Jesus Mary and Joseph!

Ka nui te mihi ki a koutou mo te ra whanau a Hehu, me te Tau Hou, hoki. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. My mate wished me ‘Happy Holidays’ the other day but that’s like pouring blancmange on me Christmas pud. I realise we are a polytheistic, sometimes even atheistic, society and if not everyone wants to celebrate this time of year as the birthday of Christ then fair enough, just look after those of us that do and make it a long weekend. Schedule the long summer holidays around Waitangi. The weather is better for a start.

The true focus of Christmas is essentially family in any case. In my particular Irish Catholic tradition we used to speak of ‘the Holy Family’, though that whanau is seldom mentioned these days. In light of the prevailing political attitudes you can understand why. Unwed pregnant mum, Mary, possibly delusional. Young chippie boyfriend, Joseph, from Nazareth, cuckolded — well, God knows who got the girl pregnant — unable to provide a fixed abode for the hapu girlfriend. They end up dossing in a stable, mixing with unlikely types, shepherds and some very strange middle eastern academics carrying various substances and lots of gold — sounds pretty suss — predictably all had some millennial experience at the birth of Mary’s boy child. When the child popped out, seeing that he had never popped in, as it were, Joseph said “Jesus!”, and the exclamation stuck. If they lived in South Auckland there’d be a CYFS crisis intervention team in there and the baby boy child Jesus would be out of there faster than you could say Kahui.

…..Now there are one or two

Of the tribe back in the big-house – what would you have me do, King Jesus? Your games with me have turned me into a boulder.

Wahi ngaro, the void from which all life comes, Has given us those woven spider cages

That tie together the high heads of grass, A civilisation in each. A stick can rip the white silk,

But that is not what I will do, having learnt With manhood mercy, if no other good

Two thousand perhaps in the tribe of nga mokai Scattered like seed in the bins and the jails

Or occupied at their various occasions Inside the spider-cage of a common dream,

Drugs, work, money….

From Verses 1 & 2 ‘Autumn Testament’ James K. Baxter

I couldn’t believe my respected friend Garth McVicar from the Sensible Sentencing Trust speaking so passionately in opposition to the conviction of Bruce Emery after that 50 year old businessman was found guilty of manslaughter. Emery fatally stabbed a slightly built kid, Pihema Cameron, a 15 year old tagger. I thought Emery had fared well under the representation of Chris Comesky, who successfully argued against a conviction for murder on the basis that young Pihema, despite being chased by the bigger, older, man, had turned around and forced himself on to Emery’s knife. This somewhat unlikely argument was possibly based on Comesky’s experience as a member of the Police in Wellington. In any case Garth empathized with Emery, the guy wielding the knife, because he “understood the frustration” Emery was going through when he caught the tagger at his house. Garth reckoned that if Emery had been let off it would have sent a message that minor crimes like graffiti need to be dealt with seriously. Otherwise, he said, with the continual breakdown of law and order people will become frustrated and forced to breaking-point. Oh crikey, makes my peacemaking after inter-gang fighting sound like a far too soft option. I try and convince people to let the Law take the ‘utu’ — for example in the instance of the murder of dear little Jhia. If death is to be the consequence of the  visual pollution of tagging then we start with a very high tariff. What horrendous punishments are in store for people identified as pumping shit into our waterways? — like certain authorities in the Hawke’s Bay. What indeed would we do to people who rip off the life savings of thousands of honest and hardworking people through corrupt and greedy financial shenanigans? Shall we kill them all? I know a few now poor pensioners who would probably agree. Shall we ‘talkback’ it, and reduce the issue to the fact that these criminals generally wear suits? Shall we ban suits? Shall we apply differential and harsher sentences to those suit wearing members of the financial sector when they do criminal things? Shall we restrict their bail? Shall we demand time served for money stolen? How long in jail would we contemplate for Bernard Madoff who is alleged to have fleeced some $NZ91 billion? God knows: it all gets to be a bit slippery slope when we change the rules depending on caste.

