May 9, 2012

Controlling Maori reproduction (updated)

The government’s welfare plans are out and some aspects are deeply disturbing:

Women on benefits - including teenagers and the daughters of beneficiaries - will be offered free long-term contraception as part of a $287.5 million Budget package for the Government's welfare reforms.

In other words, quoting Deborah Russell, “you and your slapper daughters better not breed any more of your type.”

On grounds of principle, having the government involved in such an intensely personal matter is inappropriate. There is a persuasive argument that the government should only regulate or interfere in matters that present a risk to the individual or society. A purist would read this as meaning the government should keep its nose out of our personal affairs, unless those affairs are criminal, negligent or so on. Reproduction is a human right and, on the above principle, not an area where the government has any business – even if the person in question is reliant on government support. This, it’s fair to say, gives the government no right to influence our personal choices.

The contraception plan is not compulsory of course. The plan as it is represents the most a government can do to control reproduction without attracting credible claims of eugenics. Arguing that the voluntary aspect negates the argument that the plan infringes on personal choice is, at best, naïve. PeterCresswell puts it well:

Rest assured that those employed by the state will be offering “incentives” to beneficiaries  to cooperate with the plan—and when bureaucrats begin “strongly suggesting” to beneficiaries they should take up an “offer,” they expect their “suggestions” to be obeyed. (As former minister Marian Hobbs once explained the state’s view of “encouraging” behaviour the stale likes, “we start with encouraging, but there’s always the big stick.)

Sue Bradford makes a similar point when she points out that there is a power imbalance between beneficiaries and case managers.

Paula Bennett is doing a good job selling the plan. However, you can couch the plan in sellable terms, but that doesn’t change the fact that the government is selecting a certain group to influence (or control which is the more appropriate term in my opinion). If the government was offering free contraception to all New Zealanders, including men, then claims that the government was choosing who they wanted to breed and who they didn’t could be negated. However, this isn’t the case and to borrow a phrase from biology: the government is selecting against beneficiaries. That, it can be argued, amounts to eugenics.

Quoting Deborah Russell again, the government’s plan has significant consequences for Maori:

I’m also catching a whiff of racism about this move, I think. Via Tallulah, in response to a comment I made at TLG, we know that 43% of DPB recipients are Maori, and 10% are Pacific Islanders. So over half of DPB recipients have brown skins. I think it’s not just about making the slappers keep the legs together. It’s also about stopping those brown people from breeding.

So, in effect, the government’s plan will substantially interfere with the reproductive freedom of Maori. I’m waiting, hopefully not in vain, for the Maori Party and the Mana Party to take an official position. When Maori will be so heavily affected, the two kaupapa Maori parties are obligated to take a position. I note that Metiria Turei has been leading opposition and, I think, quite competently. It’s contrary to Maori values to have the government interfere in matters of the whanau. The whanau, as the Maori Party often says, is an autonomous unit and, on my understanding of the values of our people, should be free from undue interference and influence from outsiders – read the government. Also, and more importantly, issues of over-fertility are not viewed as a problem in Te Ao Maori - its welcomed. Lastly, it   

I hope more Maori come out against, or in support if they’re that way inclined, because I can’t help but feel that I’m not the most appropriate Maori to comment on this. If there are any wahine out who want to comment, please feel free to leave a comment.   

UPDATE: Tariana Turia, continuing her strong form on the issues, has come out strongly:

The initiative drew fire from National's ally - Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia, who is also the associate social development minister. She said it was insulting to tell somebody how many children they should have. 
"I've always supported the growing of our population, the growing of our hapu and iwi and so I'm certainly not one who's ever believed that we should be controlling people's fertility."


  1. Dunno about this one, I do think fully subsidized birth control should be available to all citizens, not just beneficiaries.

    The motive is cynical though.

    Ultimately I question the foresight of the government (actually I don't, by this point it's safe to say they have none), they're shooting themselves in the foot.

    Maori & PI demographics are the only ones without an increasing median age, thus they are the future of this country in terms of a labour force.

    Stifling the growth of that labour force will put more strain on them to support the baby-boomer retirement, and ultimately hurt the economic position of New Zealand.

    Rather than making efforts to reduce the population growth, funding needs to be targeted to investing heavily within these groups in order to maximise their economic potential.

    Currently our government seems hell-bent on creating a low-wage, low-skill labour market (consider English's comments re; our labour market competitiveness compared to Australia), so that we may pick up residual contracts from Australian companies.

    The fact is, if we retard our future workers we're condemning ourselves to a economic position which will further diminish our options for social and economic development in the future.

    So in that regard, while this policy does not necessarily have the worst outcomes - the apparent intention or motive behind it is incredibly flawed.

