In previous posts I have been looking at Maori policy and have come to a few conclusions about past and present policy, primarily;
- Channelling policy initiatives through neo-tribal organisations or corporate iwi has not and will not address the development or advancement needs of most Maori;
- Such policy most benefits the Maori elites rather than Maori most in need;
- A focus on the Treaty of Waitangi and on cultural and language retention and revitalisation, whilst a beneficial policy for Maori, has not and will not address the real social and economic advancement needs of MOST Maori.
I am yet to be persuaded about the present Whanau Ora initiative. It seems to me to be an “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” policy focused on helping whanau to cope with life at the bottom of the socio-economic heap, perhaps giving false hope that they might be able to climb out of where they are, rather than dealing to the complete environment and to the societal and economic reasons why they are trapped at the bottom of the heap.
If that is so what then should be the focus of Maori policy.
- It should focus on the social and economic advancement of all Maori wherever they are and where they are, in relatively large numbers at the bottom of the socio-economic heap, and mainly in the cities rather in than the rural homelands which are the domain of most corporate iwi,
- It should prioritise the needs of those Maori MOST IN NEED and should DIRECTLY address those needs;
- It should address causes of disadvantage rather than symptoms or effects.
Statistics that form the narrative of Maori disadvantage have been used as the basis of Maori policy for decades beginning in my living memory in 1961 with the Hunn Report on the Department of Maori Affairs. Perhaps the main consequence of that report was a rapid rise in migration of Maori to the cities. In the last thirty years that same but evolving narrative has underpinned a bewildering succession of reports and policies. Te Putatara has a somewhat different perspective and statistical narrative (see here). The telling and retelling of the statistical narrative by the policy makers has rarely resulted in policies that meet the above criteria.
There are perhaps three reasons why that is so:
Firstly, once the narrative has been retold in the form of yet another report policy purportedly designed to address the identified needs has actually been designed to conform to prevailing beliefs and ideology rather than real need. The belief in the relevance of iwi, based on the false post-colonial whanau-hapu-iwi construct, has dominated since the 1980s and has resulted in the formation of corporate iwi and in their capture of resources, and the present dominance of “Iwi Leaders” in matters of Maori policy. A belief in a neoliberal “trickle down” theory of economic policy has resulted in the present focus on Maori business grandiosely described as the Maori economy, and despite the telling and retelling of the success of this mythical “Maori economy” little movement can be seen at the bottom of the heap.
The retention and revitalisation of language and culture was a powerful pou whakapono that brought with it many policies notably in education and broadcasting. Those policies were believed by many of their ardent proponents to be the key that would unlock the social and economic barriers to Maori social and economic advancement. It has not been so. Having said that I do not quibble with the desirability of cultural and language retention. I do however question it as a policy designed to address the social and economic advancement of those most in need. An intellectual justification can be found in the argument that identity and self-esteem should be enhanced through cultural and language revival and that may lead to greater success in climbing out of socio-economic disparity. But the statistical record says that that is no more than theory.
The Treaty of Waitangi was another powerful pou whakapono used to drive the so-called Maori Renaissance and to justify much policy but of and in itself has delivered little to those most in need and much to the elites who control Maori resources.
A great deal of Maori policy has therefore delivered the ideology and has not dealt to needs.
Secondly, using poverty as an example, policy seems not to take into account the phenomenon of reproductive replacement. For instance every person or whanau that is moved out of poverty into the middle class, whether by their own efforts or with help from community or state, is replaced by those who are born into poverty (or other disparity). Policy designed to move people out of poverty must aim to do so faster than the birth or replacement rate. To do otherwise is to accept that no matter how many are rescued from poverty the number of poor will nevertheless continue to increase.
The lesson is that framing policies aimed at individuals or their whanau rather than at the whole problem of poverty will be self-defeating except in the case of fortunate individuals or individual whanau.
Thirdly, policies that would address the real needs of those most in need are too hard, beyond the purview of Maori policy makers, and beyond their ability to deliver policy that would work. And that is because those policies that would work would focus almost entirely on broad national social and economic ideology and policy rather than just on Maori. National social and economic policy is itself driven by prevailing ideologies, at the moment a political and somewhat corrupted version of neoliberal economics. Ministers of Maori Affairs or Maori Development do not have their hands on the social and economic levers of power and are therefore powerless to make a real difference, even if they knew how.
What they and their policy advisors then do is to focus on what they can do within Vote Maori and that is invariably guided by their own ideology and by the prevailing ideology of the Maori elites and so the circle is complete and we are back where we started.
The levers of power that if pulled in the right direction would deliver real social and economic advancement to those Maori most in need are the economic levers held closely by the small group of cabinet ministers in the inner sanctum, whatever their political hue. For at least three decades social policy that might address the real needs of most Maori has been subservient to questionable economic policy. Only when economic policy is designed to serve society and social policy will those needs be addressed, not just for Maori but for all those in need. At the moment policy first addresses the interests of the elites, whether Maori or Pakeha.
The landscape over which this policy saga plays out stretches from the low lying swamp in which the least well off survive, to the distant mountain and the clear air where the rich have their palatial homes. In between the two are the lowland plains where most New Zealanders live and the foothills of increasing height that are the domain of the better off. In the highest of these foothills is the castle called Parliament which houses the levers of power over this whole landscape. It also houses those who have their hands on those levers and are the lords of the landscape but who are by choice (i.e. ideology) also the servants of the mountain dwellers. A few of them are themselves mountain dwellers.
