The Government has a major problem on its hands in light of the settings announced in the Budget because Māori issues are both manifest and intergenerational.
All governments have struggled with policy settings over the Māori Problem. The tension between universal versus targeted funding looms large. There must be an acknowledgement that both policies have merit, but for some reason targeting is not widely supported.
Universalism means that in an ideal world, the blanket policy encompasses and is available to all members of society. The main criteria here is that it is a basic right and does not open the door to allegations against race, colour, creed or class. An example of this is the government pension scheme that pays all Kiwis over the age of 65 a benefit, regardless of whether you are from the top or bottom end of town.
Another example of universalism in action is the Children’s ministry where 60 per cent of the babies referred are Māori. When you consider this extraordinary number of Māori kids has not decreased over the last decade, then it’s abundantly clear this policy of universalism is not working.
Consider also the $4.8 billion in Budget 2018 set aside for Vote Justice, which includes Corrections, Police as well as Courts. Māori make up the majority of 10,260 inmates with 51 per cent of the male and 58 per cent of the female prisoner population. In targeted funding terms, Māori already cost the state $2.4 billion in the Vote Justice sector alone.
This targeted racist-style of funding has to stop. It’s called mainstream or white stream funding because more funding is thrown at the Māori problem by non-Māori fix Māori.
Education is another area where universal funding is somewhat flawed. The Ministry of Education says it costs on average $7200 – not including teacher salaries, school buildings or equipment – per child to attend school. But ask a mum whose child attends a decile 1-4 school if her child gets the same privileges or benefits as those at a decile 8 or decile 10 school and the answer is no. Why is it that because you can’t afford to bus your children to a high-decile or private school, your kids do worse because of where they live?
But if you were to actually target Māori problems, with Māori solutions, how would that look? I know that there would be allegations that Māori are the privileged poor, so therefore a privileged race, but, given the numbers above, that argument doesn’t stack up.
Of course Finance Minister Grant Robertson will say the Government has targeted Māori, who benefit by way of universal access to the Families Package.
But what is the solution for targeted funding and how do we go from hand out to hand up? Whanau Ora is a well-crafted targeted solution (I will cover it off in another column). It received zero funding in Budget 2018.
Also, why does 99.69 per cent of the total budget go through mainstream agencies and only 0.31 per cent to Māori for Māori?
To cap it off, for the first time in decades, Budget 2018 actually took money away from Māori. Te Puni Kokiri loses $3 million of baseline funding over the next four years. No amount of spin by Labour’s 13-strong Māori caucus – five of whom are at theCabinet table – can hide that fact.
When you take all of the above into account, we have to reflect on the great promise of a new generational leader, Jacinda Ardern. She must be given credit for being the first prime minister to nail her premiership on alleviation of poverty. No other PM prior to her – not since Michael Joseph Savage’s first Labour Government of 1938 – has nailed his or her colours to such a difficult political undertaking.
We all recall John Key holding the hand of the little Māori baby in Mt Roskill in 2008, saying he was going to alleviate the underclass. Instead it grew under his watch.
So Prime Minister Ardern has a lot to live up to in regard to this negative Māori budget. Who could forget her quote at Waitangi four months ago: “Hold us to account because one day I want to tell my child that I earned the right to stand here. I ask you to ask us, what have we done for you.”
I guess, there’s always next year Prime Minister?