Looking forward

I started picking out highlights from the speech by Prime Minister John Key at Waitangi yesterday morning.

There were so many, I decided it was better to copy it all:

E nga Rangatira

E tau nei ki Waitangi

Tena koutou

Te hunga mate ki te hunga mate

Te hunga ora ki te hunga ora

No reira

Tena tatau katoa

There is no occasion on which the weight of New Zealand’s history is felt in quite the same way as it is here in Waitangi on Waitangi Day.

Anzac Day is also special but it reflects a different part of the New Zealand story. Waitangi Day is unique. It is marked across an emotional spectrum that ranges from great passion among some of those gathered here, to indifference from those Kiwis whose sole interest in the day is encompassed by the weather forecast.

From time to time, governments and others have tried to engender a greater sense of national participation around this day. It would be good to see but I’m not sure that we can or should try to force it. We are not by nature a nation of flag-wavers.

We come together here each year to commemorate the signing of the Treaty and, increasingly, people are using the occasion to look forward rather than back.

Mostly, we have the Treaty settlement process to thank for that. By and large the argument that the settlements are justified, necessary, and both morally and legally the right thing to do, was won long ago.

This Government has kept its promise to increase the pace of those settlements. That has required commitment, judgement and balance from all sides.

The first negotiation began under a National government and National has a very good record of progressing settlements. The latest figures provided to me by the Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson show that since the historic claims settlement process began, a total of 59 Deeds of Settlement have been signed between the Crown and iwi.

Of those, 44 were signed by National governments and 33 of them by my government in its first four years in office. That’s a huge advance over the pace that was prevailing when we came in. At that time, it was calculated that if settlements continued at the rate at which they were then occurring – which was 1.6 settlements a year  –  we’d still be signing them in 2048.

We have given priority to the settlement process because it is in everyone’s interests to get the job done.

Within each of those iwi that has settled, a new generation has been freed from carrying the legacy which has been handed down for, in many cases, more than 100 years.

For them, the energy, time and resources that have previously gone in to seeking redress for past injustices now becomes available for taking advantage of future opportunities.

Nowhere is that potential more obvious than here in the North.

This region has a rich culture, a great climate and beautiful coastlines but unemployment is a challenge and people, particularly young people, need more job opportunities. The Government is putting in a lot of effort, including improving road links with the rest of the country and encouraging exploration for oil, gas and minerals.

However, the biggest stimulus on the horizon will come when Treaty settlements are reached on all the claims here, financially empowering iwi and injecting several hundred million dollars into the local economy.

The Crown is keen to see progress in that regard but first some of the groups involved need to resolve the last remaining difficulties which stand in the way of the final settlements being signed.

Can I encourage them to do so, because investing in growth will make the most difference to improving job prospects in Northland.

Around the country, iwi and hapu are finding out what they can achieve post-settlement and the future for them is exciting.

To assist Maori in reaping the most from their own assets, some of you will be aware that Chris Finlayson has commissioned an expert panel to review Te Ture Whenua Maori Act. Nationally there are about 27,000 blocks of Maori land, covering about 1.42 million hectares. Together, they comprise about 5 per cent of New Zealand’s entire land mass and a higher proportion – about 10-12 per cent – of the North Island.

Legislation which governs these blocks is restrictive and it’s estimated that about 80 per cent of the land is undeveloped or underperforming. If its potential could be unlocked – and if that is what its owners choose – imagine how much more wealth and how many more jobs and opportunities could be generated.

Apart from land, compared with some other countries New Zealand also has an abundant supply of water. It is just one of the natural resources which the Crown has the role and responsibility of managing on behalf of all New Zealanders, for the good of all New Zealanders.

Not all iwi leaders may agree with the Government’s approach on all the issues around resource management and of course those discussions will continue.

But I think we do agree that we all have a responsibility to future generations to use resources sustainably and wisely to help build New Zealand’s wealth now and for future generations.

All in all, iwi authorities have good reasons to feel very optimistic about the changing environment in which they operate.

