Toward removing predatory lending from our futures

debt

As the cost of living increases across the country, many working whānau struggle to make ends meet. Many whānau turn to predatory lenders with obscene interest rates just to meet their basic needs. In an age of policymaking geared toward wellbeing, there is an opportunity to explore new ways to address the financial stress experienced by many whānau who fear not knowing how they will be able to put food on the table or pay the rent or bills, without entering into a vicious cycle of debt.

Microfinancing has come up over the past few years as one policy route to support low-income whānau to escape the debt trap. In short, microfinancing is about offering small (usually under $5000) no interest or low interest loan solutions to people in need. These loans are usually offered as a means of improving wellbeing. We’ve seen success in initiatives such as Ngā Tangata Microfinance Trust (NTMT), a pan-charity trust that provides small, zero interest, no fee loans for asset purchases and debt relief for qualifying low-income applicants. Kiwibank provides the capital for these small loans and helped set up NTMT’s microfinance services. While public-private partnerships are one way of providing microfinance to whānau, I am interested in how a state owned microfinance service might work. However, before I delve deeper, I’ll provide a little context about what got me thinking about this kaupapa.

This morning, I was looking for vacuum cleaner parts. I was searching one retailer’s website and came across OxipayTM, a payment plan that allows you to make four fortnightly instalments but you get your product upfront. This wasn’t the first time I’d come across one of these payment plans. The other week, I was looking for work clothes and the retailer had a similar plan with AfterpayTM.

I briefly looked into these products to see if there were any hidden snags. They were relatively straightforward, but it would pay to look into them before you choose to use them. The products operate as follows:

  1. You select the option at checkout and sign up
  2. The finance company pays the retailer on your behalf (if the value is $1500 or less)
  3. You make repayments to the finance company
  4. You make the first repayment upfront at the time of your purchase
  5. You pay the next three next instalments fortnightly thereafter
  6. You can pay before the due date. If you don’t pay before, then the company will direct debit from your account on the due date

There is no interest but you need to pay on or before payment is due or have the money in your account on the due date otherwise you might be penalised with late fees. These weren’t too onerous, a $10 late fee and further fees if it remained unpaid for more than 7 days. However, there is always the risk that if you remain in arrears your account may be passed on to collections where you will likely attract additional penalties and fees. You will likely also harm your credit rating, making it difficult for you to access these (and other) services in future.

For me, these kinds of plans seem ideal as I could get the item/s immediately while servicing the payments in line with my pay cycle. But regardless of my purchasing behaviour (boring!), I found the model useful for thinking about how microfinancing could work to support all New Zealanders who find themselves in challenging financial circumstances, to sidestep the high interest quick cash short term schemes that can spiral out of control and exacerbate an already stressful situation.

Many whānau – from a range of backgrounds, are currently seeking out predatory lenders to help them with basics like rent, groceries, vehicle maintenance and school uniforms. Not because they can’t manage their money, but because they simply do not have the money to cover those costs upfront i.e. necessary expenditure exceeds income. Like many people, I want to live in a society where people can continue to meet their needs in tough times (and yes, in an ideal society, no one would experience tough times, but that is not the reality of now) which is why I consider that state owned microfinancing services might make sense.

The idea of state owned financing will cause a visceral reaction in some quarters and targeting toward low-income groups (the group microfinance is typically intended to support) will make the hairs on the necks of some stand on edge. But for reasons other than just making it more palatable, I’m in favour of expanding microfinancing by universalising it in recognition that we all need a little bit of help sometimes, and that we all need access to services that help us get through those difficult periods without the traps and snags of private (particularly predatory) lending companies. These are our economic realities, and failing a total economic revolution, this isn’t going to change anytime soon so we will need sticky plasters while we work on structural and systemic change.

What should be included in the design of such a service?

Empathy, needs to be at the heart of any microfinance service to acknowledge we all need a bit of help every now and then and in my view instalment repayment plans work in this sense by making borrowing and paying back less stressful for people fearful of how they will meet the needs of their whānau – whether as a persistent issue, or as a one-off.

We would need a user-friendly model that makes access to finance a simple and non-bureaucratic process. The technology for that already exists as companies like Oxipay and AfterPay have shown. We also have a ready-made account system through RealMe and we know that financing through a state owned institution is possible. Studylink is a clear example, as is the partnership between NTMT and Kiwibank.

There will always be risks around rorting the system, and these are clearly the kinds of hooks that would need to be worked through. But note, deductions on incomes and bank accounts already take place when dealing with fines or reparations, and tax codes could be another way of repaying loans as is done with student loans. Surely it couldn’t be that difficult to ring fence tax collected for microfinancing repayments.

I should note, while I support universalising availability, I remain of the view that repayments must cater to the needs of the borrower. Service design would need to be careful not to penalise our most vulnerable whānau by making provision for extended instalment plans and fee waivers, so that those at the lower income end can repay at a rate that does not trap them in a borrow-repay cycle.

I suppose my thinking is that task just does not seem that impossible or unpalatable when we are talking about small loans, repaid regularly, to improve the wellbeing of whānau and the overall hauora of our society. If we want to eradicate predatory lending, then we need alternatives that make their core business obsolete and this is one possible route.

