When the Maori Party formed in 2004, I had hopes that a political vehicle was being made to address the poor socio-economic standing of Maori in New Zealand. I had hopes that under Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples the disproportionately high levels of Maori involvement in crime, truancy and unemployment would be addressed.
In fairness to the Maori and National Party, Whanau Ora, a significant health care plan that is community rather than institution based, enabling Maori to access healthcare with recognition of cultural principles was passed into law. This was in 2008 as a result of the coalition agreement, and became a cornerstone in the 2011 coalition agreement.
But beyond that, what has this coalition achieved in terms of addressing Maori socio-economic issues? Not a lot.
Although the Treaty of Waitangi settlements are very important to Maori and to Aotearoa/New Zealand on the whole, I have the feeling that Maori are being further marginalized by a party that is set on dealing with historical issues rather than what is in front of them. I fail to see how arguing over kaitiakitanga of the seabed and foreshore is going to assist someone trying to explain to Work and Income New Zealand why they should be on the unemployment benefit.
At this point, it is perhaps appropriate to acknowledge significant Maori land is locked up in the sense that legal constraints on who can do what with it means development options are limited. These constraints, which are not all that well understood by the Government or indeed by Maori themselves arise from cross ownership and the income stream is negligible, thereby not giving incentive to invest in the land. Because of this, some opportunities for employment and income generation are lost, but still the socio-economic problems remain.
Family violence, truancy, crime, youth unemployment, drug use are all issues that are affecting Maori disproportionately more than non-Maori. Some of these issues can only be solved with community input, whiilst others will require legislative changes enable an appropriate response. To some extent this is supported by research done by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, whose January 2016 report found Maori still under perform in labour market indicators.
How can the Maori Party be a true advocate for Maori and Maoridom when it is failing to advocate for those Maori on the fringes of society? I am thinking of those from broken homes, with little or no direction in life, few or no life skills and no mentor figures to keep them out of trouble. I am thinking of – but not limited to – those who come from “Once Were Warriors” type backgrounds, and those who have clashed with the law and want to turn their lives around but have no idea how.
When these people and their needs are addressed, maybe then the Maori Party can say it has done some good. But that is not now.