The Iwi Leaders Group and the Maori Party are part of this constructive mindset. We don’t always agree on everything, but we do have a shared sense of purpose, and we have mutual respect.

In particular, the Maori Party deserves credit for taking on the responsibility that is required to be part of a government. We’ve seen since MMP was first introduced that it’s never easy being a small party in a government arrangement but let me assure you it is far, far more influential than being a small party in Opposition.

In Opposition you make headlines that last for a day; in government you make policies that endure for a generation.

The Maori Party has brought an important dimension to this Government. It is one of the reasons why we have a positive and forward-looking relationship between Iwi and the Crown.  I have no doubt that we New Zealanders are better off because of it.

The strength of that relationship has helped in the Treaty settlement process. The advances there mean that some great success stories are emerging from those who see the post-settlement environment as a chance to get on with the exciting, challenging and ultimately satisfying business of running their affairs in their own rohe.

Suddenly, they have a new leverage and a new status. Major players in both the private and public sectors want to form relationships with iwi authorities. Their investment decisions have the  potential to create wealth, jobs and opportunity not only for whanau, hapu,  iwi and their local communities, but also for other New Zealanders and for the wider economy.

That is exactly how it should be and I’m sure we’re going to see more of it.

But while the outlook for Maori and Maori-Crown relations are mostly positive, there remains a small but vocal few who are sometimes apparently unable or unwilling to see the world through any lens other than that of Maori disadvantage.

They seem from their public demeanour to be permanently aggrieved, and rarely constructive.

Those headline-seekers know they will get much more attention by being flamboyant and negative than they will by being considered and positive.

The problem is that sometimes their diversions – including here at Waitangi – are not only distracting, but they can contribute to putting at risk the  public consensus  that exists towards the process of settling legitimate Maori grievances.

It is that consensus that also allows us, in government, to be innovative about ideas that, for example, might lift Maori educational achievement and economic participation.

Public goodwill should not be taken for granted.

It needs to be treated with respect. It is short-sighted and counter-productive of activists to use tactics and language which have the effect of eroding public support for initiatives aimed at turning around the very situation that the activists are complaining about.

All of us are aware that there are many Maori who are not doing as well as they could. You can see it in some of our classrooms and in some of our homes. At its worst you see it on some of our streets and certainly in our prisons.

This audience will know that, regardless of ethnicity, young people with higher educational qualifications generally end up with better incomes through their working lives. They also engage more in society, report greater life satisfaction and have better health and a greater sense of security.

There are always exceptions but over and over again, analysis shows that the better your education and qualifications, the higher your standard of living and the better the chances of good outcomes for your children.

The problem is that proportionately fewer Maori than non-Maori achieve that.

And, as the recently-announced Maori economic development plan notes, barriers to education represent a significant cost, not just to individuals, but to their whanau and society as a whole.

In improving achievement levels, the greatest gains stand to be made in our homes where the influence on children plays such a significant part in determining their life outcomes.

Iwi authorities, corporations, philanthropists, businesses, charities and individuals, as well, of course, as school communities themselves, are also supporting different initiatives.

Not-for-profits and universities are also involved in making a difference. This is as it should be because the Government, despite of course being the biggest and most influential agent in delivering education, does not always have all the answers. The problem should be owned by the whole community.

It is not easy to turn around educational and social disadvantage. If it was, and the solutions were up to the government alone, then of course we would already have done whatever it took.

But although this underachievement is large and worrying, it is starting to turn around. More Maori are in tertiary training and there are more Maori who are successful professionals than ever before.

Maori achievement rates for NCEA Level Two or above have gone from just 44 per cent in 2009 to 51 per cent in 2011. That lift is welcome but when you look at the overall achievement rate for Level Two of 74.3 per cent, we can see that for Maori in particular, there is a long way to go.

My Government aims to have 85 per cent of 18-year-olds achieving NCEA Level Two by 2017. To reach that target, we need around 3650 more pupils to pass and that includes around 2420 more Maori. This is one of 10 key results challenges that we have set the public service to achieve within the next five years.

We know what we need to do, our data shows where we need to do it and the point of making this one of the priority targets is to ensure it actually happens.

