is rarely offered within what we now offhandedly refer to as MSM, or mainstream media. Perhaps I had better be clear on what I mean by Māori media. I am not referring only to Māori run organisations independent of larger ‘mainstream entities’. Sometimes Māori media has extended its reach into Māoridom more by way of the Trojan Hoiho technique. Some of the Māori newspapers, for example, were government organs, but letters to the editor, and some editorial material did a pretty fine job of reflecting Māoridom, notwithstanding the intent that such organs be instruments of Crown propaganda. When The NZBC appointed Māori broadcasters in the 1930s and 40s, they were to provide an extraordinary legacy within Māori media (and broadcasting history). As written by one of the towering figures of Māori broadcasting, Henare Te Ua, some years ago:

Who were, these pioneers? Professor James Shelley, Director of early broadcasting, during the 1930s appointed four air-staff Māori, one each in the four main centres. In Auckland, Ngāti Whātua’s Lou Paul a skilled singer and musician, in Wellington, Kingi Tahiwi of Ngāti Raukawa’s musically talented Tahiwi whānau – he died over North Africa while serving with the Royal Air Force, Ngai Tahu’s Te Ari Pitama was appointed in Christchurch, and Wharekauri (Chatham Islands’) Airini Grennel in Dunedin. While not appointed as “Māori broadcasters”, they were bi-culturally adept broadcasters who were Māori, each possessing style and flair and te reo which they used on-air. My opinion is that their personal, outgoing charismas quietly opened their Pākeha colleagues’ insights into te ao Māori – the Māori world – and were at the genesis of Māori broadcasting

I think the second paragraph is very apt. It is a lonely thing sometimes to be ‘the Māori voice’ within a mainstream organisation. But those lonely voices are absolutely vital, in any form of broadcasting or media, and, I would venture, in any organisation with public relevance, actually. The problem with being the lonely voice is that it can more easily, and with relative impunity, be silenced. So. Here’s to both the lonely Māori and Pasifika voices in within mainstream media, wherever they are found, and those voices of other Māori and Pasifika who are able to paddle their own media waka. Kia mau tonu koutou.

The curious case of Korotangi Paki and inherited privilege in modern New Zealand.

The curious case of Korotangi Paki and inherited privilege in modern New Zealand.

The news today that Korotangi Paki has now had a conviction entered against his name for Excess Breath Alcohol reminded me of a conversation I had with my mother a few months ago when the news broke that he had, at that time, escaped conviction.  “What!” She yelped. “How did he get off? That’s not bloody fair! And anyway, the Kingitanga’s not even bloody REAL!” My Mum’s Pākehā. I’m pretty certain my Dad (nō Te Rarawa), were he still alive, would have had pretty much the same response. That Korotangi Paki’s story has had legs for a large chunk of this year is in part because of a powerful idea in the mainstream New Zealand public imagination. People with privilege should not be treated more gently than the rest of us plebs, especially when such privilege is based on birth and inheritance. Every so often some issue such as this swells in the public consciousness and has people claiming loudly and broadly about equality for all. On a good day I can see that kind of response as some kind of evidence that the reputed strong egalitarian streak in the New Zealand psyche is alive and well in our heads if not in real life, and some degree of disdain for inherited privilege is pretty healthy.

Privilege is an interesting topic as it has so many manifestations. And of course, the slightly notable thing in Paki’s case is that the charge has always been that he was was a Māori supposedly claiming inherited privilege.  The general tenor of this kind of criticism on a popular, dedicated Facebook page is easy to spot:

This is an outrage! […] This shows the Kingitanga as an excuse for featherbedding and protection of tribal privilege. The rest of us would have to take our lumps!…

Should’ve been given a GOOD OLD WORKINGMANS BOOT UP HIS ROYAL ARSE…

Unfair justice. No matter who you are or where you come from, If you do the crime, do the time!!! Is it fair to say, if we got caught for theft, burglary & drink driving we can ask the Maori king to get the case DISCHARGED without conviction too? FAIR JUSTICE for all…just saying..

Of course, this criticism is also interspersed with even more comments bemoaning so-called racial (as opposed to inherited) privilege. and, curiously, many, many comments scorning King Tūheitia for being a truck driver with that fact being held up as evidence that the Kīngitanga isn’t a real monarchy anyway. Hmm. Well, be that as it may… Certainly, in Māori thinking, often lineage does count for something.  This fact is often perceived to be in direct tension with New Zealand’s long-lived love affair with the idea (if not the reality) of classlessness/equality. Focus on lineage is often easily conflated with the presumption of inherited privilege.

