Briefing to Incoming Ministers

The wonderful thing about those of us who enjoy democracy, we are currently told, is that we enjoy the fruits of an orderly and peaceful transfer of power between governing regimes.

I’ve got to tell you that, like many others, when ‘that (black) man’, (with Irish blood I’m informed; could be O’Bama), was announced as the President-elect of the United States of America I felt a lump in my throat. The sense of emotion was even stronger when McCain delivered his speech of concession – it was an honourable, respectful, leadership statement aimed at the Pakeha mainstream of that mighty land, and I admired the man for it. He made me proud to be a Pakeha. He rangatira tena.

Prime Minister John Key, President Barack Obama

I didn’t have the same immediate emotional reaction at the results of our election here at home, but I’ve been impressed, even encouraged by the way in which Prime Minister John Key has taken an inclusive attitude toward the Maori Party, giving them a role into the machinery of government, and by the way in which he took advice from Helen Clark prior to going to Apec. These are good signs for tough times. In the old school being a Minister outside Cabinet meant that your influence counted for diddly squat. It seems a little strange that in this new arrangement Hon Georgina Te Heuheu the Associate Minister of Maori Affairs is in Cabinet, but the Minister of Maori Affairs, Dr the Honourable Pita Sharples (as the leading candidate for Speaker, soon Dr the Honourable Lockwood Smith will doubtlessly refer to him) is without. Without or within, ma te wa – we shall see. I have hope.

In years past I would have by now contributed to a BIM or two, a ‘Briefing to the Incoming Minister’. Even though these days I’m outside the tent pissing in I thought I’d provide a transministry ‘whole of government’ briefing, right now. My korero covers Social Development, Maori Affairs, Justice, Police, Culture and Heritage, Youth, Education, and Health. It could be called ‘wideranging’, although it has a common denominator, its specific population focus, the tribe of Nga Mokai.

Michael King defined Nga Mokai as

The underprivileged or tribeless young people who were having difficulties coping with the competitiveness of urban culture

King, M. (2003) The Penguin History of New Zealand.

They are identified by their scars: educational under-achievement; relatively higher unemployment; higher rates of arrest, conviction, and imprisonment; and, poor health. There are measurable disparities between the characteristics of the New Zealand that they endure compared to that enjoyed by the majority of their fellow citizens.

The plight of Nga Mokai has more or less seen as a ‘deficit’ issue since Hunn Report (J K Hunn, 19 61). A discontinuity occurred in the mid-80’s as a result of economic restructuring. The ranks of ‘Nga Mokai’ swelled and there was intergenerational consolidation, the demographic profile changing as the young of the 1970’s aged. The Government response over the last decade has generally been poll driven and suppressive. Despite a generally harsher and less tolerant approach to crime and anti social behaviour, the terrible deaths of a number of the most defenceless members of this community serve as an awful indicator of a deep and untreated malaise.

With Treasury projections of a general unemployment rate of 6% – 8% we can anticipate the Maori and Pacific Island unemployment to be a multiple of that, on past experience by a factor of 3. When unemployment rates amongst one sector of the community are 18%-24% we can expect that times will not only be tough, they’ll also be rough. On the streets we are facing a repeat of the 1980’s except that some of the environmental conditions have changed, for the worse. Then, we didn’t have P, and serious firepower was not as readily available. I already sense a change in behaviour, a mix of desperation and nihilism, and I anticipate a spike in crime. The new Government is committed to hardening the rules around bail. The result will be an increase in the prison muster. The Government’s coalition partner ACT is in favour of doubling the prison population, introducing a ‘three strikes’ policy. Our prisons are already stressed and we can expect that with longer, harsher, sentences, stricter bail laws and an increased inflow due to high unemployment, they will become increasingly unruly and more dangerous for staff and inmate alike.

The temptation might be to encourage a ‘surge’ increasing the resources for suppression of criminal and anti-social behaviour. But like Iraq, New Zealand’s desperate and disconnected communities are hard to Police, and the asymmetry of resources that would presume the rule of law by dint of force is foiled by the very inbalance and unfairness of the situation. We need to clean the road film off decade-old glasses and re-examine what we are actually facing with Nga Mokai. Let us move away from moral panic and in the light of new leadership and new possibilities look for new answers.