Turning around the current waste of human potential would do more for Maori and for New Zealand than probably any other single change. We want to see it happen not because the statistics would be more flattering – though of course they would be – but because we want meaningful improvements in people’s lives and especially in the lives of those who face the greatest challenges.

We need a unity of purpose in giving this issue the priority it warrants.

It’s not only about young people. Under-educated kids grow up to become under-educated parents who may be trapped in low-income jobs or have periods of unemployment, which in turn feed the cycle of benefit dependency. We have 220,000 children living in homes where the main income is a benefit.

It doesn’t have to be like this. And of course, for most Maori it’s not.  Most Maori, like most non-Maori, are getting along just fine. But among those New Zealanders who don’t do so well, Maori are over-represented. That’s what we want to change.

I am confident that we can and will do it but it requires a combined effort.

I believe that the problems that divide us can become the problems that unite us.

One of my privileges as Prime Minister is to be invited from time to time to look at programmes aimed at helping young people lift their game and expand their view of what’s possible in today’s world.

I visited one such project last October when I went to the United Maori Mission’s hostel which lies within the zone for Auckland Grammar School.

The United Maori Mission has boys from 21 different iwi, along with some Pasifika boys, in its In Zone Project. When the Mission goes out to interview applicants,  its director Terrance Wallace says he’s looking for those who are motivated but the deal-breaker in selection is that the boys must be willing to give back to the school and, in time, to the communities they come from.

Terrance becomes the legal caregiver of 50 teenage boys. I can say that some days having one teenage son seems like a trial. But 50!

The hostel is run like a whanau environment and there’s a zero tolerance policy on drugs and alcohol.

Importantly, both Terrance and the school say that there is no lowering of academic standards to accommodate the hostel boys, or any other pupils. Programmes like the In Zone Project are about genuinely improving the boys’ education in order to meet the standards, not about lowering the standards to meet the boys. Ultimately, that would serve no-one’s interests, least of all the pupils.

When I visited, some of the boys spoke about this life-changing opportunity they had. It was moving to listen to them.

One was a boy from South Auckland whose mother had begun to worry about some of the influences on him. She and her husband looked at the cost of private schooling and knew they couldn’t afford it. But she heard about the In Zone Project, checked it out and now her son goes to school at Grammar where he’s thriving.

I met another boy at the hostel from a remote community who was adopted at birth by his neighbours. Like many of the boys at the hostel, he struggled with homesickness when he arrived. Actually, I also know that sometimes parents find the adjustment just as difficult as their sons. Anyway, he persevered and this year he’s back at school, having moved up a class based on his results last year.

These two boys have very different life stories but they also have some things in common. Each of them has people at home who support them and, young as the boys are, they understand the value of education.

They welcome the opportunity to compete and co-operate with other boys who are aiming high, are engaged and are committed to trying to do their best.

Who can ask more of kids than that?

All New Zealand kids have access to high-quality education but some of them require extra support so they can make the most of school, and so that school can make the most of them. That’s the gap that the In Zone Project and the I Have a Dream Charitable Trust and other similar intensive programmes are trying to fill.

So when I think of education, I think of the kids in these programmes but also of all the kids out there who are notgetting this kind of individual attention and support, though all of them of course have the best efforts of their teachers and schools on a daily basis.

Mostly, I think of how great it will be when we do better at realising the human potential that this country has available.

And finally, on this day in particular, I think too of the chiefs who signed the Treaty, including many who were sceptical and reluctant but did so because they saw in a partnership with the Crown, new opportunities for their people.

More than 170 years later, the challenge for Maori and non-Maori is to continue to commit ourselves to achieving  that equal opportunity, and to maximising its advantages for the good of individuals, whanau, hapu and iwi and, ultimately, for  all New Zealand society.

The Government has certainly made that commitment.


One Response to Looking forward

  1. robertguyton says:

    “I started picking out highlights from the speech by Prime Minister John Key at Waitangi yesterday morning.

    There were so many, I decided it was better to copy it all:”

    Adoration like yours can’t be bought, Ele.


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