Kōhanga Reo Post-Budget Announcement Speech

“Kara Puketapu began to call iwi representatives to Wellington: Tribal leaders, old and young, men and women, from each of the ten districts of Māoridom … We got into what I call organic policies—policies that actually came up from the people … Out of all that dynamic was born Te Kōhanga Reo.“

Those are the words of Dame Iritana recounting a hui that would start a movement.

“Policies that actually came up from the people”.

The birth of the kōhanga reo, its longevity, and its success is proof that when Māori come together and design their own solutions – they work.

They work because our people make them work.

I am here today to first and foremost say: Thank you.

Thank you for taking care of our tamariki.

For helping to grow generations of Reo speakers.

To all our kaiako and kaimahi, thank you for the many hours of blood, sweat and tears you have given to support the kaupapa.

To the founders of the movement, the leaders, the nannies, the aunties, the mothers, fathers and cousins – thank you all.

You kept true to the movement and we, as Māori, are better today, than we were yesterday because of your commitment.

Establishing a strong relationship with Te Kōhanga Reo and working to address the many pressing needs facing the movement was one of my first priorities when I was given the Māori Crown Relations portfolio - even before we had a team, an office or even a job description.

Because I knew you had waited long enough to be heard.

In 2011 Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust lodged a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal that basically said the Crown had been neglectful, and had effectively assimilated the kōhanga reo movement into its early childhood education regime under the Ministry of Education, stifling its vital role in saving and promoting the Māori language, which led to a decline in the number of Māori children participating in early childhood immersion in te reo me ngā tikanga Māori.

To me, kōhanga reo are not early childhood centres, nor are they kindergartens – they should not have to fit a mould designed for non- Māori organisations.

They are kōhanga reo. Unapologetically Māori. They do not need to be compared to something else to gain recognition, because there is nothing else that can compare.

Today’s announcement is one of the first pieces of work Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti undertook alongside the Ministry of Education – and it is proof that when we focus on our shared aspirations, when we rebuild our relationships, stick it out at the table, use the levers of Government to put in place change – we can do great things for our people.

Today I am announcing that through Budget 2019, we will be looking after the wellbeing of our kōhanga reo and starting to address some of their pressing needs by providing the following:

  • $2.5 million for making urgent improvements to the Trust’s and ngā kōhanga reo ICT capacity and capability.
  • $8.5 million to assess the state of kōhanga reo buildings. The Ministry of Education will work with TKRNT to identify the extent of the issues.
  • But the most pressing need is staff costs. Minimum wage increases have disproportionately impacted kōhanga reo. Budget 2019 funding will provide a further $21.484 million to:
    • Increase existing pay rates for kaiako and kaimahi to the Government’s stated 2021 minimum wage rate;
    • Maintain a level of existing relative pay rates for kaiako and kaimahi already above the minimum wage; and
    • Pay kaiako and kaimahi currently working as volunteers in roles that would normally be remunerated.

That is a total of just over $32 million dollars for our kōhanga, our kaiako, our kaimahi and our tamariki.

Our commitment to the Kaupapa does not end today. We, Te Kōhanga Reo and the Government, together have still much more work to do.

But today – let’s celebrate this milestone together.

Māori have shown their commitment to kōhanga for many, many years.

Today I hope I have made a start in showing our Government’s commitment to you.