Maori Health - Guarantee Our Future - The Code

  • Winston Peters
Maori Affairs

HYATT REGENCY HOTEL, AUCKLAND

The theme for today is "Guarantee our Future".

Some say there are no guarantees in life, except death and taxes.

That's a rather gloomy view of the world, and is not a view shared by the Coalition Government.

We cannot provide an absolute guarantee on many things. But we can guarantee our commitment to the development of Maori and Maori Health.

In his introductory letter for this conference, Chairman Waireti Walters says this conference is:

"not about statistics that tell again how far behind we are. It is not about complaints and criticisms. It is about the many success stories in Maori child health."

You have probably heard many success stories in the past four days. These positive messages are vital to those working at the coal face in the health industry. And we can all do with the encouragement that good news brings us.

Whilst this conference is about positive images and success stories, let's take a brief look at the lot of Maori, and what this Government is doing.

Now we all know the statistics. I'm not here to read them out and depress you.

Maori are over represented in unemployment figures, sickness benefits, domestic purposes benefits and single parent families. (Source: Quarterly Benefit trends ended 30 September 1997)

Maori youth account for 44 per cent of all 16 and 17 year-olds receiving an unemployment benefit.

They account for 43 per cent of all 16 to 18 year-olds receiving an independent youth benefit.

They account for 40 per cent of all 16 and 17 year-old sickness beneficiaries.

Maori make up 53 per cent of all 17 and 18 year-olds on the DPB, and it's worrying that 44 per cent of Maori families are headed by a sole parent.

It's important to note that employment status has a major bearing on the social and economic success of families. In 1997 almost 30,000 Maori were unemployed, and more than a third of these were long-term unemployed.

It is a concern that Maori who are employed, have relatively low incomes. On average, Maori households earn $10,000 less than non-Maori.

We know that Maori children are at greater risk of serious illness and early death than non-Maori children.

The Maori infant death rate is almost 2.5 times higher than for non-Maori. Cot death is about five times higher. And many of the risk factors include low birth weight, maternal smoking, and low socio-economic status.

But we cannot shrink from these figures. We cannot ignore them and hope they will go away. Something is wrong. We must act, and we must act now.

In the medium term, we expect total unemployment in New Zealand to fall to 6.5 per cent by the year 2000. Economic growth is expected to reach 3.3 per cent by the same year.

Economic growth on its own, will not close the gap between Maori and non-Maori employment, but it will be a start.

The problem is complicated by the demographics and socio-economic status of the Maori labour force.

These characteristics include:

a youthful age structure,
low levels of educational attainment,
low representation in high growth industries;
and high numbers of long-term unemployed.
The Government has been working on a series of programmes to help disadvantaged school leavers and the long-term unemployed.

We recognise there is no dignity in being unemployed. Not for six weeks, or 12 weeks, or 20 weeks, or 20 months.

The Government has a strategy to deal with long term unemployment. A strategy to get people into jobs.

By this September, the Income Support Service, the Employment Service and the Community Employment Group will be fully integrated.

The result will be a one-stop-shop to help those looking for work, or moving from welfare to work.

We are also working to improve Maori health.

The Government will spend almost $6 billion this year on the public health system. Of this, $69 million has been budgeted for free doctors' visits and prescription medicines for children under age six.

A further $84 million will be spent on services delivered by Plunket, Health Camps, Tipu Ora and others.

The Government has a detailed health strategy for Maori children, embodied in the Child Health Strategy. Our objective is to lift the level of Maori health to the same level enjoyed by non-Maori.

We have three main directives to achieve this:

1. greater participation of Maori in the health sector.

2. development of culturally appropriate practices in funding and provision of services.

3. allocation of resources based on Maori health needs and perspectives.

The Child Health Strategy will succeed if the needs of Maori children are addressed as part of the wider needs of the Maori community.

The Coalition Government's commitment to Maori health is reflected in the $40 million invested in Maori health providers in 1996/97.

The number of publicly funded Maori health providers has increased from 23 in 1993, to more than 220 today.

This is the type of health system we are trying to build in this country. A system that is responsive to the needs of Maori, particularly Maori children.

We recognise that investment in public health is critical to our future success and prosperity as a nation.

And we are committed to using our resources in the most effective way with practical and fair results for everyone.

One of the steps - and I emphasise just one of the steps - to achieving such results is the proposed Code of Social Responsibility.

Several weeks ago, the Government released its code of social responsibility.

