Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage

Each morning I go for a swim. When at home, and whilst the weather is still warm enough, I use the seawater ‘pond’ at Ahuriri, a remnant of what was once the inner-harbour, Te Whanganui a Orotu, most of which rose above sea level during the cataclysmic earthquake that struck Napier in 1931. In the Hawke’s Bay you don’t need to look far to observe the telltale signs of nature’s great forces at work. The sheer cliffs that form Cape Kidnappers, in the Maori tradition, are spoken of as being part of Te Matau a Maui, the ‘hook’ that Maui used to pull the ‘fish’ of the North Island from the sea. It is a wonderful allegorical explanation of the great seismic shifts that formed this land of ours, positioned as it is on the edge of the earth. We are still a geologically young land and our growth spurts can be painful and distressing as our fellow citizens in Christchurch can testify.  We grieve with them and feel their losses keenly, as befits a nation that sees itself as one big extended family.  Haere ra e nga tini mate. Farewell to the dead. Ka nui te ora, ka nui te kaha, ki te hunga ora. Health and courage to the living.

With these reminders of the slowly moving tectonic plates that sit beneath us and the volcanic vents that tower above, we might — reasonably — feel somewhat vulnerable. Here in the Bay, the memories of 1931 are still vivid and we empathize with Canterbury. When there was a recent tremor in Wellington the residents of that city quite rightly wondered if this was a sign of the ‘big one’ that the earth scientists tell us is due: not ‘if’ but ‘when’. It surely should encourage us to give our loved ones a cuddle and kind word when we leave for work or whatever on any given day. When I see the self sacrifice demonstrated by everyday Kiwis involved in the Canterbury search and rescue efforts, and hear the stories of heroism that are flowing from the dust and rubble of the “Garden City”, I feel that sense of ‘us’: the ‘we’, the sense of the great Kiwi collective that is part of the nature of being New Zealanders no matter where we are in the world. Just look at the fantastic response in London to raising funds for relief in Christchurch. Let this be a time when we cut short that depreciative and abuse-filled language that in recent years has seemed to dominate the national discourse, particularly on talkback radio. The people that were being badmouthed ten minutes ago may be the very ones called upon to help in ten minutes time. We are interdependent. This is a time to pick each other up. E tu te whanau o Aotearoa.


A crew from Kahungunu led by the remarkable Henare O’Keefe has taken Tunutunu, the world’s flashest community barbecue, down to Canterbury to help out. Henare loaned us Tunutunu for Maori Motown. It’s a cool machine with multiple cooking plates, souped up burners, a serving area, and a sheltering roof with its own lighting and independent power system. It all folds down and clips together and is a fine example of Kiwi pragmatism and ingenuity. That conflation of ‘Henare’ and ‘O’Keefe’ is an example of the Irish Maori mix, and Tunutunu itself, will also be to the fore supporting the people of Canterbury when we run our annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations “Hui & Huilli” on March 17th. Hui & Huilli is a living example of the cultural fusion developing in Aotearoa as we increasingly become culturally comfortable in our own skins. It acknowledges the local interwoven bloodlines that blend Tangata Tiriti into Tangata Whenua and make us ‘one’.

George Prior Donnelly (source: NZETC)

It starts here with the Donnelly family and the marriage of GP Donnelly to Tareha’s grand-niece Airini Karuaria and has been extended to include the Mullany family and, obviously, the O’Reillys too. Keith Holyoake reckoned that New Zealand’s inter-racial tension would primarily be resolved in the bedrooms of the nation, and there is no doubt that miscegeny has some advantages. The peril is that previously implicit cultural expectations become explicit, and within the cauldron of family life profound differences may arise. At the Wai168 hearing held at Waiohiki in the 1990’s there was a wall to put photos of tupuna up. Someone from Airini’s line quite rightly, in my view, put GP Donnelly up. Others took it down. This particular image developed a certain kinesthetic quality as it rose and fell from display. My lady Taape is a full blooded Maori and I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I’ve stuffed up a thousand years of chiefly bloodlines. In my view the important thing is to get the relationship right by accepting Baxter’s insight that we ‘Pakeha’ are culturally the younger sibling and ‘Maori’ are the older sibling. If we get the tuakana teina thing right we’re away laughing.