You already know I’m going to suggest a proactive response as an alternative to treating everything as a criminal issue, but let me assure you, I’m not advocating stopping policing. What we currently call ‘suppression’ could be de-dramatised and simply called good old Kiwi policing where the local cop knows and works with the family at a community level but is supported by smart systems and skilled backroom analysts and specialists. Our current paradigm is intolerable morally; in terms of the Treaty of Waitangi, in terms of social justice and human rights, and in terms of common sense. It is also intolerable economically. We have become locked into an unsustainable commodification of crime within a criminal justice industry that has developed perverse drivers. The stated objective of the industry is to reduce re-offending, but its member organisations are not incentivised to achieve that outcome. The nett result is a waste of capital and erosion of the human assets of the nation.

New prison, South Auckland

We need ‘upside down’ thinking. If we are going to be hit by unemployment and ‘down time’ instead of allowing the devil to make work for idle hands lets take advantage of the situation and steer the Nga Mokai population into a full on period of learning and restorative action. Instead of having people on the dole help them get into educational courses and skills training programmes: parenting programmes to build whanau ora; Te Reo Maori programmes to acculturate and give a sense of locus; digital design courses and digital broadcasting programmes to build new capabilities in the knowledge economy. Let us move away from the pathological perspective and focus instead on fostering the potential of Nga Mokai. This does not ignore the harsh and generally complex realities surrounding the members of the tribe of Nga Mokai, but ‘assumes the best’ and resonates with the late Michael White’s idea of ‘re-authoring lives’ – forward.

The point of focus for action must be whanau. The problematics of the past, and of the moment, are more than aggregation of issues faced by individuals. The problems of one interact with and impact upon others. Whanau is the point of intersection so we need to take a ‘whole of whanau’ approach, and to provide whanau with a voice, a way of expressing their aspirations. When a whanau can spell out what they want to do members can also identify what is getting in the road of that future, and this provides the cue for the helping agencies to provide their support. Whanau will ‘choose to care’ when:

  • They are told the truth about the situation and presented with the case for change
  • They can find hope in a compelling vision for the future
  • They feel they are fairly treated
  • They are seen as people not as targets
  • They are given the gift of doing something about the whanau’s future and their own

The last five years of work with Nga Mokai have provided a number of insights that can help the helping agencies be effective with these whanau:

Whakaeke ki te Marae – get back to the Marae. In the rural districts this might mean marae based programmes, growing kai for healthy eating, kohanga reo and child care skills development, Te Reo Maori and Maori language digital broadcast projects using the internet to connect with tribal members living elsewhere, Maori performing arts, micro enterprises in production of art works, indigenous tourism. In the cities the Marae may well be ‘urban marae’ or even makeshift ‘marae style’ arrangements in a in a community hall. Many of the same things undertaken in the rural districts could be undertaken as well as urban skills related programmes, drivers licences, building and trades related work, labour hire pools to respond to short term employment opportunities, breakfast clubs to ensure the tamariki and rangatahi get a good kai before school, after school and holiday programmes and so forth.

  • Ko te Maori – do it the Maori way. Let programmes be Maori designed and Maori delivered
  • Whakawhanungatanga – put family first in every instance
  • Kia tupato – be careful it can all get messy
  • Assume eupsychia – assume the best. Keep your positive glasses on and work at releasing the good. There will be quite enough people ready to jump on the negative.
  • Ready, fire, aim – you don’t have to get everything perfect, known and planned. Breaking inertia is the big thing and you’ll get things more accurate and better calibrated on the way through
  • Settle for directionality – there will be ups and downs and sometimes there will be drifts and reversals. The important thing is to make progress ‘in the right direction’.
  • Allow the ‘polysemic’ – don’t over prescribe. Allow whanau to interpret things in their own way and express them in their own way. There is no need to comply with ‘brand’ guidelines, let it be as whanau wish to have it.
  • Focus on results – the real measures are straightforward: reduced crime; more success at school; higher rates of employment with better paying jobs; better health; lower rates of child mortality

So, the Kiwis are the World Champion Rugby League team. What a buzz for every underdog. My lead up to the final game was great fun. I’d gone with Kevin Tamati to the All Golds vs NZ Maori match in New Plymouth. The Mad Butcher was the team manager for the All Golds. He said to me “Denny, I never thought I’d get over what was done to Bluey, but maaate, this Kearney has got something special – he’s very humble Denny, very respectful, and he asks people for their views. There’s something special here. I think this team can do it in the World Cup”.

