Jun 5, 2013

Symbolism vs substance: is the Maori Party doing anything?

There was a fascinating exchange in yesterday’s question time between Labour’s Rino Tirikatene and the Minister of Maori Affairs:

RINO TIRIKATENE (Labour—Te Tai Tonga)… to the Minister of Māori Affairs: Does he stand by his statement regarding the Māori Economic Taskforce that “These developments led to immediate outcomes that have supported whānau through the recession… if so, why?

Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES (Minister of Māori Affairs):… definitely. The work of the task force has resulted in a number of demonstrable successes. Importantly, without these types of interventions, whānau and Māori businesses would undoubtedly have been worse off through difficult economic times.

The interesting parts came in the supplementary questions:

Rino Tirikatene: How can he stand by that statement when the median income for Māori was 93 percent of the overall median income in 2008, and has now, in 2013, fallen to 85 percent of the overall median income?

Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: The good news is—and it is not that good—that there has been a decrease in the last quarter in the rate of unemployed Māori, both Māori youth, by 2 percent, and general Māori, by 1 percent. But, you know, none of us enjoy this low rate, and, clearly, the country has to do more about it.

The Maori unemployment rate is (still) more than double the national rate. Maori youth unemployment is at “crisis” level with more than 1 in 4 Maori youth unemployed. In that context, a 2 and 1 per cent decrease isn’t remarkable. Add a decrease in income (in real terms) and ask if the Maori Party is at the table, but unable to insulate Maori against the worst effects of the global recession, what’s the point? If Maori are going backwards it undermines the at the table rationale. 

[There is a point of order and Rino Tirikatene repeats the question]

Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: Despite the ventures that we have created—in export for Māori, trade training, and helping homes that are in poverty—this is the situation that exists. It is not good; none of us like it, but it is the reality. We are always the first off, last on. So this is what happens. While everything else grows, Māori come last.

I wouldn’t mention Maori exporting – the government cut Maori export funding in the budget.

If the “reality” is that Maori are “first off, last on” and while the New Zealand economy grows “Maori come last”, what’s the point of the Maori Party entering and remaining in government?

I take it that Minister Sharples is implicitly acknowledging that there are structural barriers, but he shrugs his shoulders at those barriers. Meh.

Rino Tirikatene: Why is he claiming that whānau have been supported through the recession when in the Te Tai Rāwhiti - Tūranga region and across Ngāti Kahungunu weekly real per capita income for Māori has fallen by 14 percent, while real per capita income for non-Māori has increased by 3 percent?

Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: It is very lucky that it has not fallen further. But, because of our interventions, it is in a better state. For example, trade training, Māra Kai, Warm Up New Zealand: Healthy Homes, cadetships, marae—these are all things that we have put into place to take care of these things. We have increased Māori business exports, and when you do that the money trickles back to the hapū and the iwi…

“Because of our interventions…” Well, we’ll never know if Maori would have been better or worse off, but I’m prepared to accept that we’re better off with the Maori Party in government. However, I remain convinced that the Maori Party’s success is more symbolic than substantive. On most indicators Maori are regressing or remaining static. The Maori unemployment rate is double the national rate, 51% of prisoners are Maori and “costs prevented 23% of Maori adults, and 8% of Maori children, from visiting a GP” when they needed to.

To reverse 173 years of inequality Maori need policies directed across the entire economy (and society). Whanau Ora, Mara Kai, Warm Up New Zealand – as well intentioned as they are – are not enough. Whanau Ora, Mara Kai and Warm Up New Zealand are remedial measures rather than redistributory measures. In other words, correcting a consequence rather than eliminating the cause. That’s the problem the Maori Party faces: they’re treating the symptoms rather than the cause.

Life in Ford block, Kaiti, Maraenui, Mangere, Otara, Porirua and Wainuiomata is no better than it was 10 years ago. I’d wager that it’s worse. Kawerau has changed – for the worse. Whanau Ora, Mara Kai and Warm Up New Zealand – as well intentioned as they are – don’t reach most Maori. Not enough to create critical mass. Targeted assistance isn’t a panacea. Maori need policies directed across the entire economy (and society). Without it, I'll keep holding that the Maori Party's wins are more symbolic than substantive. 


  1. Morgan - are you on the labour party payroll?

    1. No - do you have the guts to put your name to that comment? Do you want to debate the issues?

    2. I think Morgan would make an excellent Labour MP better than whoever they field for Ikaroa Rawhiti

  2. Yeah good on you Morgan.Probably a Maori Party staffer because they no longer have any supporters.

    1. I reckon. It'd be interesting to trace their ISP. It's probably made from a Parliamentary computer.

  3. I think Morgan is much more impartial and objective than most. It's one of his best qualities as a blogger. Wouldn't be surprised if it was a Māori Party staffer

  4. "and when you do that the money trickles back"
    Poor choice of words by Pita - 'trickle down economics' has never served Maori well. Promoting the idea that policies which enrich a few business people will make a meaningful difference to the lives of the vast bulk of Maori by some kind of trickle down osmosis just makes it seem like he's drunk the National Party kool aid and reinforces the stereotypes of the Maori Party as representing the elite and iwi leadership interests and Mana Party representing the workers and poor...

  5. i think your general thrust is right esp with low income mobility, some long term trends are positive ...The long term trends for attaining at least NCEA Level 2 are moving in the right direction:

    • Māori school leavers, with an increase of 111% between 2003 (24.2%) and 2011 (51.3%);
    • Pasifika school leavers, with an increase of 74% between 2003 (36.4%) and 2011 (63.1%); and
    • European/Pākehā school leavers with an increase of 45% between 2003 (53.1%) and 2011(77.0%).