 

 

Endnote: 

If you or someone you know is in need of microfinance, contact the entities listed below to see if you are eligible for assistance. 

From Sorted:

Microfinance providers in New Zealand

 

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Knowledge Journey 2018

Part 1 (January)

For the past few years, I considered applying to do a PhD. Platforming off my masters, I would still want to focus on international trade, political economy, food, and Indigenous Peoples but I am still not quite there on my angle. This year, I have decided to undertake some personal research for two reasons, to:

  1. help shape my angle
  2. build depth of knowledge

One of the things I’ve noticed since finishing my masters, is the superficial level of knowledge I developed over a broad range of kaupapa, rather than the depth I enjoyed during study. Part of that is not reading as much as I used too – or not reading the right kinds of things. The other part is spreading my brain over too many things, rather than being focused. To increase my knowledge depth, I developed a bit of a framework on how I will target my research:

  1. Climate change as the lens.
  2. Local, National, Global as the levels.
  3. Māori as the audience.

I’m still exploring what issues I will focus on, but these are some things that spark my interests:

  • Participation (from the affordability angle)
  • Adaptation to climate change for the urban poor
  • Re-imagining a Māori economy (moving away from growth to thriving)
  • Performative wokeness

A quirk to my research will be shifting from a development to advancement narrative. I recall a discussion thread from 2014. One of the participants had advocated for advancement over development. I was indifferent at that point. I was part way through my masters and was comfortable with the term development, as I didn’t see the two phrases as having any major differences in intention. Additionally, I’d been exploring Amartya Sen’s work and was comfortable with the notion that development was about increasing choices to expand freedoms.

I’m still fine with the term development, especially Sen’s work, but I have developed a personal preference for the term advancement e.g. Māori advancement, economic advancement and so on. I do appreciate that there is risk in the term, since colonisers have long referred to Indigenous Peoples as “less advanced” and that using advancement could be seen as entrenching those notions. That is, that the imperative of advancement is movement toward whiteness. However, I don’t see development as being any less problematic since it is also prone to the same argument.

When I think about development, and how it is conceived at a practical level, the signifier of development seems to be growth, and more specifically economic growth. If economic growth is the practical imperative, then advancement becomes something quite different from development. For me, advancement brings to mind the idea of propelling forward, regardless of whether the imperative is growth or some other measure. It provides space to tell a story about non-linear journeys that cross-sect and intersect contemporaneously or asynchronously.

Hoping to have a brief summary literature review and an outline ready by the end of March, although that is approaching at a rapid pace…I’m likely to be far more piecemeal and will likely end up doing short lit reviews threads on twitter.

 

Participation…it costs

Returning to your tribal rohe, participating in hui, actively contributing to marae projects and so on, is prohibitive for many Māori. Not just from a cultural disconnection perspective, but from an affordability one. The cultural component is complex, and not the focus of this brief discussion. Here, I am interested in how we might reframe discussion on Universal Basic Income (UBI) to articulate the benefits of it – or a similar concept, through a Māori advancement lens. As I see it, if we want to increase participation – whether it be cultural, social, or civic – we need to make participation affordable.

During Election 2017, I spoke to Oliver Chan at Impolitikal (in brief) about the prohibitive nature of our democracy in Aotearoa in terms of affordability. People without savings, or access to regular income, or whom simply could not afford to take time off work, or indeed all of the above, would struggle to run as a political candidate, limiting the range of political representation.

The same is true for many who wish to participate in their hapū, iwi and marae forums. However, there might be a solution, or at least an opportunity to explore a solution in the form of a UBI. Maybe it needs a different name but the name isn’t important right now.

A few years back, I wrote about UBI but I’ve been pretty absent in the discussion for a while. You can read my earlier thinking here.

For the most part, those who advocate for the implementation of a UBI cite economic arguments. Those arguments are important and valuable, but so too are arguments from a cultural perspective. I’m not saying there is a tikanga to be applied here. Rather, that there is value – and arguably, a justification under Article 3 of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, to provide a guaranteed income to Māori to support their right to participate in cultural-political forums that are relevant to their rights and interests. A similar argument could be made to support all marginalised and minority groups.

Some base data to set the scene…

Around 25 percent of the Māori population lives in Auckland, so I’m going to focus on that data to get a sense of the affordability angle of the participation story. Note this discussion is intended as more of an iterative activity, rather than a fully unpacked argument.

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This data is drawn from Census 2013, IMSB, and Auckland Council 

* Māori living away from their tribal rohe

 A glance at the affordability side of the participation story…

Since the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Māori population has shrunk and dispersed, with almost 80 percent of Māori living away from their whenua tupuna, and comprising only around 14 percent of the total population in Aotearoa. That geographic distance and the economic conditions that failed Māori over the past 30+ years eroded the participatory ability of many Māori who found themselves confined to new urban centres, with fragile connections to their past.