Speaking of opinion leaders saying odd things, did you read the piece by columnist Chris Trotter, writing in the Sunday Star Times a few weeks back, lambasting the members of the Maori Party for being ‘kupapa’? At one time calling a Maori ‘kupapa’ was designed to be an insult. Now, perhaps because its been used in this way by Trotter, it’s a compliment. Kupapa is generally defined as Maori being on the Pakeha side and acting against the interests of Maori. That’s a patently silly description of Pita, Tariana and Hone et al. It causes us to reflect on those early Maori politicians like Tareha Te Moananui and Mete Kingi Paetahi, who had to make tough decisions in their day — only our Fourth Parliament in the late 1860’s — in order to preserve a high degree of Maori self determination, at least as compared to other indigenous peoples who suffered the colonial yoke from the same imperial powers. Maybe kupapa will come to mean Maori who successfully grapple with a Parliamentary system and political process to get the best that they can for their people. These particular kupapa have kaupapa Maori — they are kaupapa kupapa. It takes guts to make unpopular but necessary decisions and to form alliances and partnerships in order to advance the longterm good of the people.

Courage and clarity of purpose are required. Good on all those involved. They are leaders, true rangatira. Now, on the other hand, where was Trotter’s hysteria coming from, and what was he actually saying? Like most in his political party he just doesn’t seem to be able to get beyond the pathology of the Maori reality in Aotearoa. For his ilk as long as assistance to Maori can be positioned as being a social justice consequence it’s AOK. But as soon as Maori invoke Treaty-based rights, and in particular property rights, Labour people freak out and withdraw to the comfort of a philosophy based on their version of a ‘meritocracy’ even though this has not delivered for Maori in the same way as for other New Zealanders. Labour seem to see Maori as their own brown proletariat, forever working class, to be respected, even feted as the indigenous people, but enjoying no unique circumstance beyond that, just one other part of the multicultural mix. As an example I’ll take an incident at the recent swearing in of the new Parliament. To some degree Te Reo Maori has become a diglossic, the ‘formal’ language of the land, often used at the beginning of speeches, or during burials and the like, as an educated English speaking person would once have used Latin. Many MP’s took the oath in Maori including some Pakeha MP’s like the Opposition Whip, the ever affable ginga of the House, Darren Hughes. They can do that because Maori is an official language of this land, and, that’s a Treaty-derived status. However the new Labour MP for Mangere, Sua William Sio was reported to be angry when good old Parliamentary Services told him that he couldn’t take the oath in Samoan. Sio reckoned that as Samoan was his native language and was the second most common tongue in Mangere it was his right to make this official statement in his own reo. I support indigenous people using their unique languages, and I always try to show a person respect by greeting them in their native tongue. But this was a formal declaration in a formal setting in Aotearoa. He could have spoken either in English, Maori or Sign Language. The latter option might be a good option for him to stick to for a year or two because his sadly advised stance is in fact an attack on the unique position of Te Reo Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand. Implicitly Sio advances the standard Labour line, one based on multiculturalism rather the duality envisaged by the Treaty, the agreement between Tangata Whenua & Tangata Tiriti, on which this land is founded. In any case it’s all moving on beyond what was possible only a few months ago under the ‘ancient regime’. Tumu Te Heuheu called another hui at Pukawa for the Maori body politic. PM John Key attended and again struck a welcome note. Is this just a honeymoon between Maori and the Nats or are there deeper notes resonating? If Pita Sharples is the ‘Keystone’

“And I say to you: That you are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever you shall find upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven”. Matthew 16: 18-19

Then have a look at the Te Puni Kokiri ‘Briefing to the Incoming Minister’ if you want to find what he is likely to bind. For a start this is a ‘heads up’ with the head held well high — despite recognising the reality that Maori experience relatively poorer outcomes than other New Zealanders — expressing a very positive view of the status quo: Maori culture thriving; Maori social well-being improved; Maori economic participation and the size and diversity of the Maori asset base growing (up from $9 billion in 2001 to $16.5 Billion in 2006); and, moreover, a youthful Maori population (53.1% of Maori below ages of 25 compared to 35.7% of the non-Maori population).

TPK says it’s going to:

  • Build on gains in Crown Maori relationships;
  • Consolidate Treaty settlements; and,
  • Support Maori to achieve optimal social and economic outcomes.

