Sunday, September 5, 2021

Graham Adams: The battle over Plunket heats up

Mothers are aggrieved by what some say is a racist policy instituted by New Zealand’s most cherished parenting organisation. Graham Adams argues it is just one example of growing dissatisfaction over preference granted on grounds of ethnicity.

In terms of the nation’s traditional iconography, it’s hard to decide whether Sir Edmund Hillary or Plunket nurses rate more highly in the popular imagination.

For many New Zealanders, Hillary represents the epitome of individualistic adventure while Plunket nurses looking after anxious mothers and vulnerable babies represent the best of community spirit.

Nevertheless, news came this week that Plunket is a “white supremacist” organisation, for which root-and-branch regeneration will be inadequate. (See Cate Broughton’s Plunket takes on its history, and future, to be ‘a better Treaty partner’, and a response to this by Lynda Bryder: Plunket founder driven to reduce high infant mortality rate.)

This assault on Plunket’s reputation — let alone its very existence — will seem to many as outrageous as someone demanding Sir Ed’s image be taken off the $5 note because he was a white supremacist who denied Tenzing Norgay the chance of being the first person to stand on the summit of Mt Everest.

The case against Plunket — a charitable trust largely funded by taxpayers — rests mainly on views on race and eugenics held by its founder, Sir Truby King, who died 83 years ago in 1938.

No matter the immense good his organisation has done since 1907 — or the fact King’s views on race and women were hardly unusual at the time — the sins of the father must apparently be visited upon the daughters who have continued his much-lauded legacy for more than a century.

No matter either that Plunket has moved to improve its practices with regard to Māori and Pasifika children — including rebranding itself as Whānau Awhina Plunket and changing its logo to better acknowledge its founding Māori midwives Mere Harper and Ria Tikini.

However, National Hauora Coalition clinical director Dr Rawiri Jansen says the organisation should be defunded and disestablished.

He outlined the reasons for his scorched earth approach: “I think they are trying to recycle a white supremacist organisation and I don’t support it. They are not fit for purpose. They are not fit for our Aotearoa health system going forward…

“Now Plunket is trying to reimagine itself and do a better job, it’s failing at it. My point is not trying to test them against doing a better job, the point is they shouldn’t be part of our system.”

Whānau Awhina Plunket trust chair Dame Fran Wilde dismissed the allegations that Plunket is a “white supremacist” organisation as “just nonsense”.

She said Plunket was “ahead of the pack” in trying to make positive changes. “All the whānau and babies that we care for now wouldn’t get any health care if you just closed it down and started a new organisation. I mean, it’s kind of a ridiculous notion.”

While the news media hasn’t taken a deep interest in the political manoeuvrings around Plunket, mothers certainly have taken a keen interest in its policies — and many of them aren’t happy. Last month, a Coromandel mother — who had received help from Plunket after she suffered severe post-natal depression — posted a petition on

She had heard from many mothers that Plunket nurses had told them they were now obliged to focus on Maori and Pasifika babies (alongside those with “higher needs”) and therefore the usual run of Plunket appointments for other ethnicities would have to be curtailed.

Her petition stated: “Plunket nurses can no longer see babies over 15 weeks old unless babies and families are of Māori/Pasifika descent and some other babies who have higher needs such as falling in the premature category.

“The government have left our Plunket nurses to face the backlash of this. There has been little to no consultation and it has been done in an extremely sneaky way! Let’s take this back to Jacinda and her government and demand some answers and some solutions so that we can make Plunket accessible to all families like it has been for many years!”

In just a few days, the petition gained more than 6000 signatures — including a significant number by mothers relating their own experiences with Plunket.

After media inquiries, Plunket responded with a message on its Facebook page: “This information is incorrect. The government has not limited who our nurses can see, and this petition is sadly based on misinformation. We are here for all Kiwi whānau and families who need us. The way in which people routinely access and receive our services will depend on their level of need. Everyone will still be able to access our services.”

Commenters were quick to point out that the carefully worded statement didn’t actually deny the allegation that Maori and Pasifika babies would take precedence — only that “the government has not limited who our nurses can see”.

Among the more than 320 comments on Plunket’s Facebook post, many were from mothers confirming that Plunket nurses had told them that the rules had changed. Some accused the charity of being racist.

The issue was debated widely on social media. On a different website, one mother said: “I spoke with a Plunket nurse today… All newborns will get three visits, then only target people will get any more visits. (She was told the wealthy & white will seek help elsewhere.) Plunket staff are too scared to speak up in fear they will lose their jobs.”

Another mother posted on a parenting site: “Our two-year [Plunket] checkup was meant to be this week. I’d asked to reschedule and received this text back:

‘I’ve been meaning to call you as I have to cancel M’s appointment. I’ve just been informed this week that the Plunket schedule has been changed. We are no longer doing checks from six months old unless you have concerns with your child. Reason for this change is Plunket is trying to create equality for Maori/Pacific Island high-needs babies. But please contact me if you have any concerns — you can contact me at any time or Plunketline.’”