Today, whānau trusts, marae, hapū and iwi all struggle to get member/whānau participation and that lack of participation creates tensions around decision-making, and can lead to internal divides within and between whānau and the wider rōpu. An unfortunate effect is the disengagement that follows and the further alienation of those already geographically and socially disconnected from their cultural roots.

Given the youth of our population and the shrinking older generation, participation would better support the transfer of knowledge between generations to protect and preserve our histories for future generations. This transfer often takes place on the marae and through connecting to urupā where our ancestors lay. Going back to our tribal rohe is vital for the future proofing our cultural infrastructure and would support revitalisation efforts of te reo me ōna tikanga.

The numbers above, tell us that the median income for Māori (~$410 net excluding student loan and kiwisaver deductions) is less than the median rent per week for a home in Auckland ($528 pw). It is also around $4,000 less than Pākehā (median income of $29,600).  It also tells us, that while 82 percent of Māori living in Auckland have iwi affiliations, 63 percent of those people affiliate to tribes outside the Auckland region. With the rising cost of living, persistent intergenerational poverty and the disparity of income between Māori and non-Māori, it is understandable why those living in the largest urban centre (and of course, those in other areas) in Aotearoa, might struggle to take an active participatory role in the governance and decision-making processes of their whānau, hapū and iwi entities.

The Māori participation rate in the general election (Tamaki Makaurau seat) at only 59.2 percent of Māori enrolled to vote turning out reveals the chasm between Māori and non-Māori values around engaging in democratic processes. Arguably, increasing participating in our own forums could increase participation in those broader processes as we begin to grow our understanding of how to make mainstream processes work for us.

A view toward a guaranteed income to participate…

Providing a UBI type payment or some kind of guaranteed income to support participation could have significant benefits for Māori advancement. If more Māori are able to participate in their whānau, hapū and iwi governance structures, then we can start to transform our cultural infrastructure for future generations – not just for Māori but for all people who call Aotearoa home.  There is the question of what it would cost, how we would implement it, and who would be accountable for outcomes. That needs much more investigation, but I would offer the following as possible advantages, as a reason for at least starting the discussion:

  1. Restoring and strengthening our connections to our whānau and whakapapa
  2. Preserving mātauranga through transmission of knowledge within and between generations
  3. Better information and access to decision making which could minimise disputes, and long drawn out processes and encourage kōtahitanga
  4. Revitalising Te Reo me ōna tikanga by enabling more urban Māori to socialise our language and customs in new domains as our confidence grows

People often have to make decisions based on competing priorities, and for many whānau, the choice will understandably be first and foremost to meet their basic needs. Of course, technology plays a huge role in supporting new ways to participate despite geographic location, however, for Māori and particularly those wanting to reconnect, or establish lost connections – kanohi ki te kanohi on the whenua is fundamental to that journey.

Affordability affects the extent to which people can participate in their own cultural institutions. We have laws that protect our rights to participate in our democratic elections  – as candidates and voters, and while these laws apply to Māori, there is no law that supports Māori participation in our own political and cultural institutions as the Treaty partner (and no, the Māori seats do not make the difference I am talking about. They are about electing Māori representation into a non-Māori institution).

Endnotes:

  • In pre-emption of the predictable “you’re just a [griever, trougher, other offensive label]” arguments of the Hobsons Pledge variety: I’m not here for your approval or validation.
  • I am currently undertaking a personal research project. Part of that process, is obviously identifying the issues I want to focus on for that. It is possible, that participation (from the affordability angle) and a guaranteed participation income is something I will pursue further.

2017: The year I ran for Parliament

A candidate’s brief self-reflection

There are multiple ways to transform outcomes for Māori. One of those is through political activity, such as seeking to become a Member of Parliament. Earlier this year, I chose that route to follow and ran in the notoriously blue seat of Pakuranga for the Māori Party.

While I remained positive about possibilities given an incumbent of more than 30 years had vacated the seat, I was always realistic about probabilities since a non-National candidate had only ever held the seat once. Additionally, I was a minor party candidate, standing for a party many in the electorate viewed as separatist or exclusively for Māori.

I was curious in this high stakes election whether the community would vote by party preference, or if they would split their votes to improve the chances of National forming the next government by having partnership options. But as expected, the electorate overwhelmingly voted two ticks blue. There was very little vote splitting and National increased its vote share.

I’ll admit my result was crushing and I’m not ashamed or embarrassed about that. The experience was incredibly enriching and educational. I learned things about our community and the diversity of thought and culture that lives in our electorate. I learned about voting behaviours and sadly but unsurprisingly about inherent bias and negative attitudes.

I am proud of my record in holding my own among current and former Ministers and experienced MPs in debates, panels and televised appearances. I smashed my anxiety around public speaking, and fulfilled a goal I had set myself at the start of 2017: to demonstrate the value of introverted leadership. I wanted to show that quiet people have loud minds and strong voices. Moreover, that substance, compassion and rigour outweigh planned lines, repeated spin and the show ponyism too often displayed.

It was eye opening but not off putting. I’m not going to speculate or pontificate about what I think the party should do or provide reflection on what it didn’t do but could have, or what it did do and shouldn’t have and so on. It has an AGM coming up in the New Year, and many committed, experienced, compassionate people and fresh innovative thinkers to take on that mahi to restore and reclaim its place in Parliament.