On the Friday night before the World Cup Final I attended a Rugby League Centennial event at Omahu run by the Omahu Huia Rugby League Club. Kevin Tamati, our home-grown Hawke’s Bay Kiwi was the MC. Mike Doreen, the most recent Kiwi selected from a Hawke’s Bay team (the Hawke’s Bay Unicorns) was there, as was Peter Cordtz, the GM of NZ Rugby League.

Cordtz had forgone a trip to Australia for the World Cup to be with his old Unicorns team mates for this grassroots celebration. We had an awards ceremony and I talked about the history of HB Rugby League, of James Rukutai from Tangoio who is still celebrated in the Auckland Rugby League competition today. I told the tale of the Charity Cup, the oldest rugby league trophy in the Southern Hemisphere and perhaps the most unique football trophy in the world, as it has been played for by all three codes (see blog July 2005 ‘The things that bind us’ for the full story).

The following day, the Saturday of the World Cup, we buried Reti Luke, compared to me a young fulla. He is the seventh of a family of nine siblings who have died in recent years, all I think before their 50’s. I don’t understand it. Reti was a lean tall second rower for the Taradale Eagles and a tough and uncompromising tackler. He had a swerve in which he arced his body like a C, break the line, and then pop a beautiful short pass to one of the big forwards. He helped the Eagles stay undefeated as Hawke’s Bay Champions for four successive seasons. He seemed to be fit and trim but cancer cut him down in much the same way as it has taken out the majority of his brothers and sisters. After leaving the marae at Petane I waited with Taape at Waiohiki and saluted him with a haka as the van bearing his body paused at the marae before heading off to the cemetery at Park Island.

It seemed appropriate to go out to the centennial celebrations at Omahu and watch the former HB Unicorns play former Omahu Huia team members. Goddam, these Unicorns guys were all in their late 40’s and early 50’s but you would never know it. Omahu Huia have always been known as a tough, uncompromising and ‘physical’ team. “Physical” is a code for the fact that they like to bash you. Nothing has changed. It was brutal from the kick off. Old man Neil O’Dowd was in a scrap within minutes, and Peter Cordtz, who was always the pretty boy of the Unicorns, copped a beauty in the hooter, which probably required a stitch or two and a bit of straightening when he got back to Auckland. It didn’t stop him cutting up the Omhau backline and popping beautiful passes out to Mike Doreen and others as these former Unicorns demonstrated that not only do they still have it but that fast ball and quick legs beat bash everytime.

It says something about our code that the General Manager can still hack it on the field and that the event arranged by this little club, formed around a small Maori community, was significant enough to attract such top blokes. Straight after the game I had to drive to Auckland with Boy for a Black Power hui there. We listened to the first half of the game on the misty frequencies of sports radio – it reminded me of listening to the All Blacks in South Africa when I was a kid – using our imaginations to build on the commentary. Damn those announcers can be funny – “ There’s young Luke – he looks like the last of the Mohicans – he’s had his hair cut especially for the game – I hope he didn’t pay much” Then it was into the Auckland clubrooms for the second half, a band pumping in the background and three hundred or so of the bros fixed on the TV, cheering as the Kiwis started to get the upper hand, gripped with the possibility of the impossible dream, that this time we might do it. And then, as the spectre of the impossible faded and reality dawned, ‘Whiti Te Ra !”, it was so. We were World Champions. We. Us. Every leaguester, every follower of our minority game, often badmouthed and ridiculed by the mainstream sports fan, ‘WE’ had done it, shared victory, rooted in belief and commitment.

Ross France, my lawyer mate in Auckland told me a story that summed it all up. There is a bloke living down the road from him who needs a wheelchair for mobility. On the Sunday morning after the game this bloke was dressed in his Kiwis jersey. He spent most of the morning sitting at the traffic lights just grinning and giving the thumbs up to each and every car that passed him by.

Ministers one, Ministers all; if the Kiwis can win the Rugby League World Cup we can also work together to turn around the situation facing the tribe of Nga Mokai. Let’s treat the upcoming economic difficulties as we might an ‘off-season’ and use it to prepare our whanau teams for that competition to be all that we can be in the great game of life. Arohanui. D

Tags: Barack Obama  Denis O'Reilly  John Key  Rugby League  

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