Then the petition suddenly disappeared from the site with no explanation. Its organiser said she didn’t ask for it to be removed and had no idea who did.

In an emailed reply to the Democracy Project, Plunket also said it didn’t ask for it to be taken down: “The petition claimed there was a government policy limiting which babies Plunket nurses could see after a particular age. Whānau Āwhina Plunket did not contact or the creator of the petition to request its removal. If another member of the community requested the removal of the petition, this is not something we have any knowledge of.”

Like most issues that flare and die, that will probably be the end of the media discussion about the disappearing petition. Nevertheless, it has left a residue of resentment and suspicion among mothers that Plunket won’t admit it has instituted a policy run along ethnic lines — or tell them clearly what the new rules will mean in terms of access.

Their unease is the tip of a very large iceberg. The issue of preference by race is going to be an increasing problem more generally for the government as it pushes to implement a view of the Treaty that requires a 50:50 partnership in sharing resources and power with Māori, who make up 16 per cent of the population. And there are signs it is becoming more acutely aware of the electoral dangers.

In the weekend, it made a quick u-turn on its own regulations so that everyone will now be able to go fishing and white-baiting during Level 4 lockdown rather than only Māori claiming “customary rights”.

Act declared the policy change a win for its Justice spokesperson, Nicole McKee, who had pushed during a Justice select committee meeting last week for the Police Commissioner, Andrew Coster, to define what “customary rights” meant. He was unable to do so — despite being a “trained lawyer”, McKee noted.

Act leader David Seymour said: ”The virus should not discriminate on race-based grounds and neither should the law.”

It has also become clear during this lockdown that the police are not going to so readily overlook iwi “checkpoints” set up to deter outsiders from travelling into areas such as the Far North as they did last year.

This has outraged some iwi members but the government has no doubt done its electoral sums and decided that wearing their objections is preferable to alienating a much larger swathe of voters who expect the rule of law to be upheld for everyone.

It is hard not to conclude that government strategists are belatedly realising they have a tiger by the tail. Anyone with an ear to the ground will know of farmers who say they can’t get timely sign-off from iwi for freshwater issues; conservationists who are deeply concerned about the implications of co-governance with iwi over the DoC estate; and parents who want their children to be taught science rather than mātauranga Maori for NCEA — as well as a history curriculum that doesn’t demonise their Pakeha forebears or exclude the history of Chinese and Indian settlers, among others.

The biggest of the looming stoushes, however, is over the proposed Three Waters reforms. Councils are beginning to openly voice their suspicions that the real reason for the reforms is to give control of water to iwi.

Invercargill Deputy Mayor Nobby Clarke and Westland Mayor Bruce Smith have been particularly forthright about the disproportionate level of control the reforms will hand to Ngai Tahu — given the proposed new water entity for the South Island will have a board accountable to two stakeholder groups, each of which will have the same weight.

As Smith put it: “The voting would be 50 per cent Maori and 50 per cent councils who had transferred 100 per cent of the assets to the operating companies.

“This government proposal gives Maori — who made up at June 2020 10.4 per cent of the West Coast population and 16.7 per cent of the New Zealand population — the right of veto in perpetuity from government.”

It is also significant that the Groundswell organisers, who brought thousands of tractors and utes onto the nation’s highways and into CBDs for a nation-wide protest on July 16, have added the Three Waters reforms to its list of grievances

As organisers put it: ”Such is the magnitude of change being taken with the Three Waters reform, Groundswell NZ believe the people of New Zealand should have a say through referendums in each district and city.”

They are promising more widespread action in November — with “major protest action of a scale and impact that will be significant in New Zealand’s history”.

Right now lockdown and Covid are fully commanding the nation’s attention but the government is being put on notice — by a wide range of voices from mothers and fathers to fishers and farmers — that continuing its plans for preference along racial lines is going to be electorally explosive.

Graham Adams is a journalist, columnist and reviewer who has written for many of the country’s media outlets including Metro, North & South, Noted, The Spinoff and Newsroom. This article was first published by the Democracy Project HERE.  


Kiwi Kid said...

Graham what an excellent summary.
I was a Plunket baby.
Mum’s Plunket nurses gave her great support and encouraged her confidence as a parent.
I am one of hundreds of thousands of NZers whose own confidence today grew out of that kindly and supportive start.
No wonder they want Plunket disbanded!
Dr Rawiri Jansen has form. Born into wealth and privilege, he is clearly a proponent of Critical Race Theory, the malign political force that has woven its strangulating threads throughout New Zealand.
This move is straight from the Critical Race Theory playbook.
Dismantle and disrupt from within.
Rebuild in your own image. - Payback!
Our only option is to disengage NOW from all praxis that strengthens the CRT structure, and we must VOTE for the party that commits to remove Critical Race Theory from our institutions as a matter of urgency.
New Zealand’s children - ALL New Zealand’s children, deserve nothing less.

DeeM said...

