Jul 20, 2011

Closeup on Kawerau (pt 2)

I know my last post on Kawerau lacked proper structure; unfortunately today’s post does as well. Over the past twenty four hours I’ve been collecting a number of disparate thoughts and committing them to two posts. I haven’t had the time to refine my thoughts and place those thoughts in a logical structure. Hopefully you don’t get lost in this post.

Today I’ll refrain from commenting on the quality of Closeup’s follow-up story on Kawerau. I’ll focus on the issues. On a positive note, the story did identify one of the causes of dysfunction in Kawerau and, thankfully, one of the solutions. It doesn’t take a genius to discover that joblessness is one of the drivers of dysfunction in Kawerau and that jobs are one of the solutions.

The unemployment rate in Kawerau stands at 19.3% compared with 7.5% nationally and 16.1% for Maori. This is unacceptable, but hardly surprising. The simple, simple fact is: there are not enough jobs in Kawerau. The most successful businesses in Kawerau are New World and the local pubs. The main industries, forestry and pulp and paper production, are high skill industries. Secondary industries, read those supporting the main industries, are also high skill, for example engineering, electrical work and heavy machinery work. Most Kawerau residents do not have the skills to even think of applying for those sorts of jobs. This is, in part, a failure on their part, but mostly a failure on the government’s part.

In Kawerau you move from a decile one primary school, to a decile one intermediate school and then onto a decile one high school. This is not a dig at the quality of low decile schools – my primary education was good – my point is that students attending low decile schools receive fewer opportunities than students attending higher decile schools. The teaching staff are, and this may be an unjustified claim, at the lower end of the scale while the resources available to the school, staff and students often fall below what you would expect in a developed country. Once students reach the third tier of schooling they are less likely to at the same level or ahead of their peers at other high schools. Now this is where it gets interesting in Kawerau. Kawerau College is shit.

Kawerau College is one of, if not the worst, high school in New Zealand. Former Principal Steve Hocking left a few years ago in disgrace after allegation emerged that he had smoked cannabis and sexually assaulted a student among other allegations. The achievement levels at the school are well below average, even against comparable schools. The teaching staff are, as is the case with poor performing schools, well under par with many holding primary school teaching qualifications only. The student body is captured in a culture of low expectation. Gang culture permeates the school and career aspirations are near non-existent. Kawerau College has a major role to play in improving Kawerau in terms of creating expectation and equipping students with life skills and job skills.

It is thoroughly normal, in Kawerau that is, to move from school to the dole. Welfare dependency is engrained. There is a culture of dependency, but that is not a reflection on the dependent, but a failure on the part of the state and a reflection on decades of poor government policy. People in Kawerau move from school to the dole because that is the only option. There is the option of higher education, but that option is usually not available given that most Kawerau residents are underachievers as a result of an economic system that selects against the poor, a poor education, low expectation and a culture that does not value education or success as we define it.

One way to improve dysfunction in Kawerau is to create a culture that values success. Which brings me to another point, success in Kawerau needs to be redefined. Success is not a gang patch, success should not be defined by the your spotting prowess, success should be defined by the way you treat others, whether you achieve your goals and lead your life according to an acceptable value system.

Paula Bennett appeared on the show as well. Bennett expressed concern for Kawerau and indicated her willingness to improve the situation. The problem is, she has no solutions and is unwilling to acknowledge the true extent of the problem. I was lucky enough to sit on a meeting she had with community leaders in April. Bennett appeared responsive, however she had no idea how to tackle the problems and the advice and information she received at the meeting from community leaders seemed to fly right over her head.

Paula Bennett is of the view that the community has the power to change their situation. This is true, but to a limited extent. The community can effect a culture change and provide better support for the vulnerable, but the community cannot create jobs where economic opportunities are scarce. The community cannot fund vital services. Nor can Iwi either. It is not the place of Iwi to provide social services – government cannot expect to devolve their responsibilities.

The government needs to provide a hand-up. At the moment the government is merely, and I hate invoking this language, providing a hand-out. Chucking money at a problem hoping it will correct itself. Kawerau cannot auto-correct. The government needs to step in, in partnership with the community of course, and provide direction and support. A Commissioner needs to be placed in Kawerau College, the College Board needs to be sacked (they are incompetent), social services need to be overhauled and centralised for maximum effect, policy needs to be directed at under 5’s and youth, service providers need to focus on upskilling beneficiaries and ensuring they are work-ready, the government needs to invest in the local economy to create jobs and encourage the private sector to invest in the local economy. The Council needs to encourage growth through rates incentives and partnerships with Iwi.

These suggestions are just the beginning. More can be done and must be done. And it’s not up to the community to do it alone – they can’t. This is the place of government, this is the responsibility of government. Doing nothing is a cop out.


  1. Morgan - Perhaps now you begin to understand how racist and corrosive the teachers union insistence on national award levels is. Why would a competent head teacher or any teacher take on Kawerau when they can teach elsewhere for the same money.

  2. A huge part of a puzzle is looking at the many pieces..identifying each piece and figuring out where does it fit? We have identified some of the 'pieces' as being the 'issues',people directly affected,external influences,factors that contribute to issues..and some recommendations or suggestions to possible solutions..So now we have to put it altogether to make one big REALISTIC picture with a win-win outcome or close to it..

  3. My son was a student at Kawerau College. During the first week he was 'targeted' for a bashing because, he tells me on the phone, "They said I think I'm hard." His father, who he moved there to live with, couldn't do a hell of a lot with a bracelet on his ankle! So I sent for my son and had him brought back to me! His dumb dad only wanted our son to keep his ass outta prison! His father, his fathers family all in mourning.. a youth suicide (the 2nd) last Dec and the death of the boys father just before that. Lots of stuff.. BUT I agree with you on the school stuff. Gotta change the attitudes! Change the staff - move in some fresh stimulators, motivators and movers! PAY to get them there. Get to the community through its future - THEIR CHILDREN! Rise up Kawerau - pena i to maunga - Tu mai ra koe!

  4. Opportunity does exist in Kawerau. The potential we have in this town is HUGE.... although currently unrealised. The core issue, I beleive, is an inadequte entrepreneurial base.

    While studying at university I did some research into my hometown, Kawerau:

    The town has always shared a close relationship with the mills; which are the base of our local-economy, with a secondary economy stemming into the engineering and maintenance associated with the mills.

    The unfortunate side of this relationship for Kawerau is that we have not really diversified our economic-focus, until recently with geothermal power generation. The emphasis has always been greatly aimed towards the mills.

    If you look at the privatisation of the mills which occured over the 1980's and 90's you will note the magnitude of redundancies (especailly Management). Without much economic diversification in the town there were simply no other jobs to reapply this redundant labour to, and so Management simply left town in search of employment or other opportunity to create new business.

    What did this mean? Well, Management are usually the ones who work 'on' a business rather than 'in' it. They are the ones who direct and push for growth. By losing a supply of Management from within the area, you lose their skills and abilities in growing, and potentially starting-up businesses.

    So while we nearly have all the resources we need here in Kawerau (materials and labour), we lack managers and skilled-entreprenuars.

    My suggestion? Teach our community more than labour skills. Teach them how to identify and take hold of business opportunities. Instill in them dreams and visions, and lead them down the path to entreprenurial success. The people of our community are not brainless; they just have few people to take this kind of inspiration from. Without guidance, their dreams may go unrealised, as many never discover how to acheive them.

  5. A few years later but I do like the way you write Morgan and for the most part I even agree.



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