Mar 30, 2011

Will Whanau Ora be Cut?

I think it is reasonable to assume that the government is currently reviewing the Whanau Ora budget. Having said that Key has signalled, albeit in an ambiguous manner, that there are no plans to cut back the scheme’s budget. From Waatea News:

Prime Minister John Key has warned his support parties that the money is not there to fund their pet projects.

He says while there are no plans to cut back the whanau ora scheme for delivering social services through Maori providers, an expected boost in spending isn't going to happen either.

“There are no proposals to trim back whanau ora. The question is just how much more money goes into the programme. I think as a starting off programme it is doing well. There is a great concept behind it and Tariana is working very hard on it,” Mr Key says.

So Whanau Ora will face neither an increase in funding nor a decrease. Fair enough. However, I cannot help but feel this is an empty assurance. Fiscal pressures are mounting and the government is responding with cuts, cuts and more cuts. One would have thought, given the nature of Whanau Ora, that it would be one of the first projects in line for cuts.

Whanau Ora is, as far as I am aware, untested – beyond one or two local pilots that is. The scheme does not enjoy wide spread political support. The public is generally suspicious, yet largely accepting of the fact that a new approach is necessary, and there is no external pressure for change. Lastly, but most importantly, Whanau Ora is the pet project of a dispensable coalition partner.

Given the above, it is fair to assume that the Nat’s will, or at least can, cut the Whanau Ora budget without consequence. So what is stopping them? The prospect of a second term.

At the moment the Maori Party is expendable. However, after the election the Maori Party will probably hold the casting vote (assuming Rodney falls). The Prime Minister realises that he needs to keep the Maori Party on side if he is to have any chance of forming a government post-election and savaging the Whanau Ora budget would decrease his chances of doing so. Interfering with your long term coalition partner’s showpiece policy is beyond dumb. The Nat’s are a lot of things, but not, politically speaking, dumb.  

What sparked this post is the apparent “rumour” that the Whanau Ora budget is up for the chop. From Waatea News:

rumours that funding for the new service delivery model could be cut by as much as $70 million are causing alarm.

Read this with caution. It has come from Malcolm Mulholland, an advisor to Hone Harawira. Keep in mind that it suits Hone to have such a destabilising rumour in the public domain. But also keep in mind that it is entirely plausible given the reasons I outlined in my third paragraph. 

I, personally, am in favour of Whanau Ora. The scheme is practical and necessary. It is universally accepted that New Zealand needs a new model, the question is whether or not Whanau Ora is the right model. It would be a tragedy if the government decided to cut funding – the scheme was under funded in the first place. Ultimately, everything is up for review. But is Whanau Ora really, for want of a better term, superfluous? I don’t think it is.  

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