So, what’s the verdict of last month’s well-being budget for Māori?

We were told it was going to be transformative in a year that the Government was going to deliver. We heard there was going to be a new formula that assessed the funding against a new well-being index. And if international media was anything to go by, they loved it before it was even announced.  

Fair enough if you had rather high expectations.

The days leading up to the budget however were tragic. For those of us that work across the health and social sectors, and perhaps are quiet policy-wonks, we were interested to hear some of the kōrero around the design and intent behind the announcements.

Instead, the whole discussion was hijacked by some website malfunction in the basement of the Treasury and the ugly side of politics took over. And how did this disclosure affect whānau on the ground? Not one bit. Hōhā.

In the spirit of putting whānau first, there was only one disappointment during budget week, and it wasn’t the government.  

So, did it deliver for Māori? Yes, it did.

Whānau Ora received its second biggest investment since its conception. Mental health and addiction services received its biggest amount of funding, ever. Funding across health sector received a good uplift compared to previous years. And Kōhanga Reo received long awaited equity funding.

Oranga Tamariki finally gets proper funding too. It was never funded properly from the start. Let’s hope that funding makes its way to the regions and to the staff and providers on the ground. But funding is only part of the solution here. There needs to be an organisational culture shift. New national leadership and empowering the regional offices would provide the reset required.

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, we weren’t in our happy place. There was limited funding for Māori and even Vote Māori Affairs decreased for the first time in living memory. Now we’re back on track with a full puku.

Labour Māori Caucus

Some have argued that the budget was not transformative, but a catch-up budget. They have a point. But if you consider other things like the lift in minimum wage and working for families package previously announced, the current government has nevertheless built a solid package for whānau.

However, the package to date has been largely deficit orientated attempting to fix all the negative indicators that we’re all too familiar with. This was long overdue, had to be done and we must commend the courage it took to do this.

For something to feel transformational, we need to look at innovation, education and leadership as well.

The governments flag ship innovation project is without a doubt the Provincial Growth Fund and all the different programmes attached to it. Its initial success was its flexibility and agility as a funding model. It allowed custom designed local interventions to focus on key touchpoints. The Rangatahi Hub in Kopeopeo is an example of this.  Now the bureaucratic screws are slowly turning, and political leadership must endeavour to uphold its original spirt for other projects.

In Budget 2020, the government should significantly invest in tertiary education, in particular the wānanga and polytechnic sector. The fees-free tertiary policy hasn’t worked for Māori. There has been relatively no net gain in Māori enrolments. Another strategy is required.

They should also look at developing leadership hubs and programmes across the country, especially regions like the Eastern Bay of Plenty. We need to meet the expectations of our rangatahi. We’re just breaking even if we’re to be honest.

What is also missing is the tip of the spear so to speak—constitutional progress. The government is looking to soon roll out an implementation plan to address the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This certainly ticks the box. Another way could be to introduce a stronger treaty clause in local government legislation so councils would need to work with Māori/Iwi statutory entities or something similar. This would also neutralise the asymmetrical power dymanics we saw with the vote on local Māori wards not too long ago.

If they were able to pull this altogether then we would have something that was truly transformational.

Published in the Whakatane Beacon on 18 June 2019.

Dr Chris Tooley

Chris Tooley, Ngāti Kahungunu, CEO of Te Puna Ora o Mataatua.

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