9 Nov 2018

Labour Māori caucus needs to face 'cold harsh reality'

7:57 pm on 9 November 2018

If the government doesn't deliver specifically for Māori in next year's wellbeing budget, the 13-strong Labour Māori caucus is going to have a lot of questions to answer.

Labour party Maori caucus.

Labour party Maori caucus. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

That's the reality according to the Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta who said she was well aware the Budget this year did not meet the expectations of Māori and left many wondering where the targeted funding had gone.

This week many in the caucus travelled alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to Rātana to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the spiritual movement.

Last week the caucus was in Dunedin addressing party faithful one year after their clean sweep of the Māori seats.

The mahi (work) underway and the strategy for the next two years was discussed behind closed doors but Ms Mahuta said the issues for Māori last year, which the party campaigned on in the Māori seats, were the same burning issues still plaguing Māori today.

Housing on all levels was a never-ending battle for many Māori.

More people than ever were classed as homeless this winter and the first Kiwibuild homes sold in Auckland last month were well out of reach for many Māori, Ms Mahuta said.

"The cold harsh reality is that we can't dance around some of the systemic challenges that have occurred over a long period of time and we can't turn that tide overnight.'

Labour MP and Minister for Maori Development Nanaia Mahuta

Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

"On the housing issue, we have Māori home ownership rates sitting at about 28 percent - not good enough."

"We're not going to say we can achieve everything in a year, but we'll make a good fist of it.''

Access to good education and health services along with jobs and te reo Māori being taught in schools were also important Māori issues, Ms Mahuta said.

In the last year both Ms Mahuta and co-chair of the Labour Māori caucus Willie Jackson have been out of sync with Ms Ardern and the Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters on compulsory te reo Māori in schools.

"The issue became and always was the issue of compulsory te reo in schools. What we took to the electorate is that te reo should be a working language - more accessible to more New Zealanders within the mainstream education system.

"The political focus was always around this issue of compulsion. What I said to that was it was entirely possible within our education system to have education up until the intermediate years with te reo Māori being a core subject to be achieved but first to invest in the number of teachers fluent in te reo. That remains a challenge."

Ms Mahuta said some believed providing for Māori, who fell into some of the worst statistics across a number of areas, meant targeted funding. That was a point of difference between Labour and New Zeland First, which was a party traditionally against race-based policy.

"That will be a challenge for our government as we consider that the 2019 Budget will be a wellbeing budget.

"We'll have to have those conversations about the level of targeted funding versus universal funding...we're working through those issues."

She said she would have more questions over targeted funding for next year's Budget.

'We need to move away from the sloganeering'

Senior NZ First MP Shane Jones said there was no division in the coalition over targeted funding.

He said much of his work as minister for both forestry and regional economic development had directly benefited Māori and the party made exceptions for targeted funding in the case of Māori radio and kōhango reo.

"I just think we need to move away from the sloganeering which is often directed towards us and go down to some granular realities.

"Regional development projects do have distinctive Māori dimensions to them, we're seeing it in forestry."

It is only a few months until the government returns to Rātana and Waitangi.

Last year was a honeymoon reception but Māori leaders were clear the prime minister would need to front next year with more than just warm words.

Ms Mahuta said the prime minister set the challenge at Waitangi in February saying they would be judged on what the government did.

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