Ministerial Council for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs

  • Tau Henare
Maori Affairs

Perth, Western Ausralia

(exchange of usual pleasantries... brief mihi in maori to the council, its elders and to the people)

... thank you for time and the opportunity to address you here today.

there's a common catchcry among indigenous people of the world. it's a simple line that goes something like this: i'm black and i'm beautiful, and i'm proud of it.

new zealand is going through an exciting phase politically. and it's exciting for me personally, as a new zealander, as the minister of maori affairs and as a maori.

i'm proud to be maori. undeniably black and beautiful.

for me being maori is something no-one can take away from me. i have my whakapapa, my geneology, the thing that binds me and my children to the land, to new zealand.

my blood, my roots, my heritage literally run deep in the heart of aotearoa and are part of what gives me a clear stake in a great country that most know as new zealand - and what we as maori call aotearoa.

it's a time when, as a result of new zealand's first election under our new system of proportional representation, maori are for the first time represented in the new zealand parliament like never before.

at thirteen percent of the population, maori hold a corresponding number of the seats... with maori holding fifteen of the one-hundred-and-twenty seats in the house.

this is a great result for maori people and for democracy as it is a time of renewed hope and positivity in maoridom.

because for the first time you've got fifteen brown faces - not four - but fifteen, advocating a very pro-maori position and ensuring the voice of the indigenous people of aotearoa are having a real say and making their presence felt in the corridors of power.

along with this you've also got three maori sitting around the cabinet table having a direct input in to the decisions that reflect on the lives of all new zealanders - two controlling the pursestrings of the nation.

that's three maori - we're not just there in an advisory capacity anymore, we're not sitting on the outside looking in getting brushed aside at every turn - but having a real say in the decisionmaking processes that rule the lives of all new zealanders.

it truly is an exciting time to be maori. it's real power and democracy finally, truly working for our people. no more token gestures.

it's an exciting time not only for us as maori, but i believe for all native peoples of the pacific to sit up and take a long hard look at what's happened in little ole new zealand.

proportional representation government, or mmp as we call it back home, was touted to be many things by opponents and supporters of the mmp-style government, but i don't think any of them could have quite comprehended what it meant for maori.

because for the first time when parties made up their party lists, of candidates to represent them in the house, maori had to be right up there, at the top of those lists so that particular party could truly say it was representative. more than that though, the maori voting bloc, remember it's thirteen percent of the total voting population, would play a crucial role in determining the make up of the new government.

and so it turned out to be. in the last election maori voters abandoned the party they had supported religiously, faithfully, for the past seventy years and in an unprecedented turn of events gave its support to a virtual bunch of outsiders - one of who stands here before you today.

what influence then do we, the maori members of government, had on the decisionmaking process?

one of the first things the maori members did was advocate for the removal of a cap on settling treaty claims.

briefly, the previous government, the party we joined forces with, had a policy on settling land claims against the crown by placing a cap, or a ceiling, on the amount of money it was prepared to spend on settlements.

let me tell you capping treaty settlements, the fiscal envelope it was commonly known as, was not a popular proposal in maori circles. when it was taken out to the people and seemingly rejected outright, it seemed the then government was intent on trying to push settlements along this path anyway.

needless to say that as part of the coalition agreement we managed to get a clause in there that put an end to the fiscal envelope. just one of the successes.

another was this year's budget. our maori affairs policy clearly spelt out a direction we believed maori should be heading in that involved educating our people, getting our people of the unemployment scrapheap, keeping them out of jail, using treaty settlements as a pathway to economic autonomy, but at the same time not letting the government off the hook completely or allowing it to abrogate its social responsibilities to maori.

as the minister of maori affairs i fought hard with my so-called brown brothers, my colleagues, to ensure i got a budget i was comfortable with to deliver the sorts of outcomes i described above to our people.

on budget night i got everything i advocated for, that our maori members advocated for on the campaign trail, everything maori voters voted for us for, in my budget.

that was a significant achievement that i'm especially proud of.

just last friday saw the initial part of those plans come to fruition when i launched two commissions - the maori development commission for health and the maori development commission for education - two areas that will play a key role in closing the disparity gap between maori and non-maori.

the commissions are essentially think tanks, independent advisors to the government and directly responsible to me, who will play a key role in the flow of information and advice to the government on whether it's on the right track to addressing the disparity problem, because the people nominated to the commissions come from the grassroots, are experts in their respective fields, and would have retained strong community links and know the mood of the people on the ground.

information from the grassroots up is what it's all about, rather than the other way around. the idea is to give our people on the ground an opportunity to feel they truly are participating in the policy making decisions of the country.

and making our people feel like they truly are participants in the country, not some clip on to social welfare or foreigners in their own home land, is also what i'm on about, and i'm glad i'm in a position of power to ensure maori people make a meaningful contribution to the running of the country's affairs.

you know the seventies and eighties have seen a renaisance of maori culture in our country.

at preschool level, our maori kids now have the opportunity to learn in their native tongue. learn the same things their european counterparts are learning in mainstream schools, but in their native tongue. at the same time learning about the customs and practises of their ancestors through the years.

this new initiative has expanded to high school, to university level and in the next decade we'll see a new breed of maori kid out in the world.

one who is strong in their culture and at the same time academically the equal of any. and i'm glad to say my own kids will be part of that movement, an opportunity i could only have dreamed about when i was their age.

those same kids will be part of the new movement that will ensure our culture thrives well into the future.

if you listen to the radio talkbacks back home, read some of the blatantly racist commentaries on the growing force that is maori clout, you know as a people, as a force, we're heading in the right direction.

like i said at the beginning i'm unashamedly black, and i'm unashamedly beautiful and i won't lie down for anyone who tries to suggest there's something wrong with the pride i take in myself as a maori.

because of the stringent pro-maori stance my immediate colleagues and i have taken, and also some on the opposition benches, we've copped a lot of flak from the media who've painted us as thugs, heavies and hoods.

we can't help it that this country, that the media, have got use to a maori political element who in the past have just sat there and said nothing. that's not our problem.

but according to the media it is. according to them we should be those handkerchief-head uncle toms: yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir.

if our stance our position is arrogant because we stick up for what we believe in, because we have a strong maori mandate which says that's what we want you to do, if that's thuggish, then so be it. i'll wear that label, not kindly, but at least we're advocating what we were put there to do.

our presence, the maori presence, has seen a change of culture in the parliament of new zealand which some people are still getting use to. but that's not our fault.

so proportional representation in new zealand has been exciting for maori.

however it can only work if you can convince your people, if your people believe, that participation in the mainstream political process is for you, and that you can strike a meaningful partnership with your fellow mankind.

the movement my parliamentary colleagues and i are a part of now is something for today. it will endure the test of this parliamentary term and beyond, despite the rhetoric of the opposition.

the next election will be an entirely different ball game, but the maori voting bloc will again be a key element in determining the make up of the next government.

proportional representation has ensured maori play a key role in deciding future governments by giving it the balance of power.

i look forward to the future with much hope.

thank you.