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Busting myths about Maori

Opinion: Matthew Tukaki, Chair of the National Maori Authority

Every day I read comments, receive emails or read articles that question the New Zealand Government and how it appears to be doing so much for my people, the Indigenous people of New Zealand / Aotearoa, Maori. In actual fact 2021 was a game of two halves; the first half were some incredibly and hard fought for wins such as the standing up of the National Maori Health Authority, a new history curriculum for New Zealand schools, the overhaul of the Ministry for Children, Oranga Tamariki, the establishment of a national public holiday recognising the Maori new year (Matariki) and the establishment of Maori wards in Local Government areas. The second half was essentially played by Opposition politicians who were opposed to much of what has been stood up and that has sadly filtered into some sections of the New Zealand community. This underbelly that Maori apparently already get so much why do they need more? Why are Maori any different to the rest of the population.

So; I thought i would take some time and explain why many of these gains are not just important for Maori but will benefit the entire nation. I will start off by saying I will not justify the existence of my people or the unique places we hold in the history of this nation but I will take some time to bust some myths:

Myth One: “Maori are mostly takers and make little contribution to the economy” – here are some facts I published two years ago that have not changed:

Fact: Maori are taxpayers too and significant ones

Fact: More non-Maori are in receipt of welfare payments than Maori

There were 734,200 Maori in the last population census. Lets assume that a third are taxpayers with the following tax rates as calculations:

Up to $14,000 10.5%

Over $14,000 and up to $48,000 17.5%

Over $48,000 and up to $70,000 30%

Remaining income over $70,000 33%

Lets say that a third = 244733.33. Lets then say half pay 10.5% in tax and half pay 17.5% in tax. That equates to nearly $4 billion per annum in tax paid by Maori tax payers. Lets not forget the hundreds of millions of dollars paid in tax by Maori business and industry and lets also not forget about the tens of millions paid in rates to Local Councils across the country.

MYTH: the majority of people on welfare are Maori and Maori are nothing more than dole bludgers.

So the reality is that Maori are significant contributors to the New Zealand economy and, in fact, the Maori economy is estimated to be worth more than $50 billion dollars.

But the sad truth is that Maori also show in some of the worst health and social services figures such as high rates of diabetes, heart disease, cancers, renal failure and more. Maori children are the dominant number in State care and so on. To address these issues, which are longstanding, are the very institutions and reforms that are now being stood up that lets face it had we have done so decades ago we may not have some of the big challenges we face today. Lets take the standing up of the Maori Health Authority as the example. In May last year the Government announced the following: The funding for Māori health includes $98.1 million for the establishment of the Māori Health Authority, $17.8 million to support of iwi/Māori partnership boards and $126.8 million for Hauora Māori programmes run by the Māori Health Authority including funding for increasing provider capability and a Māori health innovation fund. Just over $200 million. Vote Health (‘the Vote’), $24,398 million in 2021/22 – that’s a $24 billion + - so when you equate $200 million with that $24 billion its hardly an imposition. But then lets look at the opportunity here which is to reduce those Maori health disparities of highly preventable disease – the cost saving is upwards of more than a billion dollars a year – less people on waiting lists, less people clogging up operation theatres and accident and emergency rooms, less heart disease and the list just goes on. So when people criticise the Authority ponder for a moment the benefits and opportunities the whole nation, not just Te Ao Maori will be able to look forward to. Chief among them increased life expectancy.

The same is true of Oranga Tamariki – reducing the number of children coming into the care of the State is something no one could possibly argue against and with that comes improved approaches to affordable housing, poverty reduction, decreases in family and domestic violence – the list is endless.

By now you would have hopefully grasped what I am trying to say – absolutely it is about addressing inequities but with that can imagine the incredible and positive impact to the nation as a whole if we can come together and get this right?

Lets also bust the myth of Treaty settlements. In 2018 published some interesting facts – just several years ago there had been 73 settlements with the Crown passed into law. The total value of all finalised settlements is $2.2 billion.

“While that may seem like a lot of money, it's worth considering some other similar Government expenses for context: In just the next 12 months, the Government will spend (excluding capital investment) about $87b.”

“One of the biggest outgoings is superannuation at $14b. The entire value of Treaty settlements over the past quarter of a century would cover super payments for two months.”

Consider this – if you were to value the land that was illegally seized from Maori, confiscated or taken by various Acts of Parliament it would have been in the hundreds of billions of dollars. So the fact that Maori have only received a fraction of the total value of assets and lands lost should not be lost on anyone.

My final words are these – what has been lost and what has been gained needs to also be taken in the context of what now can be achieved. Hope, aspiration and opportunity should be our stock and trade. Not descent into racial prejudice and madness. A friendly reminder to all of those politicians who trade on scraping the bottom of the barrel.


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