Lineage is extraordinarily important in Māori thinking, but not so much because it comes with attendant wealth, but because whakapapa (genealogy) is the pre-eminent organising principle of Māori life, even among many Māori who profess no Māori cultural life otherwise. Māori commonly seek connection with each other on a familial basis for any number of purposes; to decide on the speaking order on the paepae, perhaps, to help a therapist and client create a good therapeutic relationship, to make slyly apt jokes hidden in the lyrics of a particularly lascivious haka, to smoothe the way in creating a relationship between newly introduced strangers. Whakapapa, as the basis of collective action, is now commonly referred to as a teaching tool and necessary focus in some rehabilitation frameworks.  Whakapapa can help determine those who might best serve on a hapū negotiating team, given the connections that could be created with other hapū to get the most combined traction. And obviously whakapapa can determine ownership of land. Like the gossamer threads of the spiderweb, whakapapa, is everywhere, connecting pretty much everybody and everything. This is no misty spiritual abstraction; whakapapa is a bloody useful tool.

Undoubtedly, whakapapa can, sometimes, bring with it wealth and influence, and opportunities not open to others, which is why the privilege presumed to apply to Korotangi Paki, as the second son of King Tūheitia, has received such a public airing. This idea of privilege based on whakapapa, although relatively less exercised among Māori, is probably quite familiar to most New Zealanders who recognise, and deeply distrust, lineage-derived privilege. But how deep does this distrust really run, I wonder? And can we see it in our own mirrors, I wonder?

I wrote two wills, this year. One for an older female relative on the Pākehā side of my whānau , one for one of my older whanaunga in my Dad’s family. In doing up these documents I got a pretty clear idea of how inherited privilege can work even just within my own family. Although my Pākehā relative has been a beneficiary (DPB and Super) for more than 40 years she inherited some money from her stepmother when she died, and when she received a similar amount from her own mother who passed away, that was enough to pay the remaining mortgage on her home, about 12 years ago. So all she has in her house, but she owns that, and absolutely nothing else. When she passes away her adult children will inherit some part of that legacy which will then bolster whatever they have managed to accrue for themselves over their adult lives. A smaller share of her legacy will also be divided between the grandkids to be held on trust until they are old enough preferably for use in tertiary study or for partial house deposits. In turn, the grandkids themselves will also inherit their parents’ shares of that legacy providing for some level of economic stability for decades to come, that, most likely will only increase in value and carry on down the generations to come. That’s inherited privilege, isn’t it?

My whanaunga’s will on my father’s side of the whānau represents an entirely different situation. There is a large amount of land, and a house on its section. Neither is owned outright by my whanaunga. Instead the land is collectively held in different areas around the North Island with literally hundreds and hundreds of other people. The house and section are in a whānau trust under the Māori Land Act. My whanaunga worked all his life until retirement, but there is no inherited wealth, other than his actual lineage and whakapapa connections that already belong to his adult children anyway. Of course there is the wealth of the homestead itself and the landscaping; a wealth of memories and connections that will remain. So much for our dual legal system with ‘special laws’ bestowing privilege on that whānau. There is no increased capital value that will enhance the lives of his children or grandchildren.

I want to be clear that I don’t think I am talking here about ‘white privilege’ per se. While inherited privilege will often accrue to white people, in my unsophisticated view, white privilege refers to a degree of racial and cultural privilege experienced by, well, white people.  I am speaking here specifically of inherited privilege. Often the two will coincide, but not inevitably. And yes, of course there will be a significant number of Māori families who will have exactly the same kind of individual wealth as I described above. Provided, of course, that they have managed to accumulate individual wealth outside of the Māori land system. It is probably also entirely possible now to talk of an inheritable collective privilege, as iwi and hapū develop and grow their asset bases and engage in post-settlement reconstruction. So obviously I don’t consider Māori to be excluded from the notion of inherited privilege. However I consider it far more likely that Pākehā families will benefit more directly and more materially from inherited privilege.