    However, there is a concern that not all NCEA level 2 achievements by students are not the same as the makeup of subjects undertaken and achieved can create barriers by not including the prerequisites required to enter higher study; not meet apprenticeship entry thresholds; or the qualification proxies used for entry level employment.

    In real terms, overall median household income from 1994 to 2010 rose:

    • some 47% for the general population;
    • for Maori, the rise was 68%; and
    • for Pasifika, the rise was stronger at 77%.

    The longer- term trends, from a low base, are positive. However, the impact of the recession on this has been sharp, for 2004 to 2010; the respective growth figures for median household income were:

    • 21% increase for the general population;
    • 31% increase for Maori; and
    • 14% increase for Pasifika.

    Still big distances to travel and fragile labour market attachment esp for Maori youth, a structural skills gap? The MOE Education Counts website and Mobie Labour Market Updates have useful summaries of the long term and spot trends.

    1. Thanks for that.

      There could be a structural skill gap. Although the number of Maori who graduated from University increased by over 60% under Parekura Horomia.

      There's little labour market flexibility in the Maori economy. The Maori economy is, for the time being, weighted towards the primary sector (e.g. forestry, aquaculture etc). When the jobs dry up it's difficult for workers in the primary sector to move to the secondary and tertiary sectors (without investing in years of upskilling). The temptation might be to hold out until the economy improves or (where possible) make a lateral transition to other jobs in the primary sector.

    2. their only material policy change in tertiary education policy under the last L Govt was zero fee's introduced late in their term and may not have had a impact on graduations? and Labour also capped the number of tertairy places, any cap excludes people, esp those at the tail... i suspect Maori with a reasonable change of success didnt get a place as a result?

  6. It's true that Whanua Ora etc etc aren't redistributive.

    But the National Party has absolutely zero tolerance for any sort of redistributive policy, so is it really realistic to expect the Maori Party to deliver one?

    1. a little unfair to say National has zero tolerance for re-distribution policies. Some $2.1 billion is still spend on the Family Tax credit, which is, in short, a transfer to low working income families and approx. $2 billion is spend on subsidising housing through Income Related Rents and the Accommodation Supplement. I don’t know enough to say if the instruments or level of funding is appropriate over time?

    2. National has no appetite for redistribution downwards, but is happy to redistribute upwards (e.g. the tax switch in the first term).

      You're right to point out, Jd, that National has retained much of the previous Labour government's redistribution policies (Working for Families etc). The funding level is negligible, though.

    3. is $4.1 billion negligible? im wondering how we make that judgement? may be right. last time i checked Govt also spends almost $5 billion on benefits annually. in total it seems a lot of redistribution downwards?

    4. Benefits includes pensions (pensions are the largest burden on the welfare budget), drought assistance and so on. Generally speaking, the welfare budget isn't solely targeted at the much imagined dole-bludging-losers. Working for Families itself is maligned (from both the left and the right, but for different reasons) as middle class welfare. Beneficiary families are excluded. Whether it is enough will always be a subjective call. I guess it depends on what you value and what you consider the best way to remedy inequality is.

    5. i may have miss read the intent of your comment above but i took from it that your strong view was that funding of $4.1 billion was "negligible". negligible to me means close to useless or marginal at best and i took from this that many more billions investment of new money by Government is required to address the problems noted in the post. may be right and yes the nature of the problem and its magnitude is the right place to start...

    6. @Jd: $4 billion is significant, as IIRC the entire government budget is about $22 billion. But Morgan makes an excellent point when he reminds us that these are policies that prior non-National governments introduced and that the current government has kept, albeit grudgingly, and probably with the long-term goal of weakening. That is very different to the idea of National accepting a new redistributive program.

    7. I think the welfare budget is around $22b. Total government expenditure (i.e. the budget) sits closer to $90b.

    8. Really, Morgan? Because total government GDP is about $127 billion. I seriously doubt that the budget is responsible for about 75% of all spending.

    9. I'm not sure what figures you're are using, Hugh.

      $83b is the total appropriation in budget 2013/2014. Here are the summary tables: http://www.treasury.govt.nz/budget/2013/estimates/est13sumtab.pdf

      Nominal GDP is over $200b. Link: http://www.nzte.govt.nz/en/invest/statistics/

  7. you are right re National not accepting new (or improving the payments of existing) redistributive program's. See http://www.dpmc.govt.nz/sites/all/files/publications/555108-cab-paper-six-monthly-report-mcop-april2013.pdf

    which, in short, is a big f you to the Expert's Group on Child poverty. i suspect, however, that Family Tax Credits and Income Related Rents and the Accommodation Supplement will be around for some time.

  8. while we are on redistribution, this is a worthwhile read, looks at the long term trends of such policy on household income from 1988-2010, so across 2 Labour and 2 National Governments i think:

    Fiscal Incidence in New Zealand: The Distributional Effect of Government Expenditure and Taxation on Household Income, 1988 to 2010


  9. As long as they ( the maori party ) are with national they are chicken fodder. Why was the closing the gaps policy needed after Nationals last term? to be blunt they shat on the poor we all know we (Maori)are over represented in this group(low SES)
    what have they (the maori party )have been doing is trying to save there own bacon. Pita Sharples as lovely as he might be needs to harden up and face the facts they have been suckered by the Tories who are all about the rich and selling our country down the road. How can he(SHARPLES) say we are better of at the table this is utter rubbish and we know we have seen it all before when our other Maori politicians crossed the floor they to got shat on. More structural adjustment policies no wonder our Rangatahi are going to Auz.

    Michele Gray



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