But for now, I have formally hung up my membership to the Māori Party to focus on transforming outcomes for Māori through my mahi. To grow my kete mātauranga and use the skills I learned on this journey to provide an influential voice for Māori in multiple domains unencumbered by political affiliation. As one chapter ends, a new one begins and it feels strangely liberating.

 

It’s looking like a rewind not a reset

A critical reflection from a Māori Party candidate and member perspective.

It looks messy. It looks disorganised. And it looks like a power grab from behind the gate. As the membership mentally prepared for the next phase of the rebuild following the announcement by Māori Party President Tuku Morgan that he would stand down from his role at the beginning of the Hui Taumata, disquiet apparently emerged in some quarters. Interests in the role of President were widely known among active members. So I have to disagree with Party Co-Leader Marama Fox, who reportedly told the NZH that ‘the membership asked him [Tuku] to stay on for the sake of continuity’. There was no vote.  However, one might say process is a word more closely related to McDonalds meats than to what ultimately transpired at the Hui Taumata.

My criticism is not personal. I genuinely believe that for the party to rebuild, we need an Executive reset, not a rewind. This is a hard post for me to write. I am privileged to have had close working relationships with the Executive team prior to and during the election period. The dedication, hours, and heart they all committed and continue to commit to the kaupapa is incredibly admirable. I have a great deal of respect for all involved – at that level it is high pressure and involves navigating many complex relationships. However, until we accept that we are broken as a collective we will not progress. Fragmentation is rife with electorates throughout the country fighting their own internal battles. Unfortunately, the Party looks a lot like Labour looked in 2014 and in fact, up until Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern took the helm.

It’s worth noting here, that it would be naive to believe that the Party can duplicate Labour’s fortune and pull a personality out of a hat 8 weeks out from Election 2020 to deliver us a hyper-saviour moment gifting us re-entry into parliament. But in all fairness, it’s not all gloom. There is a mood for rebuilding and many hands on deck to do the mahi.  But the darkness matters. Ignoring it risks retreating into a political fantasy that enables the timeless looping of strategic and tactical errors.

I arrived at the Hui Taumata with quiet excitement. That was short lived. Within the first hour it transpired that only the leadership were allowed to talk to media and attendees were not to livestream or post on social media. Our Facebook and Twitter accounts effectively lost their right to be social for the duration of the hui. I felt silenced and cut off from igniting friends and followers.  Criticism and disagreement frowned upon as anti-party rhetoric or as an unconstructive barrier to progress. A suffocation one would expect in an autocratic society and not within an indigenous movement meant to carry our aspirations as an independent voice of our people.

Not everyone disagreed with the social media blackout. Some felt those who wanted to be involved ought to have made arrangements to be present. Others recognised that the registration fee was prohibitive for many whānau – particularly those required to travel from outside the region.

Creeping ageism and sexism were also sadly not off the agenda. It was ironic really. The number of disparaging references made about a supposedly inexperienced young 37-year-old woman landing the top job on the one hand, while lauding the young wahine talent running this election (who  also, as it happened, ended up on the arse end of the list) and the need to capture the rangatahi vote in future, on the other

For clarity, I am upset that the Māori Party is not in parliament. Tā Pita Sharples is one of my absolute heroes, and it is for his work and legacy and the whānau who remain committed to the kaupapa of the Party that I feel the most regret in the Party’s untimely exit.

But in my mind, the tough question we need to honestly answer is:  did we collectively do enough to deserve re-election for another term? Because between snickering and finger pointing few were willing to own or accept the Party’s blatant shortcomings. I appreciate that many variables made the Party’s task of re-election more challenging this time around and plenty of people have attempted to cover those variables since the election. But before the rebuild can begin, the Party must address that assumption: that it deserved to return to parliament this election.

The Party cannot just look back as many are suggesting. It must look past the table, and we must all re-learn to listen with our hearts. I know some people will be unhappy (potentially scathingly so) with my public purging but as a collective the Party must accept that people did not lose faith in themselves to be the leaders of their destiny. They did not lose faith in their identities. They lost confidence in the Party as a trustworthy vehicle to carry their aspirations. It’s time to regain that trust. That starts with ownership.

Book Release – The Interregnum: Rethinking New Zealand

BWB7760_Text_Cover_The Interregum_HighRes_0

Kia ora e te kaupapa whānau,

It’s been a while. Aroha mai for that. I can’t say that I’m back writing here on a regular basis, but maybe. It all depends on time. However, I want to pānui out the release of Morgan Godfery (ed.) The Interregnum: Rethinking New Zealand (2016, BWB Books:Wellington).

From the BWB website, here is a teaser:

Is New Zealand’s political settlement beginning to fray? And does this mean we’re entering the interregnum, that ambiguous moment between society-wide discontent and political change? In BWB’s latest book of essays, edited by Morgan Godfery, ten of New Zealand’s sharpest emerging thinkers gather to debate the ‘morbid symptoms’ of the current moment, from precarious work to climate change, and to discuss what shape change might take, from ‘the politics of love’ to postcapitalism.