For one thing, I’m pretty sure I see inherited privilege most days I go to work at my university, and I’m the beneficiary of it myself, from the Pākeha side of my whakapapa. I wonder how much outrage generated against Korotangi Paki was created by people who themselves owed something significant to their own inherited privilege. How many of those people end up being somewhat insulated against the possibility of being claimed by the criminal justice system because of their birth privilege, I wonder? Chuck Collins in a post last year identified certain kinds of students whose inheritance determines, at least to some degree, the nature of their futures. This quote is a lengthy one, but worth including (bearing in mind the US context). Collins imagines a scene that could happen in any uni cafe around NZ: two 21-year-old students sit down in a cafe to study for an upcoming test:

Behind the counter, a barista whips up their double-shot lattes. In the back kitchen, another young adult washes the dishes and empties the trash. One of the college students, Miranda, will graduate without any student-loan debt and will have completed three summers of unpaid internships at businesses that will advance her career path. Her parents stand ready to subsidize her lodging with a security deposit and co-signed apartment lease and will give her a no-interest loan to buy a car. They also have a network of family and professional contacts that can help her. Ten years later, Miranda will have a high-paying job, be engaged to another professional, and will buy a home in a neighborhood with other college-educated professionals, a property that will steadily appreciate over time because of its location.

The other collegiate, Marcus, will graduate with more than $55,000 in [student loan], a maxed-out credit card, and an extensive résumé of part-time food-service jobs that he has taken to pay for school, both during summers and while in college, reducing the hours he can study. Though he will obtain a degree, he will graduate with almost no work experience in his field of study, and begin working two part-time jobs to pay back his student loans and to afford rent in a shared apartment. Ten years later, Marcus will still be working in low-paying jobs and renting an apartment. He will feel occupationally stuck and frustrated in his attempts to network in the area of his degree. He will take on additional debt—to deal with various health and financial problems—and watch his hope of buying a home slip away, in large part because of a credit history damaged during his early twenties.

Tony, the barista, has the benefit of not taking on mega-debt from college. He will eventually enroll in some classes at a local public university. But his income and employment opportunities will be constrained by not having a degree. He will make several attempts to learn a building trade and start his own business, eventually landing a job with a steady but low income. The good news for Tony is that his parents, while not college educated or wealthy, are stable middle-class with modest retirement pensions and a debt-free house, acquired by Tony’s grandfather with a low-interest [..] mortgage. They are able to provide a bedroom to their son. That home will prove to be a significant factor in Tony’s future economic stability, as he will eventually inherit it.

Cordelia, working in the kitchen, has even less opportunity than Tony for mobility and advancement. Neither of her parents went to college nor have significant assets, as they rent their housing. Though she was academically in the top of her urban high-school class, she did not consider applying to a selective college. The costs seemed daunting, and she didn’t know anyone who went away to college. There were no adults or guidance professionals to help her explore other options, including financial aid available at private colleges, some of which would have paid her full tuition and expenses to attend. Instead, she takes courses at the local community college where she sees many familiar faces. Cordelia will struggle with health issues, as lack of adequate health care and insurance means she will delay treatment of several problems. Over time, she will have a steady and low-wage job, but she will also begin to take more responsibility for supporting members of her family who are less fortunate.

So while many of us might be pretty happy about Korotangi Paki’s shiny new conviction (or not) I think it’s worth a moment of reflection to ask what role, if any, some manifestation of inherited privilege might play in our own lives. Just a thought. Not a judgment.

Why my vote may not be that important after all. (Gulp)

