It is time to hold the Government to account when it comes to the State of Maori Affairs


Image: Matthew Tukaki with former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in 2013 on the day of his appointment to the Board of the UNGC

Address to the United Nations Committee visiting New Zealand to assess performance – the state of Maori Affairs and what must change

Matthew Tukaki, Executive Director of the New Zealand Maori Council, Chairman of the National Maori Authority, member of the National Executive of the New Zealand Maori Council, Chair of the Tamaki / Auckand District of the New Zealand Maori Council.

You would have heard from many other Maori and non-Maori organisations about the challenges that confront us as a people. More than a century and a half since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi we are still no closer to a true partnership between Maori and the Crown. From the outside looking in New Zealand appears to be one of the most advanced developed nations in the world and in, many cases that is true. We are a relatively safe and successful nation both socially and economically when compared with other nations but when you look below the surface the reality is altogether different for the first nations people, our people. In assessing what that looks like you need to be mindful of how we, as a people, compare with our non-Maori fellow New Zealanders and other first nations peoples around the world. As all of you know, and as I starkly know as a former United Nations Representative and Board member of the United Nations Global Compact, first nations peoples around the world are suffering greatly as a result of decades of disempowerment and disenfranchisement. Some call it the impact of colonization, others call it intergenerational trauma and others still refer to it as State sanctioned loss of culture and identity. However which way you look at it the data and the statistics tell a very blunt story; they offer up a blunt assessment.

Whether it be higher than average infant mortality rates, high rates of suicide and mental health, high rates of incarceration, low rates of educational achievement in k-12 and early years of learning, the loss of economic prosperity and the continuing downward spiral towards poverty.

Across the world first nations people are all of these things and more. We are more likely to be homeless, we will die sooner, we are more likely to have our children taken from us and we are more likely to be in debt.

In todays New Zealand that harsh reality is tempered by the outside view that Maori, as a first nations people are successful; that there is nothing to see here. That is true when benchmarked against other Indigenous peoples but that is and always has been the wrong benchmark to measure us against or the Indigenous Australians against Canadian first nations peoples. We must continue to measure ourselves against the broader nation States population because it is only when we achieve true equity and parity, equal among citizens in the land that was first ours will we truly succeed.

In today’s New Zealand our starting point must be the acceptance of the harsh reality by outside monitors, the Crown and all New Zealand. That reality includes the fact Maori are now the highest rate of suicide per head of population in the Western world. We are the single highest consumers of the mental health system and we are more than half of the general prison population. Evidence and research tells us we are more likely to be profiled and sentenced. When it comes to our children, we have been the largest populated group within State care since the 1950’s sitting at an estimated 70%. Recent data shows we are 80% of the juvenile detention population and we are more likely (70%) to have been abused while in the care of the State.

We are more likely not to be able to afford a home and continue to languish in the low wage growth part of the economy. That means we are less likely to be able to keep pace with the cost of living and we are the majority of the homeless population. And we are not homeless just because we are unemployed. we are the working poor.

We are one of the largest per head of population groups of the working poor.

Over the years little has been done to truly address these, and more, indicators because like all things Governments come and go, implement different policies and very Maori are not at the table when it comes to the design of anything – let alone co-design. And this is the perennial problem that Government can solve almost overnight. To accept their Treaty partner has the solutions that challenge and confront us. Instead we often turn to the Waitangi Tribunal for what we call Kaupapa claims -where we attempt to hold the Government to account about the wrongs of the past, the broken system, in order to build for the future. And yet, successive Governments do not respond to the Waitangi Tribunal recommendations and reports. A recent assessment of the Kaupapa (issues) claims saw two thirds not responded to – some going back more than twenty years. The sad reality is that Maori representation in this current Parliament is high but do our representatives have a voice?

A few years ago the former National Government, pushed by the former Maori Party in coalition Government signed up to the UN’s Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous peoples. But they did so by not developing a framework to measure performance against the 46 articles. That was clearly wrong but in many ways was an indication that at the time data to measure performance against was scant or kept confidential. This nation is good at collecting data for purposes mainly dealing with financial outcomes – for example, was the money expended for the intended purpose as opposed to did the purpose have the intended outcome.

The New Zealand Maori Council intends on changing that. As one of the only Maori organisations with its own Act of Parliament (the Maori Community Development Act (1962)) we intend to not only measure the performance of the Crown against each of the 46 articles, we intend to hold them to account until change is seen and not just believed to have been heard. For the last seven months we have been collecting the data relevant to each Article as a standing point from the number of claims not responded to by successive Governments when it comes to the Treaty through to our children in State care. From the environment and protection of our land and water ways to the very things that binds us as a people – our culture and language.

It is against these same yard arms that the United Nations also must measure the Crown and successive Governments. It is against this common set of data that the public service, the only consistent functionary of Government to survive the election or loss of a political party, must be held to account not just the Government.

It is interesting to note that it was this Government that considered writing the current Maori Community Development Act out of existence suggesting that it needed to modernized. It is a damning indictment on such a move that such a Government may want to ask the question if it is they that need to reassess their position instead of appearing to silence the only elected Maori representative voice with an Act of the Parliament.

We as a people must stand against any Government that would seek to water down the representative rights of all Maori wherever they may be. We as a people must stand at the door and beat it down until the Government accepts we are not a people to be sidelined as a matter of convenience and we as a people deserve to be treated with the same respect as successive Governments expect of themselves.

You as a United Nations, must stand with us to monitor, assess and evaluate.

As we move forward it must be clear that the interest of the New Zealand Maori Council is in Maori Affairs and through Maori Affairs we must build the movement towards change, we must ensure that change is not only talked about but delivered and the Crown, through the Government whoever they may be, must take stock.

In the cold hard light of day we are a people who are not going anywhere.

This is the land of our Tipuna, of our ancestors. This is the land of our tamariki and our rangatahi and it is from the lessons of the past we must build for the future.

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