Anyway, a few years ago, to embody the stories contained in the local interwoven Maori Irish bloodlines, noted artist and cartoonist Dick Frizzell developed an icon for the Hui & Huilli.  We called him ‘Paddy Lepbrochaun’. Now, obviously time has moved on, relationships developed and children produced. Acknowledging that, Dick has grown the Lepbrochaun whanau –the backstory being that Paddy has won the heart of a local Waiohiki girl, “Sheryl Moana”, and has sired a son, young “Declan”, who has a gift for  footy. This Paddy’s Day we will introduce the Lepbrochaun whanau to the world, with their first role being to raise some cash for Canterbury. We’ll kick the day off with a karakia for the Day of the Saint, and for the health and welfare of our Canterbury cousins, then have a Gaelic brunch. Next there is a golf match between the Maori (Team Captain Kurupo Tipuna (Tipu) Tareha) and the Irish (Team Captain Anthony Mullany) at the famous Waiohiki Course. The name Kurupo Tareha harks back to the very first days of Maori playing golf after this chiefly man played at St Andrews in 1896 and subsequently became the NZ Amateur Champion in 1903.  After the 1931 quake a virtual tent city was established out here at Waiohiki alongside the current links. The Clubrooms were knocked off their foundations and the Course suffered a bit of damage with fissures, some of which were a foot wide. Indeed a temporary local rule was introduced that if a ball went down a fissure it could be recovered and replaced without penalty. The same spirit of national solidarity we see today was expressed according to a report of Mr Frank Fryer, club captain of the day, golfers

“Throughout the Dominion, whether by subscription or otherwise came to the assistance of the Hawke’s Bay
golfer and helped lighten the load placed on us by disaster …our share of the fund is two hundred and nine
pounds thirteen shillings”

After a drink or two at the Waiohiki Clubrooms we’re going to have a bit of song, a Kiwi barbie and an Irish vs. Maori Joke Battle (Captain of the Maori Team Lawrence Mane, Captain of the Irish my good self). It’ll be a pay your own way affair with a $20 contribution to the Canterbury cause through Westpac and the Sally Army. Kia ora begorrah I’m telling ya, it’ll be a craic-up.


I’ll have a drink or two myself that blessed Day. I did the FebFast ‘abstain from alcohol for the month’ true to kaupapa and never touched a drop of liquor, though I came pretty close when we went to the Ladi6 and Kora Concert at Sacred Hill. I had this little Irish drunk running around inside me crying to be let out, but I stayed on the wagon and resisted. I must say I went out with the lads last Friday night and downed a bottle or two of pinot noir. But, I dunno, going on the piss seems to have lost its allure for me. Could be a good thing all ‘round.

I see that the High Court has declared the Whanganui ‘patch-ban’ bylaws illegal. This mainly stems from the decision of the former Mayor to push further than the intentions of Parliament in restricting the ban to the CBD, and applying the ban to the entire City. In this instance it is a case of Laws being hoist on his own petard. Justice Denis Clifford also intimated concerns over a possible breach of the Bill of Rights — a concern that was raised at the time, but dismissed by the then Mayor as a necessary subjugation of the rights of some for the benefits of the majority. It’s a clear demonstration of why we need a High Court, a body that can examine matters in an environment removed from moral panic and political expediency. There is already talk about the Whanganui Council going back to Parliament over the issue, but with the crisis generated by the Christchurch quake you’d think there might be more pressing issues to deal with. We have to be prepared to sort difficult things out at a community level. Indeed it might be an opportune time to pause and to reconsider the whole gang issue, to consider how we might effectively socially engage with rather than further alienate these groups.  I accept that there is a ‘gang problem’, but I don’t accept that our current way of dealing with it is efficacious.

