Friday, February 19, 2010

Mike Butler: Whanau Ora questions remain

A report on Whanau Ora separate Maori welfare, which was made available to the Government last week, remains under wraps while Prime Minister John Key has declared that the initiative would be open to all New Zealanders.

Possibly Mr Key wants to diffuse criticism since separate welfare plans based on race remain as unpopular as they were when the previous Clark-Cullen government backed away from its Closing The Gaps policy.

Whanau Ora, which means “family well-being”, is a Maori Party initiative that aims to bring together the different welfare agencies, as well as the justice and housing authorities, to help families in difficulty.

A central idea in Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia’s Whanau Ora plan was to hand over $1.2-billion a year worth of social services contracts to Maori agencies, prompting criticism that it would set up a separate Maori welfare system.

On Wednesday, Mrs Turia rejected claims that $1.2-billion had been earmarked for Maori providers.

The unreleased report said that the policy would start in July, that an independent trust would be set up to monitor contracting providers, that the trust would set up regional assessment panels, and that the trust would have its own appropriation of public funds, according to the New Zealand Herald.

Presumably, Maori families in difficulty would transfer to iwi case managers, who would operate as a one-stop shop for recipients of all the different welfare agencies, as well as health, education, housing, and justice.

Little detail has been available to evaluate the scheme. The initial discussion document entitled “Whanau Ora: A whanau-centred approach to Maori well-being”, released last September, was big in flowery rhetoric but small on specifics.

The inadequacies of the discussion document showed that the scheme had not been thought through beyond the initial ideological “tino rangatiratanga” notion of Maori control of all things Maori’, as if family dysfunction was a specifically Maori problem.

If implemented, the scheme would deliver a mammoth annual cash flow to tribal authorities to dip into as they see fit, while creating an expensive, duplicate Maori social services structure alongside the existing system.

A quick check on demographic data shows that the proposed Whanau Ora scheme would concern fewer than 29 percent of the Maori population, since in 2006, a total 88,500 or 29 percent of working-age Maori (aged 18-64 years) received a benefit. A total 71 percent of Maori were not receiving a benefit.

On this point, the Maori Party co-leaders do Maori people a disservice by representing all Maori as either poor or as receiving benefits, when that is far from true. This is a possible reason for the Maori Party’s tiny support base --it gained only 56,000 votes, or 2.4 percent of the party vote, in the 2008 election. The Maori Party is not very popular among Maori people.

Another issue often overlooked is that the structure of contemporary Maori families is in contrast with the situation that existed up to the 1950s, when most Maoris lived rurally and communally. Then, the family, or whanau consisted of more than two generations, two nuclear families, and usually more than one household, forming the basis of the sub-tribe (hapu), and tribe (iwi).

The most common benefit-receiving contemporary Maori whanau is that of unmarried Maori mothers supporting their children, living in private rental accommodation or a state house. This pattern is the same for non-Maori benefit-receiving families.

Mr Key needs to release the report and answer these questions:

1. How much money is to be spent on extra Whanau Ora funding?
2. Is Whanau Ora funding being devolved to iwi authorities, and if so, how much?
3. How much funding is already devolved to iwi authorities, apart from the Whanau Ora scheme?
4. If the scheme is for all families in need, what welfare bodies will non-Maori recipients receive services from?
5. Why is the government planning to spend an extra $1.2-billion for Whanau Ora separate welfare, if that is in fact the amount, when the deficit is $8.5-billion?

The Maori Party “is born of the dreams and aspirations of tangata whenua to achieve self-determination”, as is clearly stated in the first line of the Maori Party constitution. The Whanau Ora plan looks like a big step towards welfare self-determination.

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