8 Nov 2019

National MP says benefit cuts could be good for Māori, strengthen whānau

12:50 pm on 8 November 2019

National MP Joanne Hayes says some Maori could end up better off if their welfare payments were reduced - claims condemned by the Māori Council .

Māori suicides a national disgrace - Matthew Tukaki

Māori Council director Matthew Tukaki. Photo: RNZ / YouTube

Ms Hayes, National's Māori Development spokesperson, has said people had been telling her a National discussion document that talked about getting tough on beneficiaries was racist.

The MP said social welfare had however not necessarily proved a good thing for Māori.

"We have become so dependent on benefits that we have, as a nation, actually lost the ability to be entrepreneurial and the ability to make our own way in life."

National MP Joanne Hayes

National MP Joanne Hayes Photo: NZ Parliament

Mrs Hayes has been a solo mother. She said she always made sure her son was up to date with his immunisations.

She said her whānau grew up "running off the smell of an oily rag" but they made things work, and whānau need to be more resourceful with what they have and learn to grow vegetables.

Reducing income in a household [through benefit cuts] could strengthen whānau, she said.

"It could do, it depends on how resourceful the whānau are at being able to do the things for their whānau within the amount of money that they have.

"Sometimes you don't have to be overly rich to actually live a good life - that's where we fall down a bit - because we are not resourceful as a whānau."

National published its social policy discussion document last week.

It is seeking feedback on proposals including blocking gang members and their associates from the dole if they cannot prove legal income or assets.

The party also floated the idea of cutting benefits for sole parents who do not vaccinate their children.

Mrs Hayes said she did not know if she supported the sanctions yet, or whether docking sole parents would increase immunisation rates, but she was keen for feedback on the document.

Māori Council director Matthew Tukaki said cutting the income of vulnerable whānau would leave their children hungry, and Mrs Hayes' comments were off the mark.

"Jo is living in a fantasy world way back from whenever when things must have been easier for Jo," he said.

"Things have not always been easier for every Māori family across the country - some of our people genuinely struggle day to day.

"It is irresponsible from a Māori member of Parliament who has been there for a while now who should know better."

Ideas labelled as Māori-bashing

National's newly-selected Botany candidate Christopher Luxon said the "no jab, no pay" policy should be extended beyond sole parents, to people who receive Working for Families grants.

The party's leader Simon Bridges said he was open to the idea, but Mr Tukaki said it was dog-whistle politics and Māori-bashing.

"Seriously, is that how you want to come into politics, just by bashing and bashing the same old people that get hurt from this sort of negativity all the time."

Māori Party Che Wilson agreed, and said it was common for politicians to tout policies targeting Māori and the poor in the build-up to an election, in a bid to win votes from the right.

Mr Wilson said Māori and Pacific Island people were over-represented in gangs and sole-parent beneficiaries, and what National was talking about was racist.

"This is a deliberate target at trying to beat-up on people who are struggling already, who actually need help, not abuse," he said.

"The fact that National is trying to come up with ridiculous ideas like this is missing the point, because you have to help intervene with people to help give them a chance, rather than give them punishment."

Auckland Action Against Poverty co-ordinator Ricardo Menendez March said the sanctions would have a big impact on whānau Māori, who are concerned about what is being suggested.

Ricardo Menendez March of Auckland Action Against Poverty

Ricardo Menendez March Photo: Supplied

He is concerned that if it went through, Work and Income staff would be left to decide who is a gang member or affiliate, enabling them to act upon their own biases.

"This policy, what it would do, it would end up targeting Māori whānau leaving them without food on the table," he said.

"It would actually push them into criminal activity because they would have no means of accessing income legally as a result of the sanction."

Mr Menendez March said public health evidence showed most poor people who did not vaccinate their kids were dealing with logistical barriers, such as working two jobs and not finding time, or not having the means to travel to their local pharmacy or clinic.

"Most of the government's reports show that sanctions do not work, and this is just about rhetoric and dog-whistle politics as opposed to evidence-based politics."