Release of the report on The Social and Economic Status of Pacific peoples in New Zealand

  • John Delamare
Pacific Island Affairs

The report that is being released today, The Social and Economic Status of Pacific Peoples in New Zealand is a confirmation of what all of us present already know. It is a confirmation that, along with Maori, the Pacific peoples who live in New Zealand occupy all of the bottom rungs on the socio-economic ladder.

This report follows on from the Maori disparities report released last year by my friend and colleague the Minister of Maori Affairs, the Honourable Tau Henare. Whether it is health, education, employment, income, housing, welfare or justice, the statistics for Maori and Pacific people are not good.

As Fuimaono Les McCarthy, the chief executive for the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, states in the foreword this report is just the beginning. It is the beginning for developing a blueprint for the future. It is the beginning of a plan that will ensure Pacific peoples can meet the challenges of the new millennium.

The next step is to analyze why? Why are we at the bottom of the heap? Why are the statistics so bad? And then what? What are WE going to do to move forward, WE, as in the government but even more importantly, WE, as in ourselves.

Certainly we, the government, can do a lot more and I will share some thoughts with you on that later. But first I want to focus on what we can do for ourselves. What are the things we can change in our lives, changes that will improve our lot in life? Because ultimately the real answers, in many cases, do lie within us.

Certainly no government has all the answers. In many of the negative situations that confront us, the government does not have any of the solutions. In many of those situations only we, ourselves, have the solutions.

Today I want to offer my congratulations to Tino Pereira for having the courage last week to stand up and say to the Pacific Island community that enough is enough.

The violence he talked about is something all to common in Pacific Island families. It is something that is also all too common in many Maori families. We need more people prominent in our communities such as Tino Pereira to stand up and tell it like it is.

The last thing we need, however, are judges such as Judge Thomas Everitt. In his Kaikohe Court last week a Maori male faced Judge Everitt charged with a vicious assault against his wife. The learned judge said that although he believed the man was guilty he discharged him without conviction and gave him permanent name suppression because the courts recognise mana.

Let me make this clear. First the man he let off is a thug and deserves no protection. Second, the judge is an idiot who with his patronising of the Maori people has done incredible damage to the concept of mana. Judge Thomas Everitt has belittled and insulted the people of Kaikohe, the people of Tai Tokerau and all Maori.

Judge Everitt has endorsed the concept of violence in the home as something that is acceptable. His decision must be challenged. His decision needs to be appealed and I intend to do my level best to ensure this happens.

Violence breeds violence. If a child manages to survive the violence within their family environment all you have managed to achieve is that they, in their turn, generally believe violence is an acceptable answer. That child is also well on its way to the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. That child is more likely to suffer from poor health such as hearing loss, often a result from the beatings it received at home. That child is more likely to fail at school. That child is more likely to end up in prison.

Our children deserve better than that. I say to all of you today, take up the challenge laid down by Tino Pereira. As Mr Pereira says, it is unacceptable to try and hide behind one's culture in order to try and legitimize the abuse of one's own children.

There is absolutely nothing legitimate in the beating of our children. We need to stop making excuses for these people. Such actions are nothing but the actions of bullies and thugs and they should face the consequences of their actions.

And it doesn't matter what culture, what race, what religion you belong to. The old adage of'spare the rod and spoil the child is not in the Bible and it has always has been a load of garbage.

I ask you to do your bit to ensure this type of behaviour is put out on the roadside and taken away with the rest of our household garbage.

In the area of education we can also do our bit. We can make sure our children attend school and attend classes. We can make sure they do their homework. We can make sure we know where they are and not allow them to roam the streets at all hours of the night.

We can ensure they have home environments that they want to come home to. Instead of abusing them, instead of ignoring them, we can encourage them, we can praise them, and we can love them.

In the area of health, the statistics of Pacific people are similar to those of Maori. In a nutshell they are terrible. But in many areas of health it is not the government that will make the difference. Only we, ourselves, can make a real difference.

It is time we stopped trying to blame everyone else. It is time we started looking in the mirror to see where the real problem often is. Where we can, we need to take responsibility for ourselves. Certainly, the government has a responsibility to ensure health care is available to every citizen but every citizen of this country also has a responsibility to do what he or she can to look after themselves, a responsibility to improve their own health status.

In smoking, the rates for Pacific people, while lower than Maori, are still too high. Smoking kills. It is the biggest killer in the land. Last year 4,500 died from the effects of smoking. Tens of thousands more are suffering from the diseases brought on by smoking such as emphysema and lung cancer.

