...Against a background of poverty among young Maori (a good article from those awful Trotskyists)

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Sat Jul 19 12:05:29 MDT 2003


New Zealand: Maori Labour MP delivers vicious attack on social welfare
By John Braddock
17 March 2003
The New Zealand Labour government has been forced over the past fortnight to
shut down the controversy that following a highly publicised anti-welfare
speech from one of its key Maori ministers.

John Tamihere, Minister of Youth Affairs and a leading member of Labour's
Maori caucus, was required by Prime Minister Helen Clark to apologise after
criticising the government's welfare policies, saying they were "killing
Maori with kindness". Having forced the apology, however, Clark made it
clear that Tamihere's message was by no means anathema to the Labour
leadership, and that aspects of it were already being implemented.

Tamihere's speech was one of the "highlights" of the second "Knowledge Wave"
conference, held in Auckland in late February. Co-sponsored by the
government, Auckland University and major corporations, it was set up to
provide a forum for advancing the right-wing social and economic agenda
demanded by big business. The theme of this year's gathering was
 "Leadership"-a euphemism for deliberations on how, in the face of intense
public resistance, to proceed with cuts to taxes and welfare and move on
with the privatisation of health, education and other essential public
services.

Tamihere was speaking in his role as a local MP for one of the Auckland
Maori seats, and as an authority on the "Maori" question. The Maori, the
country's indigenous inhabitants, constitute just under 20 percent of the
population. They make up the most oppressed layers of the working class, and
are disproportionately represented in a range of social statistics-poverty,
unemployment, low educational attainment, poor health, teenage pregnancies
and suicides and rates of imprisonment.

Far from demanding policies to address the grinding poverty and social
inequality faced by Maori people, Tamihere used the occasion before the
well-heeled audience to call for the privatisation of social welfare. He
said that beneficiaries were getting "something for nothing", and that this
was eroding their "self-worth". "Welfare in New Zealand is delivered in a
charitable and benevolent way and that charity and benevolence actually
crushes you because it teaches you to put your hand out," he claimed.
Beneficiaries should, he moralised, accept "obligations" in return for
"state support".

According to Tamihere, the Department of Work and Income (Winz) should
assess beneficiaries' entitlements and then pay the money over to private
trusts-such as the Waipareira Trust, where he was the CEO before entering
parliament. The trust would work out a budget for each beneficiary and pay
essentials, including rent, power and basic food items, rather than "handing
over the money for them to spend at will". Only residual money would be
transferred into a bank account for "discretionary" spending.

According to Tamihere, privatising the benefit system would enable private
sector managers to negotiate "bulk discounts" for their clients, similar to
a $3 discount on medical prescriptions negotiated by the Waipareira Trust.
An alternative would be for the benefit to be paid directly to social
service agencies such as the Salvation Army.

Pursued by the media in the wake of his speech, Tamihere went further. In an
interview with the Sunday Star Times, he launched a salvo at the Blairite
"Third Way" politics promoted by Social Welfare Minister Steve Maharey,
saying they were failing. "He is going to have to get away from statism and
bulls***ting under the name of Third Way-ism because he is not practising
Third Way-ism. No, no, he is practising old left."

Parading an intense anti-working class prejudice, Tamihere described the
typical beneficiary in the following terms: "All I need to do... is to beat
my case-load worker at Winz, pull my $160 unemployment benefit, get on the
p**s over there and grow a bit of dope over here. That's a wonderful
lifestyle but what values does that teach the children in the house?"

Tamihere also criticised the government's policy on state housing,
specifically its decision to set the rental ceiling at 25 percent of income.
Labour was forced to make this concession after criticism that the previous
policy of market-related rents was one of the chief contributing factors to
widespread poverty. Further, it was becoming the source of resistance among
state house tenants to government austerity measures. Tamihere claimed that
the rents should be reviewed annually. Everyone going into a state house, he
asserted, "should understand that it is not a lifetime entitlement. Because
what you are doing is incentivising (sic) them to either cook the books or
stay on their arse at 25 percent of gross [income]. Dumb, dumb, dumb."

