4 Feb 2019

Ardern defends govt track on Māori prison numbers

8:21 pm on 4 February 2019

The prime minister has defended the government's record on Māori prison numbers as she prepares to return to Waitangi.

Jacinda Ardern at Waitangi 2018

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Waitangi last year where she pledged the government would do better for Māori in the justice system. Photo: RNZ

Last year Jacinda Ardern used her speech from the porch of the whare rūnanga, an honour women aren't usually allowed, to declare the government had failed Māori in the justice system and would do better.

As of last September, Māori made up more than half of the prison population, compared with 30 percent of prisoners who are European.

Only about 15 percent of the total population of New Zealand are Māori.

"Unfortunately what we know, is that we have over-representation of Māori in our prisons. Upwards of 50 percent," Ms Ardern said.

She said prison numbers have dropped overall and rehabilitation was working for Māori.

"We've seen about 1000 fewer people in our prisons, and so any work that we do on rehabilitation programmes ultimately does benefit Māori."

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis said tribes from Ngāti Whātua right through to Ngāti Kuri are working with the department to reduce the prison population in the north and support people when they emerge from prison.

"There's some 40,000 people under Corrections' watch, less than 10,000 of them now are in prison. Some 30,000 are out in the communities," Mr Davis said.

"So for groups that want to do work in prisons, I say to them actually get out into communities and work with the 30,000 out there who also need their support."

It comes as the government announces $80 million in funding for Māori and Pasifika programmes to encourage young people living in the regions to get trained and into work, on the back of a $100m investment for Māori landowners yesterday. The money for both comes out of the Provincial Growth Fund.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and Employment Minister Willie Jackson stressed that the programme was all about getting the "nephs off the couch'' at the announcement at Mangatoa Station near Kaikohe.

Ms Ardern used these announcements as examples of the work being done by this government for Māori.

"When you target issues like young people not in employment, education and training, when you target things like rehabilitation programmes in prison, unfortunately because of that disproportionate number of Māori who are in those statistics then we are ultimately investing in them," Ms Ardern said.

"The same with Working For Families, because those were low and middle income investments, roughly $1 billion of that $5 billion package went in to Māori families."

National's economic and regional development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said the government's Provincial Growth Fund made a mockery of its own promises to help provincial New Zealand.

He said for starters, it had only created 54 jobs in its first year.

"Despite all the hoopla, only 38 of the 135 announced projects have received funding and just 3.4 percent of the funding has actually been paid out. That's $26.6 million for 54 jobs, or the equivalent of $490,191 per job," Mr Goldsmith said.

"That's a dismal outcome considering the mountain of press releases, town hall meetings and hyperbole being rolled out by this government."

Ms Ardern said the government had not failed in its delivery for Māori, and backed up comments made by Mr Jackson today that there would be more targeted funding in this year's Budget.

The government was criticised after last year's Budget for a lack of targeted funding for either Māori Development or Whānau Ora.

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