I'll do my bit to make sure the tobacco companies are hindered in every possible way while spreading their noxious propaganda - but ultimately, it's up to smokers themselves to put the tobacco companies out of business.

Obesity is a problem in the Pacific Island community. For the most part obesity is caused by a bad diet. When you eat too much, when you have an excessive dietary intake of high fat and high cholesterol you will probably become obese.

High blood pressure and diabetes is another problem area for Pacific peoples, just as it is for Maori. A bad diet as well as excessive alcohol and salt consumption exacerbate this condition.

By and large these conditions are all self inflicted. No one else can be held responsible, not even the government. If you insist on smoking you will most likely die an early and painful death from it. If you insist on consuming large quantities of food, high in animal fat, sugars and the like you will almost certainly be obese. And you will certainly struggle to enjoy good health.

Exercise and a good diet will do more to improve the health of Pacific people than any government health care programme. The example of His Majesty King Taufa?ahau Tupou IV, in changing his lifestyle to one of exercise and moderation in diet, should be an inspiration to all people, but especially Pacific peoples.

Our children suffer from poorer health than their palagi and pakeha cousins do. We have unacceptably low rates of immunisation. Hearing loss is a major issue. In many cases there is no excuse for this. Health care for children under the age of 6 is free, but unfortunately too many of our parents are just too lazy to take their children to doctors.

We as a community, as a society, must take responsibility and play our part. Where we can help ourselves we must. As Roger Sowry said last week we must force ourselves to get off the couch.

Now as I said earlier on in my speech the Government can also do more and it must do more.

In the area of unemployment, the statistics for Pacific peoples are as bad as they are for Maori. Unemployment is to my mind at the centre of many of the awful statistics that are in this report I am releasing today.

Unemployment leads to despair, it leads to low confidence, and it leads to the frustration which so often results in violence in the home. When people want work but can't find employment they suffer more from poor health, they can't afford adequate housing. So often, they just give up.

The unemployment rates of Pacific people and Maori are about 4 times higher than those for pakeha. Some of that discrepancy is due to the lack of appropriate skills, a lack of training and lower levels of educational attainment. However, the single biggest factor in the high unemployment levels of both Maori and Pacific people is racial discrimination.

An unfortunate reality in New Zealand is that a majority of employers discriminate against the hiring of Maori and Pacific peoples. Those employers who discriminate also include the ministries and the departments of the Government. It seems that no amount of legislation will ameliorate the discriminatory attitudes we face in the endeavour to get employment.

I will probably be attacked in the media as playing the race card. However, you and I know the reality of the job market.

For example, in my hometown district of Whakatane the Maori population is about 45%. Yet if you walk through the businesses in town less than 10% of the employees would be Maori. All the banks, the department stores, the District Council and government departments.

The only major employer who is an exception would probably be the Warehouse. And again I congratulate the Warehouse and Stephen Tindall for ensuring their stores throughout the country reflect the demographics of the local population. About half the employees at the Whakatane Warehouse would be Maori and yet it doesn't seem to affect their success or profitability.

Walk around the Manukau City shopping mall. What is the demographic makeup of the employees? What percentage of the customers are Pacific peoples and what percentage are employees?

Government departments and ministries each year produce wonderful annual reports with their EEO statements, Equal Employment Opportunity statements. Unfortunately that is all they are WORDS, fancy but so often meaningless. The reality is that my parliamentary colleagues, my ministerial colleagues, are happy to tolerate racially discriminatory attitudes in the hiring of civil servants. They are content to absolve themselves by pointing to the wonderfully crafted EEO statements of government departments, yet they ignore the reality.

A survey I did of government departments in areas with significant Maori populations; Wairoa, Gisborne, Opotiki, Whakatane, Rotorua, Kawerau, Huntly, South Auckland, Kaitaia and Kaikohe confirmed the discrimination against hiring Maori. The same is true in the hiring of Pacific peoples.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that chief executives of every government department, ministry and State Owned Enterprise should have as part of their remuneration package a demographic penalty clause in their employment contract. This clause would make a substantial part of their remuneration conditional on the chief executive reaching and maintaining certain employment levels according to population demographics.

In the past I have always been against this sort of thing. But just as the South African government has realized with rugby, if you don't confront these attitudes with such policies then those in control just continue to ignore you and continue to walk all over you. They just smile and continue as they always have.

Maori and Pacific peoples living in this country have the right to expect equitable treatment. These days we get equity on the sports field, we also want it all other aspects of our life.

Ladies and gentlemen I commend this report to you. It is a beginning but we have a long, long way to go.