Like a lot of bloggers at the moment I have been toying with the notion of writing a piece encouraging my Dear Readers to get out and vote. Indeed, I found myself starting to get all worked up about how IMPORTANT OUR VOTE IS. And how I OWE IT TO MYSELF AND MY WHANAU to use my  little vote wisely. Then I had to check myself, and tell myself to ‘settle, petal!’ Cos actually, it’s easy to get sentimental about voting; as if it is our one big ritual by which we discharge our duty of civic citizenship. Actually, that’s kind of rubbish, really. That kind of thinking might even verge on fetishisation of voting, potentially at the cost of all the other things we can do to keep democracy alive in this country. Plus, it invalidates the conscious decision made by some to not vote at all, and yes, that too can be a civic and political choice, even if not one I favour. And for so many Maori who are or consider themselves, disenfranchised from national politics, what…are we condemning them to a kind of democratic purgatory when they don’t vote in national elections? In the immortal words of the Black Eyed Peas: Is that all there is [to democracy]? In short, no, it’s not. In my view it’s civic decision making that characterises democratic behaviour: participating in decision making that affects not just me, my whanau and my immediate kin-network, but the whole of my local community, and beyond. I don’t just mean generating a whole lot of heat and light about issues that affect those communities such as we have seen at public fora in this election campaign. Protest alone, or ecstatic hollering at Moments of Truth meetings don’t comprise civic decision-making, for example.  Of course that kind of engagement can often be critically important precursors to people then carrying out democratic actions. Would, for example, thousands of people have joined up to the Maori Party and later, the Mana Movement, were it not for the foreshore and seabed hikoi in 2004? The hikoi alone was not democracy in action, no matter how fondly we might imagine that it was. It was the other stuff, such as the birth of new political parties, the creation of fresh avenues for civic decision making, among other things, that comprised democratic action. Turning up to vote at settlement ratification hui, at local body elections, making submissions to commissions of inquiry, or to Parliamentary select committees, or to local iwi authorities, or other local bodies, giving evidence before the Tribunal, any, all, or other such actions affect what decisions can be made that have an impact on our communities more broadly. And Māori have such an extraordinarily rich, complex and fascinating history of civic engagement throughout New Zealand history. Our focus on the Big Election Every Three Years allows some commentators to bemoan the lack of Māori engagement in some aspects of national politics (re Māori voter apathy, for example), while completely ignoring Māori civic engagement and decision making where it does occur. There are numerous observations from the early and middle decades of the 19th century referring to a specifically Maori democratic practice. As used elsewhere on this blog site, here’s a quote from Francis Dart Fenton from 1857 (when he was a resident magistrate) talking about Maori runanga making decisions:

No system of government that the world ever saw can be more democratic than that of the Maoris. The chief alone has no power. The whole tribe deliberate[s] on every subject, not only politically on such as are of public interest, but even judicially they hold their “komitis” [committees] on every private quarrel. […] In case of a war the old chief would be a paramount dictator: in times of peace he is an ordinary citizen. “Ma te runanga e whakatu i a au, ka tu ahau.” “If the assembly constitutes me, I shall be established,” is an expression I heard used by a chief of rank, and perfectly represents the public sentiment on the question.

Maori civic decision-making processes led to the establishment of Kotahitanga parliaments, the Kingitanga, the Maori War Effort Organisation during and post-World War II. And today, within parliamentary representation, the operation of Maori land law, the Waitangi Tribunal hearing process and the Treaty settlement process we can still identify a large contingent of Maori individuals, tribal groupings and other polities that are deeply invested in using whatever power may be available to them to effect legal and political transformation of the New Zealand civic and political landscape. This, among other things, is the Māori exercise of democracy. Yes, I’ll be voting tomorrow. I’ll be taking my kids down to Newlands School, and kinda chuffed, as I usually am at election-time. But instead of merely asking ‘who I am going to vote for?’ on this last day before the nation goes to the polls, I’m also going to ask myself: what am I going to do after this election? What am I going to do, in the wake of all the sheer volume of information that we ordinary voters have been subjected to, to just….participate in civic decision making? Or will I slip back into my three-year slumber? Mind you..with the way my head is hurting from information overload from the past few weeks, it’s tempting!

Confessions of a moderate Maori voter…(If that’s OK with you, that is).

On my Facebook feed this morning I read the following status update written by a friend. It made me wonder. This was a cry from the heart for something that Māori have apparently lost. This woman was just..

[r]emembering the days when we weren’t separated by our political beliefs but were connected through kaupapa, whakapapa, hope, and making Aotearoa a wonderful and amazing place to live.

The many likes and comments on this status showed that quite a few people were agreeing with this thinking: Māori have become too politically divided, too self interested, too disconnected from this things that really matter, too divorced from the kaupapa. Māori live in a fallen, individualistic world. The answer to the fall is somehow to rediscover cohesiveness between ourselves as a people, remember the ties that bind us, to reject those things that divide. That’s a pretty powerful vision, especially for a people, such as Māori who, research and our own discourse tells us, are more likely than Pākehā to adhere to collectivist practices and values.

