NZ's Ministry of Low Expectations?

8:31 pm on 23 June 2017

Opinion - The Ministry of Pacific Peoples says it offers a clear vision for more successful Pacific peoples as the Crown's principal adviser on policies and interventions that improve outcomes for Pacific peoples.

A dose of ministry speak anyone? More, I hear you say? Well, OK, writes Richard Pamatatau.

New Zealand Government; parliament; Beehive

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The ministry wants to make sure the "journey" of a Pacific child born today in New Zealand is a happy and successful one, but the reality is that many Pacific people here have not had much to do with this ministry for a very long time.

'Journey' is surely one of the most overused words in government-speak. I take it to mean lifespan in this case - are tickets on offer?

A kinder person might read the ministry-speak and go 'that's great - those lovely Islanders have a ministry to help them get themselves sorted and get their act together'.

After all the ministry has said self-sufficiency and independence are foreign concepts to Pacific cultures, which means they must need help.

That was in advice to the government that objected to National raising the age of entitlement for the pension from 65-67 twenty years from now.

Did the author of that line consider for one moment that for hundreds of years Pacific people practised self-sufficiency in a profound way?

When they criss-crossed the largest recognisable geographic feature on the planet - Te Moana Nui O Kiwa - in vaka, using it as highway with neither an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or access to the Royal New Zealand Airforce for rescue after a backstay issue or an encounter with a reef.

They had no multi-national corporate sponsors for their twin-hulled sea-going vaka that sliced a path from island to island using the stars, wind and the slap of waves on the hull for navigation.

Faceless ministry officials refused to endorse the policy to raise the super age in the weeks before it was announced because it would hit Pacific communities "disproportionately" hard.

Let's repeat what the ministry officals wrote: "The notion of being independent and self-sufficient is foreign to the belief systems and values commonly held by Pacific cultures."

"Securing assets, including a home to live and retire in, is largely out of reach.

"The reality for many Pacific people was that there is not enough disposable income to be able to put aside money for ... the future."

Should it be renamed the Ministry of Low Expectations?

But when is the ministry going to recognise the power of family and collective community work and back that?

That advice is shameful identity herding that places a group in a position of disadvantage and builds on every negative stereotype you can think of.

And it begs excavation of what on earth the ministry has been doing to advise other agencies since it was formed. At least the Finance Minister, Steven Joyce, gets it.

"My personal view is things are going to improve and the gaps are going to close up substantially, because we're already seeing it happening," he said.

There is another bright light.

The ministry is to get an extra $3 million across four years to increase its policy, research and evaluation capabilities.

Clearly it needs it if that document is anything to go by.

Minister for Pacific Peoples Alfred Ngaro says he expects the ministry will be the hub for Pacific knowledge and intelligence and will be the first stop for those looking to make improvements for "our" people and the funding will help work towards those ambitions.

He says it builds on the achievements made in the projects funded through previous budgets.

But what's needed is recognition of a population's strength - now that would be an achievement.

*Richard Pamatatau is a journalism academic at AUT University. His research interests pivot on identity, technology, social media, social class and death. @RPamatatau.