On the point of efficacy, I also see that the Ministry of Social Development has reported that the much vaunted ‘Boot Camp” programme is looking to become the profound failure policy advisors warned about. Of the participants who completed the course 50% have already re-offended , while for some, the experience of the boot camp may have actually increased the likelihood of further offending. The overall trajectory of the likely re-offending rate of participants is assessed at being 65%-75%. On the flip side, I was recently invited by the Police to give an address to tutors and leaders of the Limited Service Volunteers, as the name suggests a ‘voluntary’ although boot-camp like programme. I think it’s a great programme and I told the assembly of officers and tutors that I reckon that if LSV were sufficiently resourced that they would resolve about 70% of the perceived youth gang problem amongst Maori and other Polynesian communities.


The military environment provides a sense of belonging sought after by otherwise unattached young people. They are held still for a moment. They acquire life and occupational skills, enjoy a healthy lifestyle, and acquire a sense of discipline. Unfortunately, at the end of the programme many of the young people go back into the same environment that they came from and both their personal effort and that of their trainers is wasted. Moreover, if the young person has previously been in trouble they may be prevented from actually joining the Armed Forces. Again, when you consider the lessons from Christchurch, and take into account the high rate of youth unemployment — especially for young Maori and other Polynesian New Zealanders— why don’t we utilise LSV to create a body of trained young people who can contribute to their communities at times of civil emergency? I know it may prove to be expensive, but, the alternatives (about $100,000 per head for imprisonment) are not only more costly but erosive of both human and social capital.

Whilst the nation has been distracted by events in Christchurch another potentially seismic shift, this time in the social spectrum, has been heralded by the presentation of the Report of the Welfare Working Group. This team, led by Paula Rebstock, was established to examine ways to:

“Reduce long-term benefit dependency in New Zealand for people of working age.”

The Working Group’s definition of “long-term” surprised me. It’s six months or more. The ‘araphana in the whare’ is of course the status of Maori beneficiaries. Around 31 per cent of working age M?ori are currently on a benefit, compared with 10 per cent of the rest of the New Zealand population. Additionally,  approximately 41 per cent of all women receiving the Domestic Purposes Benefit are Maori.

The use of language in the Report is revealing. The task is not about getting Maori into work or off the benefit, but rather is positioned as:

“If welfare reform is going to work, it needs to work for Maori.”

The other stated target area is:

“Promoting better work outcomes for sole parents, sick people, disabled people and other people at risk of
long-term benefit dependency”.

Later in the Report we find that tighter welfare rules will also confront teens, particularly teen mums, and those with drug and alcohol issues.  Well that certainly seems to round up all the usual suspects.


The Working Group reached consensus that fundamental change is needed because:

“The costs of the current system are unsustainable and the potential gains from reform are so attractive that to
continue with the status quo is not an option”.

They identified eight key reform themes to:

“Improve life-time outcomes for people at risk of long-term welfare dependency.”

  • A stronger work focus for more people
  • Reciprocal obligations
  • A long-term view
  • Committing to targets
  • Improving outcomes for M?ori
  • Improving outcomes for children
  • A cross-Government approach
  • More effective delivery

Their big picture quest can be summarised in the Working Group’s two recommended

“Fundamental changes to the provision of State funded welfare in New Zealand:

  • The establishment of a new single work-focused welfare payment to replace all existing categories of benefit, to be called Jobseeker Support; and
  • The establishment of a delivery agency, Employment and Support New Zealand, which will implement the new approach “

So, we will see the much vaunted ‘single benefit’ introduced, but within the specific context of being required to work for it, one way or another. We learn too that there will be yet another crack at creating an integrated benefit and work support agency. It’s a big ask, because, effectively, solutions across the benefit-dependent/gainfully-employed divide tend to be derived from local/regional factors but occur across organisational output silos that are structured nationally. Accordingly, it requires matrix management — but this approach is difficult to enable in a risk-averse public service.

I was part of the original change management team under George Hickton’s leadership that transitioned the former Department of Labour work placement service into the New Zealand Employment Service. That in turn became folded into Work and Income New Zealand placed within the Ministry of Social Development (MSD). The other day I talked with a young graduate who had just been to an MSD induction course. He reckoned that the first half hour was a lecture repeating MSD’s risk-averse mantra to “avoid doing anything that might end up on the front page of the Dominion Post”. Well, as noted, these envisaged changes won’t be achieved if risk avoidance remains the driving principle.