Demonstrating that Tamihere's views have significant support within ruling
circles, the New Zealand Herald applauded them as an example of "creative
thinking".


Clark's response

Despite giving what Clark called a "comprehensive apology" to the cabinet,
Tamihere made it quite clear that he did not resile from anything in his
speech, insisting that both Clark and Maharey had vetted it beforehand. He
said that the only "issues" his superiors had with its contents were to do
with his right to speak on welfare matters but maintained that he had a
"right to speak because social issues are huge in... every Maori
constituency".

While Clark disagreed with Tamihere's version of the discussion, she
defended her initial attempts to downplay the significance of the speech,
saying it could have been read in either a "malign or benign light"-and she
had chosen the latter interpretation. Her direction to Tamihere was simply
that he should "stick to his portfolio and not attack his colleagues".

In a statement to the Sunday Star Times, Clark denied the speech was a
direct challenge to government policy. Labour in fact had been "trying to
distribute more funding to providers who were more responsive to the needs
of their communities". According to Clark, all governments aim to "devolve
welfare provision out to communities", the only problem being that
"accountability and transparency" need to be "worked upon". Clark said she
would like to move "more quickly on such initiatives", so long as the
"structures" could be got right.

Not a single Maori political figure-including from among the self-styled
"radicals"-has come forward to denounce Tamihere's attacks on welfare
beneficiaries. This is because he speaks for an entire layer of Maori
entrepreneurs and businessmen recruited and promoted by Labour prior to
assuming government. During the 1999 elections, Labour was determined to
regain control of the Maori parliamentary seats which it had traditionally
dominated, but lost in a landslide to the rightwing populist New Zealand
First party in 1996. Labour sought out a number of leading figures within
the Maori communities, offering rapid political promotions. A key
pre-requisite was proven influence in circles dominated by the politics of
Maori nationalism.

These elements have much to gain from the privatisation of public services
and their turning over to Maori business interests in the name of "self
determination"-as Tamihere's own career demonstrates. Tamihere established a
name for himself as chief executive of the Waipareira Trust, which runs a
collection of job schemes and social services for Maori in West Auckland. He
then won pre-selection for Labour, despite the fact that his credentials
were called into question on the grounds that the Waipareira Trust's job
programs were based on low wages and anti-unionism.

None of this has proved a hindrance to his rise through Labour's ranks. Once
in parliament Tamihere quickly emerged as one of the leading lights of the
Maori caucus, and was elevated, after just one term, to the cabinet. As
Minister of Youth Affairs he has assumed particular responsibility for a
deepening assault on the social and economic position of young people.

According to a recent United Nations UNICEF report (1), an entire generation
of New Zealand's children and youth has suffered under the reforms launched
by the Labour government of 1984-90. It concluded that Maori and Pacific
children in particular have been "disproportionately affected" by growing
inequality and levels of poverty.

Figures cited in the report show consistently high rates of unemployment
among young people-20 percent in 1996-and massive increases in poverty and
deprivation. Household incomes fell in real terms between 1981 and 1998,
with those having dependent children most likely to be in the bottom
two-fifths of income distribution. As a result of such policies, New Zealand
now has among the worst indices of OECD countries for youth suicides, births
to teenage mothers, poor child health and low rates of access to tertiary
education.

Tamihere's speech provides more evidence of the thoroughly anti-working
class nature of the Labour government and its supporters among the Maori
petty bourgeoisie. That he was able to deliver it at such a forum is an
expression of how far entrenched the attacks on the social position of
working people have become. That he has emerged with his political position
intact is a sure sign that Labour is preparing to move even further to
accommodate the most extreme demands of big business.

(1) Blaiklock, A. et al., When the Invisible Hand Rocks the Cradle: New
Zealand Children in a Time of Change. Innocenti Working Paper No. 93,
UNICEF, July 2002.

Source: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2003/mar2003/newz-m17.shtml








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