Friday, 27 November 2009

What's wrong with the Maori Party?

Sovereignty? Flag it away! The Maori Party has irretrievably compromised its position vis-a-vis the Maori working-class.

FORGET ABOUT the 35,000 hectares of public land handed over to private Maori corporations. Forget about the $25-50 million taxpayer dollars pledged to these same corporations to secure the passage of the Government’s revised Emissions Trading Scheme. Forget about the dramatic shifts and reversals of the Maori Party MPs as they manoeuvred behind the scenes to secure these concessions.

The concessions are not the point.

Why? Because they constitute but a small fraction of the political failures for which history will indict the Maori Party.

The most damaging charge the Maori caucus will face is that, like Saul in the Bible, they stood to one side, holding the National Government’s cloaks, while their people got bloodied by the stones of economic privation. For this sin, not even 8,000 insulated working-class homes will win them absolution.

Better than any other party in Parliament, the Maori Party knows the hopelessness and squalor of the nation’s poorest neighbourhoods. More than any other MPs, the Maori Party MPs know the terrible things that can happen to broken and demoralised families trapped at the bottom of the socio-economic heap. If any voices should have been raised in protest; if any stands should have been made on principle; it was the Maori Party which should have cried out – and stood firm.

Let’s take a look at what’s happening to New Zealand’s poorest families.

Nearly all of these are looked after by just one parent – usually a young Maori woman.

For the sake of illustration, let’s suppose that during the boom years this solo mum managed to get herself off the DPB and into the paid workforce. By working long hours at two cleaning jobs, and with a hand-up from the State in the form of an In Work Tax Credit she was (just) able to keep her head above water.

Then – bang! Along comes the recession. The company where she does most of her cleaning shuts down. She’s laid off. Bad enough, you might say, but it gets worse. She is now working too few hours to retain her In Work Tax Credit. So, not only has she lost the income from her primary cleaning job, but she’s lost her State support as well.

Disaster? Yes, of course, but our solo mum’s troubles don’t end here. Because she can’t live off her other part-time cleaning job she decides to go back on the DPB. Unfortunately, the abatement rules for income received over and above her benefit mean that she is now paying an effective tax rate of well over 50 percent. On just two-thirds of her former income (which was, you’ll recall, only barely enough to survive on) she still has to make her rent, nurture her family and pay all her utility bills.

Her children, through no fault of their mother’s, are now being raised in severe hardship. The 2004 NZ Living Standards Survey found that living in severe hardship is associated with children not having shoes or raincoats; with postponing doctors and dentists visits because of the cost.

Social researchers further report that children raised in poverty experience poorer health, leave school earlier, have fewer qualifications, and stand a much greater chance of being unemployed in later life. These disadvantages are concentrated most acutely around Maori and Pasifika families.

But, to condemn whole ethnicities to lives of poverty and hardship is to sow New Zealand’s future with dragon’s teeth.

Nevertheless, in the months to come, and in the tradition of every flinty-faced, fiscally conservative government which came before it, this National-led Government will intensify the suffering of New Zealand’s poorest families. It will do this because the alternative, increasing the taxes of New Zealand’s wealthiest families, would invite political ruin.

Already suffering Maori and Pasifika families – their children especially – will be made to suffer even more.

We are all familiar with the social pathologies such government spending cuts engender: drug addiction, domestic violence, child abuse, murder, suicide. And when it happens we’ll shake our heads and ask: "What’s wrong with the Maori people?" And, no doubt, Michael Laws will supply us with a list.

A better question, however, might be: "What is wrong with the Maori Party?"

It was elected to defend the Morehu: the remnants of the tribes; the battered, scarred and scattered children of the four winds.

Instead, it enables their abuse.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 27 November 2009.

1 comment:

Brendon Mills said...

What is wrong with the Maori Party?

Simple. It has become the party of the iwi corporate elite.

The names Sharples, Turia, Katene and Flavell will forever be known as the people who sold Maori down the river. I hope they live with themselves as they vote for huge spending cuts in health and education in the 2010 budget.