True to my own bloodymindedness I read the question above and thought…’um..no I don’t remember that time, because I’m not sure it ever happened.’ I think that if we apply the microscope to any period of Māori social and political history what looks like unity and cohesiveness mutates and disappears before our very eyes. Māori value collectivism, including securing collective outcomes (even if only at the expense of other Māori collectives) sure, but that has never translated to hive-think. Our mythology is suffused with stories of conflict, especially between siblings or cousins, and between grandchildren and grandparents, Tāne separating Rangi and Papa in the face of opposition from Tāwhirimatea, Māui’s enduring conflicts and collaborations with his brothers in fishing up Aotearoa and slowing Tama-Nui-te-Rā, and in Māui stealing his ancestor’s jawbone, Tāwhaki overcoming the hatred and jealousy  of his cousins or brothers-in-law, and tricking his grandmother by filching her taro tubers in his and his brother’s quest to ascend to the highest levels of heaven.  And so on. Any number of other myths show intense rivalry, conflict  and sometimes desperate cooperation before fundamental change is able to take place. Māori mythology does not present us with homogeneity. The towering figures of these narratives are intimately bound by whakapapa, but fight furiously for different visions of how the world ought to be. Māori mythology gives us a pretty good template for modern Māori politics and, in that light, makes the split between Hone Harawira and the Māori Party seem positively pre-ordained. I’m not sure what the template would be for the coming together of the disparate elements of Internet Mana, but hey, there would be something in there somewhere…maybe.

A couple of the comments on the status I mentioned above refer to a dismay that Māori are not only divided, but can to be seen across the political spectrum. As one said: ‘Frustrating I would say! Look at our mates in every camp!’ This reminded me of the many comments made in the wake of National releasing its list in July. With 2 Māori women in the top 10 (Hekia Parata and Paula Bennet) some comment was made on the left of the spectrum of those women’s betrayal of Maoridom by their alliance with National. As one Facebooker commenting on Annette Syke’s posted link sharing the list wrote:

Yes agreed and to be honest if getting a promotion up the ranks is a result of screwing over your own people then it’s not really something to be proud of.

The tenor of such comments reflects once again the dearly-held notion that a true Māori political vision is a unified one, and those who cross into other political fields, away from the perceived locus of Māori political cohesiveness, are betraying Māori. I just can’t buy that. But that’s because I’m a hopeless political moderate (more on that below)

So while Māori political representatives are spreading throughout the political spectrum more easily in MMP times what can be said about the other part of that equation: Māori voters?

It is probably not a terribly original observation that our voting behaviours (and not-voting behaviours) can reveal a lot about us and how we became formed as individuals. Voting itself is an intimate thing; no matter the promises you make to others, or the signals you send out to the world at large and the people who care to listen, the moment in the voting booth is just between you and your conscience. Of course, we can never know exactly how people vote, we can only know what people choose to tell us about how they voted.

Still it might be good in the lead up to this election, in the wake of all the Dirty Politics palaver, to take a quiet moment or three to work out why we vote as we do (or don’t vote, as the case may be). For some of us our inner voter/non-voter might have been created by a coherent set of political principles held from an early age that we adhere to through the years. Perhaps we vote because of how our whānau and our tupuna voted. Political beliefs might be analogous to a religious belief, in these kinds of cases. Only a crisis of faith caused by some true political upheaval (like the Foreshore and Seabed Act, and the consequent rise of the Māori Party, for example) might cause a deviation for these kinds of voters.  Were there identifiable moments in our pasts, discrete incidents that sealed our voting fates? Were there moments that forced us to give up an old allegiance or create a new one? How might these events have helped create us as individual voters or non-voters? Or is it a messy accretion and conglomeration of experiences and beliefs that have created our voting personas?

There are some limited things we do know, or think we know, about how Maori voters behave. We know, for example, that about 55% of Māori are enrolled on the Māori Roll, with 45% enrolled on the General Roll. Young Māori are more likely to be non-voters, and there is some evidence to suggest that Māori enrolled on the Māori roll are more likely to be involved in Māori communities and more likely to vote. Māori in Australia are more likely than New Zealand-based Māori to be politically apathetic. We also know that Māori are far more likely to give their party votes to Labour, but also, to vote split.

But the stats and research don’t tell us anything really about how Māori voters and non-voters arrive at their voting decisions.

So how are Māori formed into the Māori voters or non-voters about to participate in, or ignore, the coming General Election? I’d love to see your whakaaro on this in any comments you might like to leave! This is not so much a question about how you intend to vote (or not vote), but what set you on that path. Karawhiua!

