12 Sep 2017

Fact or Fiction: All just spin?

From Election17 - Fact or Fiction, 8:56 am on 12 September 2017

The minor party leaders got to go up against the major parties' deputies during a debate hosted by website The Spinoff. Fact or Fiction checks their claims.

Only seven people have been imprisoned this year for possession of marijuana.

- National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett, The Spinoff's Great Debate

Jacinda Ardern has stated in the first two leaders debates that under a Labour government, people wouldn’t be locked up for smoking cannabis.

During The Spinoff’s debate Paula Bennett claimed that only seven people were currently in prison for possessing the drug.

The New Zealand Drug Foundation (via Twitter) confirmed that the numbers were indeed correct. The foundation based this on information obtained from the Department of Corrections through a recent official information request, which shows an average of seven people per year are imprisoned for possession of marijuana (as their only offence). It is unlikely that all seven are in prison at one time.

About 150 people were imprisoned in 2016 with a cannabis charge (possession for supply, etc) as their most serious offence.

Neither Mrs Bennett nor Ms Ardern mentioned overall (non-custodial) convictions for cannabis, which number in the thousands each year.

Verdict: Fact

Minor party leaders duked it out with National and Labour's deputies at The Spinoff's Great Debate

Minor party leaders duked it out with National and Labour's deputies at The Spinoff's Great Debate Photo: Facebook/ Screenshot

"We've gotta remember that we lost Te Reo through compulsion in schools."

- ACT leader David Seymour

Firstly, it’s important to point out that Te Reo is actually not compulsory in schools in New Zealand, despite recent recommendations made by the Waitangi Tribunal.

What Mr Seymour is apparently referring to is a series of Māori language recovery programmes that began in the 1980s, targeted at young people and the education system – such as kōhanga reo (immersing pre-schoolers in the Māori language) and kura kaupapa (schooling in a Māori language environment).

This had come after years of lobbying by Māori activists, who highlighted 1985 statistics showing that only about 12 percent of the Māori population (50,000 people out of the total population at the time) were fluent in Te Reo. This should be compared to 1919 statistics, in which 99 percent of Māori school children were native speakers. Te Reo Māori was only declared to be an official language of New Zealand in 1987.

Maori Language Week

Children celebrate Te Wiki o Te Reo in 2016 Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

According to the Health of the Māori Language Survey, after extensive work to re-establish the language (such as government funding for a Māori television channel, and community Māori language initiatives), the number of Māori who had “some Māori speaking skills” had risen to 136,700 speakers in 2001. However, only 13 percent of this population aged over 15 could read Te Reo “well” or “very well”, according to the same survey.

A later survey in 2006 found the number who could read Te Reo “well” or "very well” had increased significantly to 23 percent. While proficiency in Te Reo was highest for the oldest Māori, the second highest age group was for 15 to 24-year-olds – indicating that Māori language teaching in schools, was, in fact, helping to revitalise the language.

While the total proportion of the Māori population able to converse “well” in Te Reo dropped to 21 percent in the 2013 Census, the higher proportions of younger speakers in 2006 indicate the introduction of Te Reo in schools was a help, rather than a hindrance, to the survival of the Māori language.

However, if Mr Seymour meant that Te Reo was "lost" through making English language compulsory in schools (and banning Te Reo), he was correct - as the statistics from 1919-1985 highlight a drop from 99 percent fluency to merely 12 percent.

Verdict: Fiction (if he meant that Te Reo has been “lost” through “compulsion” in schools)

Half the number of houses per capita are being built now than were built in the 1970s.

- ACT leader David Seymour

Fact or Fiction has used population and residential dwelling consent figures from the most recent five-year period available (2012-16) and the corresponding period in the 1970s (1972-76).

During the earlier period, about 11 houses per 1000 people were being built each year. During the more recent period, this had dropped to just over five houses per 1000 people - roughly half.

Verdict: Fact

Fact or Fiction is a joint initiative between RNZ and the University of Auckland's Public Policy Institute