Since then there has been considerable comment, from the media and public alike, that the Government was talking down to the people of New Zealand - telling them how to raise their families and preaching about what was right and wrong.

Many families and solo parents receiving government assistance in one form or another felt particularly singled out . . . complaining that many of the sacrifices they are already making for their families, are going unnoticed and unrecognized.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the code of social responsibility is not about what the Government thinks is right or wrong. It is not about how we think you should raise your children.

Nor is it that we are casting judgment on how individual New Zealanders should treat their children.

This Code is as much about business responsibility as it is about personal responsibility. There can't be an Aucklander who hasn't come to the conclusion that were Mercury Energy fulfilling its responsibilities then the central business area would not have been blacked out these last few weeks.

Or that businesses should be paying their proper taxation, when clearly some have not been.

But we do recognize that New Zealanders place the family unit - in whatever form it takes - above all else.

We recognize that with the extreme stresses of modern life in New Zealand, the family unit has gone through some serious changes.

For example, there are more solo parent families today than ever before. Not only does that increase the pressure and load on those solo parents but it inevitably takes its toll on everyone within that family unit.

Whilst politicians do not have the same budgetary concerns of many New Zealand families, we do understand the pressures of modern life on families.

We are not here to say that we are better parents than you.

We want to join with you and collectively look at the job that we are all doing with our children.

The Code is not about responsibility to the government - it is about all New Zealanders' responsibility to their own families.

Most politicians have families too.

There is no greater responsibility in life than the raising of a child - and there is no greater contribution - except in times of war - that an individual can make to their country - than the time, money and caring they invest into future generations of New Zealanders.

The code is about responsibility but it is also about fairness. It is about addressing the cycle of poverty and abuse that affects many New Zealand families.

And we who know something about the Maori people know this, know what's going wrong and can no longer turn away from its effects, in some spineless hand wringing disavowal of the facts.

This Code is about families with limited incomes aspiring for the same things for their children that all parents do regardless of race and socio-economic status.

That is not only the basics of clothing on their backs, food on the table and a house over their heads but also a good education, future prosperity and personal happiness.

We all want those things for our children and we freely acknowledge that for some families those things come easier than others. Greater personal and financial sacrifice are demanded by some families to make these dreams a reality for their children.

I know that because I do not come from a wealthy, privileged family. Any success that my brothers and sisters have had can be directly attributed to the personal and financial sacrifices made by our parents.

But even more important than those sacrifices was the instilling of the view in my brothers and sisters that - through sheer hard work and a good education - we could break the cycle of financial hardship and offer a more secure and comfortable world to our children.

Helen Clark and the Labour Party will try and tell you that we are telling you how to raise your families, that we are passing judgment on solo parents families - and all families receiving government assistance.

That is categorically untrue.

That would be as unfair as it was for Ms Clark to bring the personal lives of some Government Ministers and their families into the public spotlight.

For we already know that we, too, have made mistakes. None of us are perfect parents. But we can aspire to be. All New Zealanders can aspire to be.

That is what the code of social responsibility is all about. We want to work with New Zealanders to identify all of the problems facing New Zealand families and work through them together.

Whilst there is an obvious cost to the Government, and all New Zealand taxpayers for government assistance paid out to families, this issue is not about saving money.

But if the end result of the Code is more New Zealanders being helped from dependence to independence resulting in more money available to be invested in the key social areas of health and education - that too is good for New Zealand families and New Zealand.

We know people are more important than dollars and cents. But if spending money more wisely can save a life, or educate a young New Zealander, then it is a worthwhile pursuit for any government committed to serving the best interests of the people.

So we're going to ask you for your views. We're going to ignore the self appointed spokespeople who would speak for you before you get a chance to.

Who are these people that pre-empt the views of the people of New Zealand?

What's wrong with a little old fashioned consultation and democracy? What's wrong with letting all New Zealanders have their say?

These self-appointed experts don't know about poverty. They don't know what poverty feels like. They don't know what poverty smells and tastes like. They only know how to push their view on the rest of us, and that's not democratic and it's not fair.

The purpose of this speech has not been to list statistics and numbers related to Maori. But, to outline the reality of the problems facing Maori and the measures being taken to address them.

Our children are our future and we must all be involved in the effort to improve their health and economic well being - parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and caregivers.

We must help Maori children to do better in this country.

Let's continue to promote positive images for our youth to realise our dream of Tamariki Ora, Well child Health.