The improved economic outcomes will come from shifting Maori participation away from wages and consumption towards ownership and entrepreneurship. The improved social outcomes will come from a focus on the family, the holistic whanau rather than the holy whanau,

“Te Puni Kokiri promotes a whanau based approach to social development, in recognition of whanau as the core unit of Maori culture and society, and the change agent through which intergenerational gains can be achieved”
TPK BIM

and recognition and respect for the diversity of Maori communities. There’s a bite for the mainstream in the tail:

“The diversity between communities, and the growing expectation among Maori that they themselves will be responsible for their own futures, demands flexible government, with responses shaped to the needs and aspirations of individual communities rather than generic solutions”
TPK BIM

Te Puni Kokiri is telling the Minister that the aim is to support Maori succeeding as Maori. They’ll receive a ready ear there. I’ve liked the TPK Maori Potential Framework — essentially conceived by new National MP Hekia Parata in her time in TPK — and you may recall that my Masters dissertation uses the Framework to explore use of ‘consensus cardsort’ as a device to help whanau Maori articulate a future vision http://www.coda.ac.nz/unitec_tpkw_di/1. TPK has recently ‘sharpened’ its outcome focus. These are:

  1. Fostering and capitalising on the potential of Maori language and culture;
  2. Realising rangatahi potential; and
  3. Growing Maori economic participation and success

The bloody great elephant in the room though, the criminal justice/gangs issue, is unspoken about. There’s a tension. It’s seen as being a ‘deficit’ issue rather than one of ‘potentiality’. Somehow the TPK policy analysts have brought into the mainstream thinking that you can separate out ‘gang member’ or ‘offender’ from whanau, and treat ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as if they are issues on different planes rather than a continuum on which a whanau continually stirves to achieve ‘balance’. To be fair TPK have done some good work in the most contentious areas, and I tip my hat to previous Minister Parekura Horomia for sponsoring it, but it’s all been done below the radar and is only spoken of in hushed terms. This was pretty much because of the political paradigm that dealing with gangs was just not on and even ‘Muldoonist’, pragmatic though it may be. The majority social sector agency, Ministry of Social Development, (MSD) led by Peter Hughes, who also chairs the Social Sector Chief Executive’s Forum apparently made an edict some time back that MSD would not ‘deal’ with gangs or gang members.

This was confirmed for me a little while back when as Chairman of CART I wrote to MSD to find out what they were doing to implement a Cabinet directive to support a youth gang peace making project in Auckland. This project has had two positive reviews, one based on widespread feedback that I collated and wrote up, and another in the form of a formal evaluation undertaken by an independent agent. It has been clearly demonstrated that this project had a substantial positive impact in stemming the local spate of youth gang killings and in maintaining ongoing peace. There’s no doubt that the MSD sponsored and co-ordinated projects also had a great impact too, except to the best of my knowledge this has not actually been evaluated. MSD prides itself on being evidence based but it has let itself down in this area and has arrogantly assumed it has all the answers. To add pride to the arrogance they nominated themselves for some policy award and ended up receiving the PM’s Prize for Policy Excellence! Jesus Mary and Joseph! In the MSD BIM the Ministry explains that overall social sector spending as a percentage of GDP is lower in New Zealand than the OECD average. However, our spending on education and law and order is relatively high. New Zealand also spends significantly less per capita than the OECD average across all areas, except law and order. We have relatively high rates of criminal victimisation, however, despite our average to above-average spending on law and order. The BIM advises that 5% of people commit 50% of the crime and they lay out a diagram illustrating a continuum of how the sorry process works its way through to our appalling situation. The die looks to be pretty much cast and whatever it is that we think we are doing to help is palpably failing. What’s concerning is that not only do we face a time of increased unemployment but that we also have a demographic blip of young brown males heading up through the system and heading into that 14-17 year old category that consolidates into recidivist offending. Keep on doing what we are doing and you can expect trouble at t’mill.


Diagram from ‘Briefing to the Incoming Government’.

