5 Jul 2019

Govt funding for Treaty inquiry welcome by wāhine Māori

8:35 am on 5 July 2019

A lawyer representing claimants in the Waitangi Tribunal Mana Wāhine inquiry says government funding to progress it shows a willingness to find a solution to address the compounding disparity experienced by wāhine at the hands of the Crown.

Women's Minister Julie Anne Genter.

Women's Minister Julie Anne Genter. Photo: RNZ

Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter has announced $6.2 million to hire a specialist team to work alongside Te Puni Kōkiri and coordinate a government response and participation in the inquiry.

"I think the inquiry is very much identifying those structural barriers and institutional problems that are currently holding back wāhine Māori from having the outcomes they deserve.

"So really it will be about a collaborative approach between Māori and the Crown to identify where there are issues and improvements can be made, some of it is societal but there's actually a lot that government needs to look at," she said.

Statistics confirm that wāhine Māori continue to have poorer social, economic, educational, employment, and health outcomes, compared to Pākehā women.

"We have a responsibility to improve the wellbeing of wāhine Māori, the whānau they lead, and the communities they serve," Ms Genter said.

In December 2018, the Waitangi Tribunal started the Mana Wāhine Kaupapa Inquiry into claims from wāhine Māori, arising from Crown breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi, in both historical and contemporary times.

The inquiry is part of the Waitangi Tribunal's Kaupapa Inquiries which deal with nationally significant issues affecting Māori as a whole.

The Mana Wāhine inquiry was originally filed in 1993 by prominent leaders including Ripeka Evans and Dame Mira Szaszy - alleging the Crown's actions and policies since 1840 have systemically discriminated against Māori women.

The impetus of the claim was the removal of a respected kuia from the shortlist of appointees to the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission.

Areta Koopu

Dame Areta Koopu Photo: RNZ

Among the claimants at that time was former president of the Māori Women's Welfare League Dame Areta Koopu who said they wanted to take action.

"The disappointment for us [was] we were very much on that commission in helping it to be set up and when the final commission was to be announced to find there were no Māori women on there and replaced a by a younger Māori man ... that was why we got together. Once again we aren't on a board, once again we aren't on a commission, what can we do about it, and that was the time we put the claim forward."

More than two decades on, the claim is expected to be heard in front of a Tribunal this year, and Dame Areta wants the government to act fast in its response.

"I want it [the Waitangi Tribunal report] to say that Māori women must be on all of those new commissions that they appoint, I believe that Māori women already are the largest landowners in this country.

"I would like to see the government take very little time to think about how those boards can look and if there's a balance of women on there."

Lawyer Tania Te Whenua

Tania Te Whenua Photo: Supplied / Tania Te Whenua

Lawyer Tania Te Whenua is representing Public Services Association and Council of Trade Unions' claim.

Their claim, which will also be included in the Mana Wāhine inquiry, specifically relates to the pay inequities wāhine Māori face.

"The discussion so far on inequities facing wāhine with regard to the pay gap really has turned a blind eye to the compounding inequities faced by wāhine Māori. So now through their work championing this claim it has come to the forefront and we are seeing announcements like this by the government to dedicate a set of funding in order to analyse and address this," she said.

Ms Te Whenua said there was a deficit of research around analysing the nature and the extent of the discrepancy for wāhine Māori.

But she said she was hopeful that this putea, or funding, would be set aside to address that.

"My suspicion the funding will be earmarked for the process that the inquiry inevitably needs to take and that is, for example, in order to address the claims there needs to be a substantial level of research."

She said from the outset of making this claim by PSA and CTU, the Crown had expressed a willingness to take a parallel approach to this inquiry - rather than being the Crown vs claimants model.

"From the early stages of this inquiry we have had an indication from the Crown that they would like to take a pragmatic approach to resolving issues facing wāhine Māori and they did, from the outset, note that employment issues is an area that is priority for this government. That meant they were willing to take a dual approach of both liaising directly with the claimants to investigate, analyse their concerns through the inquiry process."