The Interregnum interrogates the future from the perspective of the generation who will shape it.

I have contributed a chapter on Kaupapa Māori Politics. I’m totally open to discussing (debating!) it, so if you do buy the book, and then want to have a mutually respectful kōrero with me about my chapter, please do comment here.

 

Ngā mihi nui ki a koe.

Internalising our oppression

Since I began blogging around three years ago, my exposure to different Māori forums has expanded significantly. This is my last post for Ellipsister so I considered it timely to round out my experience with a post on internalised oppression by looking at three currently controversial issues: the marginalisation of the Te Paati Māori and the call for a merger with the MANA Movement, and the allegations of editorial interference at Māori Television.

Internalised oppression occurs when a minority or marginalised group ‘consciously or unconsciously perpetuate, collude with, and contribute to the oppression they experience’ [Understanding Internalized Oppression: A Theoretical Conceptualization of Internalized Subordination at 78].

For Māori, internalised oppression is reflected in the way we antagonise and Other our own.* For example, it might be demonstrated where reo speaking Māori use their command of te reo to belittle their non-reo speaking counterparts, or where the colour of ones skin or the quantum of blood becomes the test by which ones ‘Māori-ness’ is measured. In Māori politics, this might be demonstrated through the active denial of Māori claims to representation, or where a party is denied the right to identify as ‘Māori’ and is instead forced to be identified within the left-right dichotomy.  

The late Gloria Anzaldúa (indigenous scholar) wrote of internalised oppression that:

One of the reasons for this hostility among us is the forced cultural penetration, the rape of the colored by the white, with the colonizers depositing their perspective, their language, their values in our bodies. External oppression is paralleled with our internalization of the oppression, and our acting out from the oppression. They have us doing within our own ranks what they have done and continue doing to us – Othering people. That is, isolating them, pushing them out of the herd, ostracizing them. The internalization of negative images of ourselves, our self-hatred, poor self-esteem, makes our own people the Other [Anzaldua, (2009) at 112].

She argues, it is ‘exactly our internalized whiteness that desperately wants boundary lines marked out’ and she explains ‘like fighting cocks, razor blades strapped to our fingers, we slash out at each other. We have turned our anger against ourselves. And our anger is immense’ [Anzaldua (2009) at 112-113].

So when we hear terms like “Māori Aristocracy”, “Brown Bureaucracy”, “Race Traitors”, “Māori Elite”, “Māori Conservatism” and the like – these are white concepts thrust upon Māori identity. They are some of the more prevalent ways in which we express our internalised oppression. When they are thrust on us by Pākehā, they are simply oppressive words used to demonise and divide – they undermine kotahitanga to serve a white a purpose.

I imagine there are some readers thinking ‘well, that’s not me, I definitely don’t do that’.  Arohamai, but it is. It is all of us. And our denial does our struggle a great disservice. Kotahitanga will only arise when we all acknowledge our own complicity in undermining our struggle: our internalised oppression. 

The marginalisation of the Māori Party

It is an indisputable fact that the Māori Party is the only party in Aotearoa New Zealand whose representatives are all Māori and whose political philosophy is grounded in kaupapa and tikanga Māori. Yet, as a micro party representing an indigenous minority it remains one of the most ridiculed, contested, and criticised parties inside Parliament.

I ask readers to reflect on this hypothetical for a moment:

If in Australia or Canada for example, a First Nations party were subjected to the ongoing attacks on integrity and legitimacy from Canadian parties founded on western ideologies, would you find that acceptable?  If not, why then should the Māori Party not be extended the same support you would extend to another First Nations roopu?

Here in Aotearoa disparaging the Māori Party is not only not frowned upon it is actively encouraged across the political spectrum, which is something (I personally) find incredibly disturbing and disheartening.

I am not suggesting here that the Māori Party are the only party that represent Māori. Or that they are imune from criticism. I am arguing that they are the only existing party founded on kaupapa and tikanga Māori and whose primary philosophy is by, for and with Māori with subsequent benefits accruing to Pakeha and tauiwi as a corollary of the liberation of Māori.  The language used to discredit our only indigenous party, is at odds with our quest for mana motuhake and tino rangatiratanga and we should be clear about the role of internalised oppression in this regard.

The proposed merger

Recently, two Māori Party members met with a couple of MANA members to informally discuss the possibility of a merger between the parties. It was a move that had not been sanctioned at either the electorate or the national level of the Māori Party. Nonetheless, it was publicised on the MANA news website but has been met with mixed responses from both roopu.

The mixed responses appear to derive from what are conceivably irreconcilable differences. Harawira did afterall, walk from the Māori Party to start a new party integrated with unionism and the Marxist organisation Socialist Aotearoa. The Māori Party while sympathetic to many of the policy components of the MANA movement see self-determination and not the State as the solution to Māori liberation. Yet, since Harawira’s departure, Māori Party leaders and representatives have all been criticised for splitting the Māori vote.

