Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

< Columns

The Crisis in Maori Society


In January when Chris Hipkins took over as Prime Minister he promised a policy reset. Everyone waited patiently, and when the announcement came, quite a few were prepared to think we really did have a new Labour government. Nanaia Mahuta's obsession with Three Waters was scaled back, she was stripped of the Local Government portfolio, demoted almost to the bottom of the Cabinet, and encouraged to stay off-shore as long as possible, tending to her Foreign Affairs portfolio. The Prime Minister promised to be clearer about the detail and the reasoning behind co-governance. Again, many believed that Hipkins was back-peddling on the hectic rush since the 2020 election to Maorify everything in sight from departmental titles, to geographical names, to road speed limits, to tried and tested methods of governance. There was an air of expectation.

However, we now know that that optimism was misplaced. Maorification continues and every aspect of the policy survives. Moreover, having demoted her, Hipkins reveals that he now feels he should have given more support to Mahuta as she advanced her tribal takeover schemes. On the Hui channel with that single-issue radical broadcaster, Julian Wilcox, the Prime Minister went out of his way to praise Mahuta, labelling her critics "racist". He sat there and endured some absurd utterances from Wilcox such as the broadcaster's assertion that Maori suffer "inequity of access to resources" in New Zealand. Hipkins didn't bat an eyelid. Fancy, nearly six years after your government came to office, not questioning such garbage! If he'd reflected for a moment, he would realise that per head of the population, Maori access more state resources than any other ethnicity. The Health system spends disproportionately more money trying to track down Maori for child vaccinations and every other intervention that could assist them to live healthier lives. Maori have no problem with access to health services that isn't experienced by everyone else. It's just that too many Maori families care so little about their children that they fail to take them to services even when they are available in their neighborhoods. Same with Education. Any school will tell you that the services they provide are readily available to Maori. Access to education is racially blind. But too many Maori parents are feckless and don't make sure their children go to school. In some areas as few as 37% of Maori children get to school. Too many of them leave home then drift off with junior gang affiliates, stealing cars and ram-raiding stores. When it comes to housing, there have also been special efforts made for Maori over many years. Today, many a successful Maori adult grew up in a Maori Affairs home or a state house. Any eligible person can access the state's services. It just involves getting off one's bum. However, Hipkins didn't bat an eyelid as his foolish interviewer prattled on. Instead, the Prime Minister promised more and more unspecified assistance for Maori.

This Labour government would probably find the public more tolerant of its Maorification policies if there was evidence that ministers were facing up to the REAL problems existing within Maori society. Maori are sexually more careless than other ethnicities: nearly 80% of Maori children are born to women who are not in long-term stable relationships. Boys grow up without fathers as role models. In too many cases no one points out to them the benefits of getting an education. Having the government take a key role in family planning advice to young Maori women is therefore essential. But by itself, it won't work. Carmel Sepuloni's incentives point in the opposite direction. Remember the young Maori lass who a few years ago blurted out "My sister's had a pay rise: she's had another baby"? The ready availability of welfare is too attractive an option for young Maori women. Until such time as the former strict limits on the number of benefits per woman are reintroduced the underclass will keep on expanding.

Today, of those on so-called Job Seeker Benefits, more than 50% are Maori, yet they are only 17% of the population. And there is precious little evidence they are "seeking jobs". If they were, fruit lying on the ground as a result of Cyclone Gabrielle would have been collected by now. So far, the only answer that Minister Sepuloni has come up with is to pay "job seekers" more in benefits. Moreover, she removed the decades-long requirement for mothers to name the fathers of their children so they can be made to pay towards their child's sustenance. Nothing is going to improve until all people understand that they have some responsibility for the offspring they beget.

Chinese New Zealanders, Indians, even Pacific Islanders with traditionally overlarge families, and other newer immigrants, manage to benefit from the services made available to them on the same basis as to Maori. Why? All of them value family responsibility more than Maori appear to do. As things stand now, those other ethnicities can't understand Maori demands for special treatment. What those others also notice is that the more the government does for Maori, the more that Maori bite the hand that feeds them. The people the Police deal with every day are three times more likely to be Maori than non-Maori.

The idea that society will improve if more cash is poured over Maori obviously isn't working, and hasn't ever since the Domestic Purposes Benefit was introduced in 1974. Labour's out-of-date answers to today's problems are having the opposite effect to that intended. If Hipkins could empanel a group of experienced Maori along with a few other ethnicities to come up with proposals for streamlining access to welfare, while examining why so many current policies are failing Maori, there could be some cautious optimism. But first of all, Hipkins needs to acknowledge there is a problem that current policies are only making worse. The news that he has nothing new to offer is depressing in the extreme.