I saw a report the other day that there are about 7,000 students ‘disappeared’ within the education system. That’s just below our present prison population. That blimmin’ Jesus would have been one of them with such an itinerant mum and ‘last known addresses’ in Nazareth, Judea and Bethlehem. Whilst in New Zealand Aotearoa our secondary students have a very high achievement rate on average, a relatively high proportion of students continue to do poorly compared to other OECD countries. In 2007, almost 19% of students left school without achieving NCEA Level 1. Maori and Pacific students and students with disabilities are over-represented among those students who are not faring well within the schooling system — in 2007 35% of Maori students and 26 % of Pacific students left school with less than a NCEA Level 1 qualification. Again the common denominator is struggling whanau. The MSD BIM puts it like this:

“These families and whanau remain caught in a cycle of social deprivation where multiple challenges – including poverty, family violence, child neglect, mental and physical ill-health, unemployment – both reflect and are compounded by each other. The quality of life for children raised in these families and whanau is often poor. Many will struggle to fulfil their potential into adulthood. This is particularly so where the parents lack the skills, experiences and social supports necessary to underpin their children’s development.”

The consequences can be seen in early school leaving and underachievement, persistent and increasingly violent offending, substandard and unstable living conditions, and poor job prospects. Severe behavioural problems in a child’s early years are a strong predictor of future offending. It is estimated that between 5 and 10 per cent of children are affected. The MSD BIM cuts to the chase:

“However, no agency has clear accountability in this area and the consequence has been a significant shortage of behavioural services. This is despite good evidence that high-quality programmes can make an enduring difference.”

What the! It’s the old silo Public Service curse again. Time for some upside down thinking. Let the MSD wallahs lay out the strategies for sure – they’re in a good position to access the information and in general they are pretty smart thinkers – but then, in the name of Jesus Mary and Joseph, get out of the blooming way and let whanau, families, hapu, communities implement their own action. ‘Whole of Government’ happens at the Cabinet table. ‘Whole of community’ happens at the front line, not the offices of regional Public Sector Mandarins. MSD advances some high level strategic targets to  be pursued through to 2015 including:

  • increase participation in quality early childhood education in our more deprived neighbourhoods
  • reduce the rates of re-notification of child maltreatment to Child, Youth and Family
  • reduce the percentage of students who leave school without NCEA Level 2
  • reduce the percentage of children and young people who are apprehended for serious offences
  • reduce the percentage of people who engage in binge drinking

I can sign up to that.

Te Ara Otatara

I love it here at Waiohiki. People ask me “Are you going away for Christmas?’. Not likely. For a start I’m travelling all the time anyway and I’m beginning to begrudge every night away from home. I like my chats with Taape and our sometimes silly banter. I like the life at the kainga. My plan is to increasingly persuade the leaders I work with to come here so we can do what needs doing. I reckon I’ll be more productive and, besides, it’s nice and they’ll enjoy the time too. Here on the 23rd of December 2008 as I write this blog the orchard is groaning with fruit; apricots with their sweet tartness; plums ripening; the last few sprigs of asparagus are up, prompted by the recent fall of rain. Over at the Blue House the garlic is full and strong — we will pick it on the longest day, coming soon. Our rotary hoe crapped out in October and we were all too busy (lazy?) to hand dig the rows, so we have a weed problem in the Maori spuds — but ah!, they’ll be sweet enough on Christmas day. Out by the chook house the summer salad greens and tomatoes are doing fine. I’ve planted out a heap of swan plants in the herb garden by the tree house so the mokos can get a buzz from the metamorphosis of the monarchs. Early this morning Johnny Coleman arrived in for a kip on his way to Mahia. In yakking with him the night before I’d convinced him to take a break — that road to Wairoa is a killer for the weary. Boy’s gone up with him for a couple of days of fishing and we look forward to Tangaroa’s gifts for our Christmas repast. Jackson and Tipu are mowing down the rank grass in the back paddock. The walnut tree — it is over a hundred years old and spreads about 30 metres across — drops its green canopy right to the ground. The space underneath is huge, like some giant umbrella. On the hot evenings of summer we will cluster there and enjoy the cooling breeze it seems to generate. The Tutaekuri is running, but its low. The viticulturalists and horticulturalists upstream must be sucking a power of water from it. The kids have found a few pools and no doubt we’ll migrate down the paddock and set up a little camp with easy access to the chosen swimming spot. Tomorrow it’s my birthday. We’ll share kai and a few beers with friends and whanau and enjoy each others company in a special, unspoken, way.

I’ll write again in the New Year, after Parihaka perhaps. If you want a holistic whanau experience go drink at that deep pool of love called the Parihaka Peace Festival. Until then God’s blessings to you all, and Merry Christmas. Arohanui. Denis


Tags: Christmas  Denis O'Reilly  Garth McVicar