Strip away the politicking, and the fact is that the Māori vote has always been split. Under the First Past the Post (FPP) system it was predominantly split between the Labour Party and the National Party. Yet, few political commentators acknowledge the Māori connection to right wing politics, such as Sir Apirana Ngata, who was Minister of Māori Affairs under the Liberal Party – the National Party’s predecessor. Overlooking the long line of support for National within Māori communities ignores a respectful proportion of Māori voters. I’ll admit that I was unaware of the extent of Māori support for the National Party until relatively recently. More precedence has of course been given to the Labour Party roots within Māoridom. Not because their policy has necessarily been beneficial to Māori, but because of the historical support by rangatira such as Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana who had immense influence in Māori communities and that support for Labour has been largely inherited.

The introduction of the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system, brought with it an opportunity for Māori to carve out their own path – whether that be as part of a mainstream party, or as an independent party.  But something else happened instead, MMP cultivated our internalised oppression and has steered us down the sinister path of our own marginalisation. This doesn’t have to continue, but it will take conscious action to overcome the problem.

We should remember that capitalism and socialism are western ideologies. These ideologies while many of us may subscribe to them in some part are not kaupapa Māori. They may arguably complement our kaupapa and our tikanga, but they should never be seen as superior to or as a replacement of it.  We should never feel ashamed to say our kaupapa will liberate us. We should certainly not think that only socialism or capitalism will liberate our indigenous lives.

I don’t know that there can ever be a pan-Māori party and I  don’t think simply merging Māori and MANA will bring about the kotahitanga tangata whenua are crying out for given the philosophies of each roopu have points of clear divergence. I don’t have answers, but I will spend the next few years thinking, reflecting and trying to understand how Māori can optimise MMP to our advantage. I also think at least part of the solution will be the approach of our media organisations to Māori issues.

Editorial interference at Māori Television

For the past year, there have been many allegations from within MTS of both editorial and political interference by Māori leaders. In particular, with regard to the award winning Native Affairs programme. I have been a regular watcher, supporter and tweeter of Native Affairs since around the 2011 Election. The investigative work carried out by the very talented journalists, venturing into topics shunned by other media outlets and the accessibility of the show to non-reo speaking Māori with a strong wahine presence has been incredibly inspirational. One of their most controversial stories the investigation into allegations of financial mismanagement by some in the National Kōhanga Reo Trust (TKRNT). But their work has not been without criticism.

For instance, Ross Nepia Himona, author of Te Pututara suggests that the investigation by Native Affairs was informed by a small group within the Kōhanga Reo movement attempting to ‘subvert the governance of TKRNT because they were aggrieved by a legitimate staffing decision. The expose alleging financial impropriety was a means to a political end and not the main story at all’. However,  in contrast, Graham Cameron has written that Māori leaders are conspiring to end Native Affairs, and that the programme ‘have another Te Kōhanga Reo story, a continuation of their investigation; interviewing none other than Toni Waho, an ex-Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust trustee’.

Whatever your views on the TKRNT investigation, or whether or not you accept the allegations of editorial interference, I do think Himona’s analysis raises an important issue – as a programme and service tasked with critique it must also be open to critique of its own practices. Just as there have been concerns raised about appointments and interference, equally so there have been concerns about journalistic practices aligning with the adversarialism and sensationalism of western journalism.

Internalised oppression operates in all spheres of Māori life – society, culture, media, politics, religion and so on. I’m not suggesting we dont hold our leaders and orgnaisations to account. I do however think there are times where we go beyond that remit and venture into territory that instead tears their integrity to shreds. We forget our first principles as Māori. We turn on each other. We take on the colonisers face.

Kia mau tonu ki nga kupu o ō tātou tīpuna, Nāku me ngā mihi.

*Note, this is the perspective of one indigenous woman’s voice – it is not and does not profess to speak on behalf of all peoples identifying as Māori. 

Media Microaggressions: Iwi & Social Housing

Haami Piripi argued on The Nation that State houses have zero market value and as such the starting point for negotiations around price for the release of those houses for the Iwi Leaders Group was zero. This was in light of the fact that ongoing investment is required to meet the housing needs of social housing tenants. This immediately prompted the claim by The Nation’s Lisa Owen that “iwi want State houses for free” and the corollary “this is unfair to the tax payer”.

As Piripi explained, housing is the single most determinant factor in child poverty. Overcrowding and substandard housing disproportionately affects whānau Māori. To reiterate, Piripi suggested that these houses have no market value because they are coupled with an ongoing cost that is usually the responsibility of the State. Therefore a straight transfer is an investment since Iwi are willing to pick up the costs of that social responsibility by investing their own resources. Additionally, Piripi argued that zero market value was the starting point – he did not say that the iwi collective were unwilling to negotiate a fair price. Yet, consider the number of times that Lisa Owen stressed the soundbite that iwi want State houses for free:

  • Iwi wants the houses for free?
  • Free?
  • Why do you think zero free houses is the right price?
  • So do you think giving them away for free is fair value to the taxpayer?
  • Wouldn’t they have to offer the houses to them for free as well, or do you think that this is a deal that should just apply to iwi?
  • So does the Government know you want these houses for free?
  • So you want a blanket deal negotiated for all iwi across the country to get these houses for free?

