Pita & Tariana: legacies and looming threats

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What a week it has been for the Maori Party, and for Tariana Turia and Dr Pita Sharples in particular. Today (9 July 2014) marksthe10th anniversaryof the founding of the Maori Party, (even as the partys survival becomes increasinglysubject to question). On Thursday last week Pita introduced the new Maori Language Billto Parliament. On Monday Tarianalaunched Te Pou Matakanathe new North Island commissioning agency for Whanau Ora. Not bad for a weeks work.

Both the Bill and the launch of the commissioning agency represent a pretty powerful encapsulation of Maori Party thinking. Both developments seek to displace core decision-making from central government to iwi Maori and urban Maori communities in regards to Maori frameworks designed to improve the Maori language survival (on the one hand) and healthy whanau development (on other).

To illustrate: both developments set up independent agencies with iwi/urban M?ori representation that will oversee to a substantial degree developments in both spheres. In the case of te reo Maori, Pita is pinning high hopes on the ability of Te Matawaito provide leadership on behalf of iwi and Maori regarding the health of the Maori language despite some fairly widespreadconcernsabout the proposed agency. Regardless of the criticism, the new agency looks likely to forge ahead, to beappointed by regional iwi clusters, takingover the governance of the Te Taura Whiri,Te Mangai Paho andMaori Television.

The same phenomenon is at work with the launch of Te Pou Matakana, a new entity that was conceived and created out of theNational Urban Maori Authority (NUMA) although not without somecontroversy. This new entity, (alongside the South Island commissioning agency (Te Putahitanga o Te Waipounamu) and the Pasifika Futures agency) will take over fromfrom Te Puni Kokiri in contracting out services, setting policies and distributing funding.

In one week the roles of several government agencies have been either placed under threat or significantly diminished.

I get this. There is a pretty powerful stream of thinking that holds that Maoridom needs to find its own answers, and that Government adoption of and interference in Maori generated solutions causes more problems than it solves. I havewritten about thisbeforein regards to Maori welfare outcomes, which are fairly closely connected to Whanau Ora:

New Zealand governments have never actively pursued Maori solutions to Maori welfare problems. One reason for this is because M?ori welfare has been intimately tied up with Maori self determination and notions of rangatiratanga, however that might be interpreted. A brief review of the history of social security in New Zealand shows that the New Zealand states distrust of M?ori ambitions has often meant the neutering of M?ori initiatives that could have effected better M?ori welfare outcomes.

(O crikey,quotingmyself is a slippery slope..)

Anyway, bearing all that in mind I read something in the Herald yesterday that left a cold feeling in my stomach. That something was a headline:Labour Government would review Whanau Ora policy. As outlined in the article Labour has announced plans to review the policy should it lead the next government. Reviews often mean fundamental change. As Nanaia Mahuta stated:

While the minister may feel emotionally attached to her programme it is important that future commitments under a Labour Government are based on outcomes achieved and evidence that underpin the strength based approach in the Whanau Ora model.

Although, it is true thatWhanau Ora must live beyond Tarianas tenure as Minister, there are a couple of reasons I find this statement odd. For one thing it seems strange to link the Ministers emotionalism to an implication that Wh?nau Ora is somehow not outcome focused. This seemed to be a statement that reduces Whanau Ora to an outlier ministers pet project.While there is no doubt Wh?nau Ora could not have existed without Tarianas belief in it, it has verylong roots indeed (once you take into account its conceptual beginnings under He Korowai Oranga in the health sector well over a decade ago).

For another, ummmI thoughtoutcomes-focuswas integral to the design of the approach in the first place. Sir Mason Durie said as much back in 2010 at the time of the launch of theWh?nau Ora Taskforce Report.as the momentum was gathering for the programme and shortly before the establishment of the Minister for Whanau Ora. When asked on TVNZs Q&A what kind of accountability Wh?nau Ora would provide for,Sir Mason said:

Absolutely, youd expect that is theres a Whanau Ora practitioner, that if theyre dealing with a whanau, they should be able to demonstrate that the whanau is better off financially, better off socially, more social cohesion, and better off culturally, so that theyre broad areas I know, but theyre indicators within all of those areas that will be useful in measuring the outcome, so I think the accountability will be greater not less.

This intention has been borne out, for example, in the prevalent concern exhibited by Te Puni Kokiri fortracking Whanau Ora outcomesfor 333 whanau engaged in the programme by the end of June 2012.

So if accountability and outcomes are already integral to the Wanau Ora approach (debates about measurement and analysis aside for now), I wonder what the purpose of this intended review would really be. My suspicion is that it would be aimed at a well worn story in New Zealand politics across the political spectrum: pushback recovering a higher degree of Government control over Maori intitiatives, in this case over the functions and tasks that are now being carried out by the commissioning agencies.

And there is no doubt Whanau Ora is vulnerable topolitical winds of change. There is no legislation underpinning the policy, there islittlemention (last time I looked) of Whanau Ora in strategic documents outside of Te Puni Kokiris, The fulcrum of its existence is the Ministerial officeand little else. This minimalist approach seems to be deliberate for the reasons I mention before, that Whanau Ora might have a greater chance of success with less, not more, Government oversight.

In which case, Tarianas own words of unease yesterday (in a Maori Partypress releasecommenting on the observations made by a political panel at the launch of Te Pou Matakana) may have somefoundation:

Whanau Ora leaders also described their despair at the word review, given they have felt under the microscope every step of the way in the Whanau Ora journey while many other services appear to escape such scrutiny, said Mrs Turia. Rather than a review, it would so wonderful if political parties could instead reflect and learn from transformation of so many lives that is occurring through the means of Whanau Ora.

Perhaps future more detailed policy announcements from Labour might allay some anxiety that could be gathering pace about one of the legacies of the last ten years of the Maori Party.


BY MAMARI STEPHENS

Mamari Stephens is a Christchurch born and raised, Wellington-based writer and law lecturer whose marae (Wainui) is in Ahipara. Naturally. Typical post-urban migration confusion, then. She was lucky enough to find and marry Maynard Gilgen, and between them, they are raising three quite interesting tamariki, Te Rangihuia, Havelund and Jessica-Lee. Political views? Centre left, with tinges of conservatism. Usefulness? Can make a mean rewena. He uri ia no Te Rarawa (Ngati Moetonga, Te Rokeka) me Ngati Pakeha. No te Hahi Mihinare hoki.

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