  2. It's worse than you suspect, Hemi.

    The New Zealand State will respond to the dwindling Pakeha population not by encouraging the fertility of Maori, but by increasing the flow of immigrants.

    This policy will drive down the percentage of the population that identifies itself as Maori (an important long-term political goal of the State).

    It will also relieve the State of its responsibility to reform our education system in such a way that the many Maori and Pasifika students it is currently failing are given a better chance of reaching their full potential.

    Colonialism dies hard - as I'm sure you're aware. Laws and regulations have always been more effective weapons than guns for the Settler State.

    1. The product of indigenous and oriental parents, I do not object to increased immigration, but I concede that real danger does exist that it may lead to government that continues to fail Maori.

      I would only hope that new immigrants, not tarnished by the endemic racism of New Zealand's education system, would have sympathetic attitudes to Maori grievances. Whether they're pro or contra to our (maori) status under the Treaty, I would hope that such is the quality of immigrants they have the mental capacity to recognise that Maori success is ultimately beneficial for New Zealand, and indeed Maori failure is extremely costly in the long term - a degree of reason I do not yet account for in our current government.

      Colonialism does die hard, but I don't insult new immigrants with the title of colonisers, for the most part they're people of sound minds and good values, and increasingly non-western and thus more sympathetic to the political movements of minority groups.


      Dun dun DUNHHHH

    3. I hope you're right Hemi. The history of racism, discrimination, social exclusion and the repression of indigenous minorities in much of East and South Asia is not, however, encouraging.

  3. I've always supported the growing of our population, the growing of our hapu and iwi and so I'm certainly not one who's ever believed that we should be controlling people's fertility."

    No, but we should be giving everyone the choice to control their own. As you've noted here before Morgan, Turia's antipathy towards reproductive choice -- in the name of whakapapa -- can be quite alarming.

    1. Yeah, it's hard to get behind Turia because it's too easy to read her stand here as part of her general dislike of contraception and abortion.

    2. Her views on abortion leave a lot to be desired and no doubt those views inform her opposition to the contraception plan. I'm comfortable with that opposition though (her opposition to the government's plan I mean).

  4. Shouldn't there be 1)more of a focus on male contraception, and male responsibility, as well as b) access to free, or very cheap contraception for everyone?

    1. Yeah, that's what I think, hence the mention of men in the post. The government is, implicitly I think, dumping the responsibility or onus for contraception on women. Men, after all, have an equal part to play.

  5. But how much of a "right to reproduce' does anyone have when they expect to be supported by the state as a requirement of that choice? Safety net, not lifestyle choice?

  6. Controlling Maori reproduction is already happening cuzz. I got pregnant at a young age and I kid you not, I felt like family planning made me feel like an abortion was the best option and I did it without my parents knowing. After the fact, I told my Mother and she asked what process I went through, she asked if the "guidance councillor" asked if I had good support at home and whanau willing to take care of me. I wasn't asked any of that, so I wasn't made aware of the fact that all could've worked out. I was young and naive and in hindsight feel a little taken advantage of. After that I was offered the injection, which has now given me long-term fertility issues. Something to consider I guess.

  7. "On grounds of principle, having the government involved in such an intensely personal matter is inappropriate"

    I'm not sure I agree. I would be quite happy with the government subsidising contraception, and to a certain degree it already does (you can get condoms cheap on a prescription, for instance). The problem I have with this is more in the way it's being delivered than what is being delivered. This is not WINZ's core competence, which means it will at best be administered poorly by people without the right expertise to give good advice on contraception, and at worst be informally linked to people's benefits.

  8. I've always felt there was a simmering brutality in this government, as there has been with other right-wing parties...this policy can be framed as doing everyone a favour but something doesn't ring true for me.

    This might seem like a tangent but bear with. I just posted on Greek Neo-Nazi's and how the first action for the 28th Maori Battalion was on Mt Olympus - the maunga tapu for the Western world!

    Maori died defending Greeks from Nazi's. Nazi thoughts on babies? Well, Aryan babies good: need more. All other babies bad: need less. Doesn't mater how you get less - separate potential parents, identify and sterilise the mentally incompetent, starve them, shoot them in the back of the neck, gas them and then burn the wee corpses in industrial ovens. This actually happened. In the lifetime of my parents. One of whom was ein Neger. Der Nigger. (At least they capitalise it.)

    Hard rains' gonna fall and we're all gonna get wet.

  9. "...simmering brutality...", nicely put.

    I sense this every time I see that sold out Paula Bennett moving her mouth. As unflinchingly hard a woman I've never seen since Jenny Shipley.

    1. Paula Benefit is a hypocrit she got the TIA and now shes taken it away



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