This inevitably led to the initial propagation of this contrived message in subsequent headlines of major publications:

Although it’s rather cliché to appeal to Orwellian dialogue these days, these messages emphasise the suggestion that if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes truth.

One problem with this kind of framing is that it plays into the decades long stiffing of advancement for Māori – that our people are just in the business of wanting ‘something for nothing’. Nevermind that a large proportion of Crown land was acquired through raupatu (confiscation), and that Māori land continues to be taken for public works. And that intergenerational inequity experienced by whānau Māori is the result of historic injustices perpetuated by the Crown.

So while I’m appalled that media still want to attack Māori initiatives, I’m not particularly surprised. I’m not convinced this was a conscious act, but perhaps evidence of entrenched media micro-aggressions. Afterall, feeding racial disquiet is a proven formula for increasing ratings. But this type of storytelling isn’t a scoop. It’s a gouge. It’s the hollowing out of truth to prevent the real message: Iwi Māori being proactive in their approach to relieve the intergenerational inequity that disproportionately affects whānau Māori.

The reiteration of the distorted message also frames Iwi Māori as enemies of ‘hardworking New Zealander’s’, all the while downplaying that the Iwi collective express a desire and commitment to invest iwi resources into their social housing initiatives to improve the lives of Māori and carry the ongoing costs of that social housing responsibility. This is a crucial point to emphasise in an economy supported by the State, and that is geared toward producing inequity.

Lamia Imam sums up the reality well in her tweet:

Decentralisation is consistent with mana motuhake. Māori reclaiming control over our own lives should be supported not thwarted by media, or anyone else for that matter.

Collective Efforts

In his recent post, Too quick to take the credit? Morgan Godfery argues that it was a “crass” move by the Māori Party to put out a statement taking credit for the $790 million hardship package included in this years Budget. His key argument was that there were others who shifted political thinking such as Matua Hone Harawira with his Feed the Kids Bill and various advocacy groups, and as such that credit lies with those people not the Māori Party. It’s not that I don’t think others have been strong advocates on poverty. I absolutely do and of course agree they all deserve credit for their advocacy. But I think it’s unfair to discount the efforts of Dr Pita Sharples and Dame Tariana Turia and the continued efforts of Matua Te Ururoa Flavell and Whaea Marama Fox, as well as the party’s previous MP’s, parliamentary staff and members and supporters who have advanced the issue of poverty within the party and in their respective communities for the past decade.

Godfery writes that:

[C]laiming the credit for forcing the government to act seems a little, well, crass. Much of the credit belongs to Hone Harawira. It was Hone who did more than anyone else to help put child poverty on the Parliamentary agenda with his Feed the Kids campaign

Firstly, if you have had an opportunity to listen to Flavell’s Budget Speech, you will note that he said the Māori Party pulled it over the line…with a little help from National. After all, no Budget measures can take effect unless the government agree to it. The Māori Party have been strong advocates for poverty since entering Parliament, and the evidence is readily available in their policy manifesto’s. [Discussed further below].

Secondly, I completely agree that Harawira has been an outstanding advocate on issues of poverty and social justice. He certainly put child poverty on the media agenda but the claim he put it on the parliamentary agenda is bold. It’s worth noting that despite his advocacy in the media, Harawira had 2 years to put his Feed the Kids Bill before the house, yet withdrew and delayed on numerous occasions. It was only put forth following the 2014 Election, by NZ Greens Co-Leader Metiria Turei. Also note, the Māori Party voted in favour of that bill.

I also wholeheartedly agree that Campbell Live, Action Station, Child Poverty Action Group, and Auckland Action Against Poverty among other groups have been at the forefront of many community led initiatives to get the government to address poverty in Aotearoa. That doesn’t mean in order to recognise their strong advocacy that we need devolve into adversarialism. To allege misattribution by the Māori Party and essentially accuse them of riding on the coattails of the work of others is itself a misplaced attribution. The collective efforts and the varying roles each of the organisations have in policy development were not dismissed by the Māori Party. But in my view, they have every reason to say we pulled it over the line, since it is the Māori Party who through their relationship accord were able to directly influence that budget decision and absolutely the public pressure from these groups played a vital role in the Māori Party being able to secure that funding for poverty.

Action Station have expressed their tautoko of the Party in the fight against poverty:

And have acknowledged Fox for receiving the Action Station petition at Parliament on 20 May 2015.

On the above it is only fair then that we also take a brief look at the Party’s history of poverty advocacy.

In 2008, the Māori Party entered their first relationship accord with the National Party. At that time, Harawira was an elected MP for the Māori Party under the leadership of Turia and Sharples. The 2008 Policy programme that the Māori Party campaigned on included Ending Child Poverty by 2020. Part of that policy programme included:

  • Rais[ing] core benefit levels
  • Establishing an Every Child Matters fund
  • Investigating the reintroduction of a Universal Child Benefit

In 2011, the Māori Party entered a second relationship accord. At this time Harawira had left and formed his own Mana Party. The 2011 Confidence and Supply Agreement included:

  1. Supporting the ongoing implementation of Whānau Ora
  2. Establishing a Ministerial Committee on Poverty
  3. Urgently addressing the effects of poverty through health and home initiatives

See also: 2011 Maori Party policy package.