The swamp is where disease is most prevalent; diseases of both body and mind and the diseases of society including chronic poverty and unemployment. There are alligators in the swamp in the form of drugs and alcohol, crime and violence. The alligators not only devour many of the swamp dwellers, they also serve to corral them inside the swamp. On the banks of the swamp are the tents of the well-meaning including the Whanau Ora tent, It is from these tents that intrepid community and social workers, health workers and educators, both state and volunteer, venture into the swamp to work with the swamp dwellers to try to alleviate the condition of their lives and hopefully to bring some individuals and whanau out of the swamp onto the plains.
The statistical evidence clearly indicates that they are fighting a losing battle.
An engineer would approach the challenge of the swamp in an entirely different way. The engineer would drain the swamp and convert it into fertile ground, an extension of the plains.
The lords of the landscape and their mountain dwelling puppet-masters have absolutely no interest in diverting resources to the engineers to apply their expertise to the challenge. Over the last thirty years the resources have been moving in exactly the opposite direction, from the swamp and the plains into the foothills and up the mountain. That has been despite thirty years of assurances that the more resources the mountain dwellers acquire the more will trickle down to the plains and the swamp. Money it seems does not behave at all like the water that falls on the mountain and eventually forms the swamp. The mountain dwellers know that and do whatever it takes to preserve the status quo and the lords of the landscape remain blinded by perverse ideology to the dominant agenda of the mountain folk.
The hill dwellers also benefit from this reverse flow of resources. And it is in these hills that the Maori elites dwell, some of them on the hill they have named the Maori Economy. Somewhat amazingly some on that hill maintain that they too live in the swamp alongside their less fortunate whanaunga.
The challenge for Maori policy makers is first of all to free themselves from the ideology of the Maori elites and then to obtain and divert sufficient resources to the engineers. To do that Maori have to storm the castle called Parliament and get their hands on the levers of power. Maori have actually been storming that castle for decades now and have established footholds on the ramparts. Indeed the Maori Party has accepted an invitation to climb down from the ramparts to dine at the long table in the great dining hall. There they feast with the lords of the landscape and send doggy bags of goodies to the Maori elites and crumbs to the plains and swamp dwellers.
But they still do not have their hands on the levers of power for those are safe within the inner sanctum or citadel. They talk of having to sit at the table before anything can be achieved. They try to convince themselves and the rest of us that the great dining hall is the citadel. But it isn’t. That’s deep inside the castle and has its own moat and drawbridge. The Maori Party have been given the keys to the house but not the combination to the safe.
How then do Maori get their hands on the levers in the safe; in the citadel. The bald reality is that Maori cannot do it alone. The swamp is home to Maori, Pasifika and Pakeha and the draining of the swamp will be a joint undertaking. The storming of the citadel will also need to be a joint campaign which will require a broad political coalition of Maori, Pasifika and Pakeha with the singular intent of draining the swamp through making economic policy serve the needs of society rather than the reverse.
So much for the metaphor of the swamp, the plains, the foothills, the mountain, the castle, and the citadel. Almost.
The storming of the citadel is not a narrow Maori policy matter. It is a matter of broad social and economic policy which are areas largely ignored by Maori policy makers including Maori politicians, cabinet ministers, their advisors, Maori academics and researchers. It follows then that what is urgently needed in Maori policy is to refocus from the present narrow scope of policy deliberation onto broad social and economic policy. And economic expertise in Maori policy making is the single greatest deficiency preventing that.
The rationale for draining the swamp cannot be developed without it. It behoves politicians, bureaucrats, academics, researchers and activists to become not just economically literate but economically expert if they are to challenge the status quo. This is no short term quest.
There are those on the “Left” who are advocating a coalition of the Labour, Green, Internet and Mana Parties to defeat the Key-led Government in the coming elections who might interpret this article as support for that notion. You’re dreaming. “Te Putatara” doesn’t support any political party. And in any case there is no-one with economic literacy or expertise in the Mana Party, none visible in the Internet Party, perhaps one person in the Green Party and certainly none in the parliamentary Labour Party. So you’re dreaming anyway. Even if you do pull it off you’ll need more than ideological intent to defeat the entrenched economic ideology in the Treasury, Reserve Bank and many other government agencies, you’ll need real economic expertise. You don’t have it. Mind you nor does the parliamentary National Party but they don’t need it. They’ve got Treasury pulling their strings, as Treasury has done ever since it subverted and captured the Lange/Douglas Labour Government in 1984. You’ll need to capture Treasury as well.
In the next post I will explore what economic literacy and expertise looks like.
Mai i Hawaiki ki Hawaiki: The Evolution of Maori Culture
The Evolution of Pakeha Culture
The Maori Worldview and Maori Policy
The Mythology of the Whanau-Hapu-Iwi Construct
The Origins of Corporate Iwi
The Maori Economy – A Fanciful Notion
The Myth of the Maori Entrepreneur
The Treaty of Waitangi Revisited
Te Ture Whenua Maori Review – Who Benefits?
Perspectives of Time, Small Prophecy & Maori Policy