As always the devil is in the detail of the Report, and there’s quite a bit of that. Amongst the recommendations is that all 16 and 17 year olds be required to be in training, education or paid work and required to live with a responsible adult.  If they’re teenage mums or dads, their money will have to go through a responsible adult. If a beneficiary is a recreational drug user or has a problem with booze there will be pressure to engage with rehab programmes — with sanctions if they don’t. If you’re on a benny for over six months there will be pressure to ‘work for welfare’. This will rattle a few cages. For many, especially Maori, the view is that the benny is the only income you can rely on. They’ve learned at a ratio of 3:1 that you can’t rely on jobs. So it’s true that we’ve sort of built this self defeating system and it is hard to argue that reform is not required. How it rolls out though needs to subject to vigilance on the part of champions for social justice and inclusion. The aim is to have Employment and Support New Zealand established within the first half of the new financial year 2012-2013. The objective is to reduce the numbers of New Zealanders on a benefit by 100,000 people by 2021 and to gain net savings of around $1.3m per annum.  You may be required to contribute to that outcome. Watch this space, intently.

Now it’s obvious that the squeeze was already on prior to the quake, but one has to suspect that the circumstances provide the opportunity to drive policies that are ideologically attractive to the ruling administration. I don’t know if its because Maori policy advisors and politicians recognise that Maori whanau will cop the brunt of these intended changes – sorry, receive the benefits of improved support – but there seems to be a burst of effort by the Ministry of Maori Development (Te Puni Kokiri), delivered as part of the broader ‘whanau ora’ strategy, towards facilitating a whanau-focused process to help family collectives get their act together towards good health and resilience.


Whanau ora is an inspirational notion which implies attaining and maintaining wellbeing for the whanau collective as a whole, and individually for each member of the whanau, across the areas of health, education, housing, income, and life in general. The whanau ora approach is one of self determination and supports the aspiration of whanau to become more self managing and to take responsibility for their economic, cultural and social development. I’ve revived that old shibboleth ‘healthy wealthy and wise’ as a way to express the objective succinctly.

I’ve been impressed with the way Te Puni Kokiri have continued to foster and develop the underlying whanau ora philosophy. For my part I believe it stems from some quality thinking by now Cabinet Minister Hekia Parata when she was a Director in TPK.

Hon. Hekia Parata (Source: Newztalk ZB)

Hekia’s team developed a Maori Potential Framework and the logic of that framework provides the direction for the current implementation of this empowering programme. One case in point is the establishment of a Whanau innovation Integration and Engagement Fund (WIIEF). The WIIEF fund looks to strengthen whanau capacity so that:

  • Whanau are strongly connected with each other
  • Whanau are actively engaged in wider society
  • Whanau have strong leadership that empowers members and fosters resilience
  • Whanau have the knowledge, capability and tools to achieve whanau goals and aspirations

Participating whanau – it’s open to all comers – are provided with useful little tools and thinking prompts to figure out how they might approach their reflection and their planning.

One is a model called Niho Taniwha, initially developed by the great conceptualist Ta Mason Durie. The model, the “teeth of the Taiwha”, is a metaphor for the implicit mana and strengths of one’s chiefly whakapapa. It incorporates elements called ‘kaupapa’, a sort of checklist of whanau characteristics; ‘moemoea’, the dreams and future vision for the whanau and its members; ‘tikanga’ the appropriate processes and practices of the whanau; and ‘ara taumata’, the action plan to implement the vision.

In other words the idea is to get every whanau to reflect on its current strengths and reality, determine a future reality and develop an action plan to make it all come true. I know that the gods seem to laugh at the plans of us mortals but hell, I reckon that TPK is effectively delivering a social Civil Defence ‘get through’ kit in preparation for what might be a period of profound upheaval.

Now, fellow citizen — Kiwi: can’t say it without Iwi — it’s time to crouch and get ready; touch one another to let each know the other’s there and to give reassurance; pause to reflect on what we’re going to do and how we’ll do it; and engage with each other with goodwill and intensity such as we’ve never done before.

Kia Kaha Canterbury! Kia Mau Aotearoa!

Arohanui. Denis.


Tags: Christchurch earthquake  Denis O'Reilly  Whanau ora  youth offending