In 2014, addressing the effects of poverty was weaved through critical areas of the Party’s policy platform: Whānau Ora, Health, Education, Economic Development, Homes, Family Violence, Enabling Good Lives and so on. The goals stated were to build on the objectives and the progress made since 2008.

For the Party to be reproached for being proud of their contributions, that is, seeing the materialisation of the work their MP’s and the kaimahi behind the scenes have put in to the relationship accord over the past 7 years, is awfully undermining of their efforts.

I do agree with Godfery where he states:

Improving even one life is a positive step, but we can’t claim success until we begin changing the system which reproduces Maori disadvantage generation after generation. Budget gains may help stop the slide, but they won’t reverse it.

However, to my knowledge the Party haven’t claimed success on the “reversal” of poverty – they’ve indicated that the budget gains are a start to improving the lives of our most vulnerable whānau.

The Budget and the Benefit

In the 2015 Budget the Māori Party negotiated and secured around $1 billion worth of funding directed toward Māori initiatives and the countries most vulnerable whānau.  The most significant gain being the increase in the core benefit rate of $25 per week. The first increase in 43 years. However, in giving with one hand, National took with the other by imposing stricter obligations on sole parents, who will now be required to return to work two years earlier and for longer hours.

Understandably, many are expressing concern that the hardship package is fraught with challenge and will not remedy child poverty in Aotearoa. For instance, Metiria Turei of the NZ Greens was quick off the mark to point out the flaws and concerns in the package:

In fairness, I’ve not seen anyone claim the hardship package is a panacea to the country’s social and economic ills. Nor would I expect that anyone would think this was some kind of magical fix. Poverty is complex. It is layered and each situation requires different approaches to not only address the hardship each whānau face, but to also step out a plan to overcome hardship permanently. This in my mind, is the benefit of having around $50 million more funding toward Whānau Ora to be distributed by commissioning agencies to ensure those funds reach frontline services, and therefore whānau.

However, unlike some others, I don’t see the increase in the core benefit rate as a negative. I applaud the Māori Party, in Te Ururoa Flavell’s words, for pulling this over the line. I mean even if National only agreed to the increase to save political face, in my mind, what matters is that for the first time in 43 years our core benefit rate has increased. This means that any future government can arguably increase the amount further without causing a massive public outcry. In my opinion, the left (many of whom are being incredibly critical of the increase) should champion this idea. Afterall, the New Zealand public are likely to adapt or perhaps cope better with incremental increases to core benefit rates than they are to sharp increases.

I do agree that the immediate material impact may be minor for many of the whānau targeted by this policy. But the long term prospects for those families who find themselves on a benefit are much better today than they were the day before the budget or indeed since the massive cuts in 1991 under the National government at that time.

A small anecdotal note, however,  for those claiming that $25 per week or the $18.40 or something that it turns out to be is laughable, or not even worth implementing.  I can assure you, as child of a beneficiary parent in the 1990’s, that “something” will always be better than nothing. I am not saying we should just settle for the bare minimum. I am saying that this “something” although not enough to fix hardship, could mean the difference between having a home with power versus a home without power. It could mean the difference between having porridge in the cupboard versus having nothing. It could mean the difference between sandwiches for lunch versus having nothing. It could mean the difference between accommodation versus eviction. It could mean the difference between going on a school trip versus feigning a sick day. So yes, based on my own personal experience I am going to be supportive of any policy that increases core benefit levels.

Is it enough? Absolutely not. But I’d just ask people to be mindful that when you claim $5, $10, $20, or $25 etc is nothing – you might want to check your privilege. It can make a difference. And even if only minor, that difference can change a persons outlook, or even just what kind of day they have. This matters to those who have been forced to become accustomed to having nothing.

Furthermore, when the ethos of a political party changes from ‘slash the benefit’ to ‘increase the core rate’ then progress has been made.  Just over three quarters of a billion dollars targeted at poverty is a milestone in these circumstances. Social change doesn’t happen from people crowing at the sidelines. It takes collaboration and nurturing of relationships to create and instill change. We are yet to see whether the National Party will embody this change in focus and become more receptive to issues around poverty in future. Although, the more stringent work requirements for sole parents on a benefit with toddlers arguably counters the notion of a genuine change.

The other argument as Turei raises above is that these increased work requirements erode the increase in the core benefit rate. I’m not going to dispute that. I wholly disagree with the onerous requirements placed on sole parents to become available for work for 20 hours p/w, as opposed to 15 hours p/w, when their child turns 3 years old, as opposed to 5 years old. Sacraparental sets out 16 reasons why that particular policy is problematic.

However, I think we can support the increase in the core benefit rate for the reasons I set out above, while remaining critical of the increased work expectations. To this end, I think the Māori Party have done some great mahi to negotiate an historic increase in the benefit coupled with the extra funding for Whānau Ora and other initiatives that can help address hardship and also temper some of the challenges inherent in the onerous work availability policy.