This is just the tip of the iceberg and is a salient reminder of where the Woke Brigade, in league with extreme Maori activists, want to take NZ.
In this case, an extremist is demanding the closure of a long-running service valued by the whole community on the usual ridiculous grounds of white supremacy/colonialism. That's bad enough but the organisation itself then tries to conform by unfairly favouring the group the extremist is from. What happens if you give in to bullies? - even primary kids know the answer to that.
This has to be opposed at every turn and only the public coming out in large numbers on social media in support of our traditional values and organisations can shut these nutters down.
If popular support is shown to be there then it smothers the crazies claims and makes them look what they are - a tiny minority with extremist views.

Maybe we need a form of flash mob whereby people of like minds can be notified and jump on to social media and support the things we all believe in. That should send a strong message to the extremists, our government and our pathetic MSM that the vast majority are not going to tolerate this crap any longer.

Tompo said...

I'm not a smart person but I have watched helplessly New Zealand slowly being poisoned by this Critical Race Theory mob which the media seem to be on board with.So many people I come in contact with agree but we don't know how to be heard. What's a flash mob and how can thousands of people of like minds concerned about our country be notified and jump on to social media and support things we believe in and be heard?

Anonymous said...

DeeM. I agree with your comments. Well done Graham Adams on a very good article.

DeeM said...

Definition of a flash mob - "a large public gathering at which people perform an unusual or seemingly random act and then disperse, typically organized by means of the internet or social media."

I don't expect people to physically get together but it's more the concept of quickly and easily informing people of issues like the Plunket case, who can then express their views effectively as a large group. This would hopefully get over the internet trolls who abuse individuals or small groups - safety in numbers, if you like.
It would need some kind of internet group/page/network to which people of like minds could sign up to and be kept informed. I'm not tech savvie so don't know exactly what's possible but I know you can have lots of people who are part of a Facebook page which can be closed to just those members.
Would need someone who understands all the tech side to know if this was practical or not - just an idea, anyway!

Lesley Stephenson said...

Very disappointing that Plunket has bought into this nonsense.
I suspect that Dr Jansen would not be happy unless all Plunket nurses were of Maori descent and argue that a non Maori Nurse doesn't know how to care for a Maori baby. As we are heading down the road of separatism why not have an Organisation that looks after white non Maori babies only.
By Whites For Whites....sound familiar?

llloyd said...

In 1984 I tried to warn ya all. Ya all thought it was a big laugh and it cost me any chance of furthering my higher education. Seriously, this is a betrayal of the forefathers who actually built this country into one of the most admired countries in the world. As it says in the novel 1984, who decides the past decides the future.

Unknown said...

We lived in East Tamaki before the Great Housing Carve-up. The local Plunket even then was suggesting that they were resourcing Maori at the expense of non-Maori and could we NOT attend Plunket as our new born was healthy and well cared for. It was at that time Plunket also recognized that it needed 2 nurses not the traditional 1 nurse to attend local Maori homes as the agro from Maori males was putting them at risk. (those fathers that were still around of course!)
What a serious and dangerous mess our politicians have landed NEW ZEALANDERS in.

Louise said...

Sadly Plunket or as it is now known Whanau Awhina Plunket, is no longer the well loved and respected organisation it once was. A universal service was offered to all mothers and babies regardless of who your ancestors were. Now it depends on your postcode, you will be classified as high or low needs, a blunt tool indeed and at odds with The Nurses Organisation who do not support the move.
Plunket has been hijacked by those with a strong political agenda. It is a multi million dollar organisation, funded almost entirely by the taxpayer. It was ripe for the picking.
Firstly the organisation was transformed from an incorporated society, whereby regions had a large degree of autonomy under the umbrella of head office. Now Plunket is a registered charity with their power base in Wellington.
It has come under fire for paying large salaries to these head office staff, including the controversial appointment of CEO, Amanda Malu's daughter Mameroa Munn to a plum job for which she was unqualified.
Speaking of CEO Amanda Malu, Plunkets former marketing manager, she spins a lovely story that her great,great granny Mere Harper and her chicken farming sidekick Ria Tikini, were equal founders of Plunket alongside Dr Truby King. In fact she goes so far as to say that without these two women, Plunket would not exist today. High praise indeed. The difficulty with this story is the lack of detail regarding these claims. It seems that Mrs Harper was the laundress at the first temporary baby hospital based at Dr King's holiday home in Karitane. Not sure if this enough to cut the mustard on that one. Oh yes, she likes to bang on that the first Plunket baby was her great uncle Tommy Ellison born in 1906. The fact that Plunket was founded in 1907 seems to have escaped her notice. As they say, never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
All this rewriting of history is about providing Amanda Malu with the props to support the complete transformation of Plunket. This house of cards changed its name and logo on false history.
Plunket has now introduced staff training, "Being a Better Treaty Partner". They recently attended further programming at Puketeraki marae in Karitane.
I am picking that this once respected organisation which is 120 years old, will not survive the Maorification programme.
All mothers and babies in New Zealand deserve an equal service.