Launch of Making Waves

  • Deborah Morris
Youth Affairs


Talofa Lava

Bula Vinaka

Kia Orana

Malo Lelei

Kia Ora

Good afternoon and thank you for the invitation to help you launch the 'Making Waves' initiative.

When I first came into Parliament and was then made Minister of Youth Affairs a year ago, I wanted to change the world. And I still do. The only thing that is different is that I now understand that the Government's capacity to do it is limited.

And I say this because I consider that the change that needs to occur is at a very fundamental level: how we relate to and respect each-other. That's what I see 'Making Waves' as being about.

It signals a different approach to the health needs of Pacific Islands people. Instead of Government pretending to know what's best, it says "Pacific Islands people know best what Pacific Island people need." It will see people trained to educate and assist others. The name 'Making Waves' represents the Pacific ocean as a symbol of the links between the seven Pacific communities in Aotearoa. It might also be symbolic of the fact that the issues that the programme will seek to address are also closely linked with a number of other important issues in our communities - they impact on each-other. I will discuss this more in a moment.

I was pleased to see the Minister of Health and the Minister of Pacific Island Affairs launch a new direction in health care for Pacific Islands people last week. Called 'Making a Difference' it is all about making sure that coal face health providers get it right.

Again, this is about knowing that when it comes to providing a holistic health service it has to be relevant, appropriate and user-friendly.

There are still some significant challenges out there when it comes to health issues and the population that I am particularly interested in is the youth population. It is impossible to put all young people into one category or box because they are so diverse but we know that there are a few key issues: relationships, friends and sexual development are just some. How we work to ensure that youth are healthy in all of these areas requires us to take into account the different cultural, religious, and personal perspective they bring.

If we really value our children and young people we will find a way to deliver the messages that suit them. From what I have seen there are very few people in decision-making positions that know how to reach young people. The ones that do are unique and should be recognised as being so. If we want to get it right it is important that we ask youth what they want and involve them.

That's part of the role of the Ministry of Youth Affairs. Yesterday I attended a meeting in Christchurch where Laurie O'Reilly, the Commissioner for Children, spoke of his dealings with the Ministry in the past. He was highly critical of their track record since being formed in 1989, saying that their capacity to make a difference had been limited.

And he is right on a few different levels. As a population- based Ministry - like Women's Affairs, Maori Affairs and Pacific Islands Affairs, other departments prefer not to listen. Some of them are blinded by their theories and philosophies. They love putting people into tidy boxes that often don't fit the experiences and differences that exist in real life.

Another challenge that the Ministry of Youth Affairs faces is making sure that they are strategic with the resources they have in order to make as big a difference as they can. That means deciding what the priorities are and putting their energy and expertise into those things - not trying to do everything all at once.

But it was good to hear Laurie say yesterday that in his view the Ministry of Youth Affairs has been revitalised - that it has a new lease of life. That's good because it has been one of my goals for this year.

Our kids need role models; people who will spend the time and energy on them, respect them and enable them to become the people they want to be. It's amazing to talk to little kids about their aims and ambitions - the sky is the limit when they're aged 7. But what happens between then and age 14? What gets knocked out of them and how did we let it happen?

When I was a kid my Mum made a big deal out of the importance to a young woman of her relationship with her father. She told my Dad that it was really important for girls to have a stable father figure in their lives and that that relationship would be the basis upon which future relationships with men would be set. It was a relationship that would influence the level of care and respect I demanded of partners and others in my life.

You know they often say that mothers know best - well when it came to the role of Dads in the lives of their daughters, my Mum did know best. There is growing international evidence and research about the impact of fatherlessness.

Fatherlessness could be the most harmful demographic trend of this generation. It has been described as the leading cause of declining child well-being in our society and the engine driving our most urgent social problems.

Frequently there is debate, even alarm, about specific social problems. Divorce, out-of-wedlock child bearing, poverty, youth violence, youth suicide, unsafe neighbourhoods, domestic violence. But in these discussions, we seldom acknowledge the underlying phenomenon that binds together these otherwise disparate issues: the flight of fathers from their children's lives.

In fact, we seem to go out of our way to avoid the connection between our most pressing social problems and the trend of fatherlessness - or at least a solid male role model.

For many teenage women, not having had a strong father figure causes them to seek male company in situations that sometimes aren't the best. The heartache it can cause, as well as the risks associated with unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases can lead to sad circumstances.

So the issues of sexual and reproductive health require us to take stock as a community. The availability of sexual health services and reproductive education is extremely important - and that is why we are here today.

Many of you will know that I have been very outspoken on some of these issues - and got myself into a bit of trouble as a result. The media portrayal of the speech that caused that fuss was unfair and missed my main messages.

I'd like to clarify what I said for you.

Yes, I did say that condoms should be easily available in places where young people meet - but I did not say that we should have condom machines in schools.

My speech was to a group of Auckland Peer Sexuality trainers - young people teaching other young people about relationships and sexual health.

My message to them was that we should equip our young people to be emotionally as well as physically safe. We need to ensure that they are ready for adult life.

As well as sexual health education we need to teach people how to communicate better and about the importance of strong relationships based on friendship - not just sex.

However, we cannot just say to young people - "don't have sex". That doesn't work. We need to enable them to be confident enough to say "no", but if they do decide to have sex they should have information and contraception available to them.

My message was about risk management - protecting our young.

I make no apologies if I shocked a few people - the fact is that we can't ignore the trends or the statistics. The statistics show an increase in the numbers of abortions from 11,595 in 1992 to 14,805 in 1996.

They are not just numbers. I believe that when we discuss these issues we should consider not just physical safety but also emotional safety. And we must do so in a way that makes sense to those people that need to hear the message - 'Making Waves' will do just that.

In addition to the services that 'Making Waves' will deliver we have to consider the self-esteem of children and young people - what is it that makes them take risks with their sexual health? Have we nurtured them and taught them so that they have enough respect for themselves to be careful or say 'no'.

When we can answer these sort of questions, the world will change - or at least the worlds and lives of lots of youth.

Can I congratulate everyone involved in establishing this service. Every good wish as you work with your people to make a difference.

Merry Christmas. I hope you have safe and relaxing holidays.