And now for the confession part…(cos that’s what it says in the title)

The unpalatable truth, for what it’s worth, is: I’m a moderate centrist. So moderate as to be infuriating to anyone with actual political conviction. I’m sure if former PM Sir Geoffrey Palmer was to describe someone like me he would say ‘She is an irredeemably moderate person.’ (In case that sounds odd, I’m referring to the time he once called NZ an ‘irredeemably pluvial country’, meaning: it rains a lot.) In my view this centrism means I prefer a political vision that takes most people with it. Therefore I eschew the edges of mainstream political thought that serve few people.  But, until Māori have a full economic role in this country, we will continue to fall short of all we can be as a country. And, no, I have not made my mind up yet on who to vote for.

But even for an horrifically moderate centrist like me, there is a kind of whakapapa to my (and everybody’s) voting persona. Why am I so resistant to that which is beyond the political mainstream?

I remember our home’s ‘carless day’ from the Muldoon era circa 1979. It was a Monday. I was 9. I didn’t care. Nor did I care about things Maori in those days, although I sporadically went to ‘Mahrey Club’ (Te Kotahitanga Juniors actually, with the extraordinary and extraordinarily scary (to me) Tihi Puanaki)  because my brother did.  Not long after, prices and  wages were frozen for a couple of years. I had no idea what that meant either. All I do remember was my mother’s heartbreak when Labour won the 1984 election. ‘Not those bastards!’, she groaned. Muldoon had been an economics whizkid, he was on the board of governors on the IMF! And the World Bank! (I was just impressed that there was such a thing as a Bank of the World..) What the hell did that upstart from Manggerry know about running an economy?! The choice New Zealand voters appeared to have, in my mother’s view, was between control and, well, absence of control. National represented for me, in those formative years, stability, familiarity and economic knowhow in the obvious absence of my own knowhow. Labour represented the fly-by night government that would only last one term. I really internalised my mother’s distrust of the Left. I rebelled against her in so many other ways, but not in my politics. I learned as a kid to distrust politicians that I perceived (regardless of the objective truth of the matter) to be unstable and inexperienced.

For my first election (1990) I had no understanding then of what Māori may have stood to lose or gain from the policies of political parties. I don’t think I really had, throughout my teenage years, a concept of Māori as, in part at least, an identifiable voting bloc.  Those of us who were Māori  at our overwhelmingly Pākehā high school were too busy trying to be Māori enough to be distinctive, but not so Māori as to fright any well-bred horses. My first brush with actual politics came when I met David Lange in 1988 when he came and spoke to a bunch of us somewhat start-struck teenagers working at the Brisbane World Expo about how how he and his government had brought the winds of neo-liberal change to our previously stilted and fun-less lives. We were the vanguard of change, apparently.  Us and our shiny newness and our eagerness and our willingness to believe that we could do anything and be anything we wanted. But then I shook his hand and he wouldn’t meet my eyes. So there went my vote. I then became wary of what I saw as larger than life political personas. The eyes might just be empty.

I was on the Māori roll by then, not because I had any idea of what Māori political aspirations were, or need were. I just wanted to be able to identify in a civic manner, that I was Māori. I became one of a handful of outliers to vote for National in the then Southern Maori seat in the 1990 election. The following years saw me drift slowly Left, and I’m I’m not even sure why. I don’t think I knew why I voted why I did. There was no epiphany.

The final moment for me came in 2004 on the day of the Hikoi to Parliament on the Foreshore and Seabed debacle. Two moments actually. One came in the grounds of Parliament hearing and seeing the veneration expressed for Tariana Turia as the leader of a new age. I saw the huge posters of her smiling face, and I had another Lange moment. I didn’t want to put my trust in a saviour for Māori who would rescue Māoridom from the Pākehā Pharaoh. The second moment came from hearing two Pākehā ladies at my work, after the Hikoi, sneer at the marchers, one of them saying something that sounded suspiciously like ‘If I had a gun…’. That moment solidified for me that Pākehā mainstream politics could not deliver good outcomes for all Māori without Māori being part of designing and delivering those outcomes. Voting for parties pursuing a Māori vision then became possible for a centrist like me. But I have no illusions that that Māori vision requires homogeneity of thought and a harmonious unity that has never really existed, not even in our mythology.

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 Report.as 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.

 

 

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