The Coalition Government is making solid progress on improving the wellbeing of New Zealanders and the Budget will outline further work, Finance Minister Grant Robertson enthused today.
Responding to the Salvation Army’s State of the Nation report, he said “the scale of the challenge this Government inherited means that we won’t finish our work in one year”.
Well, no. Jacinda Ardern said something similar in the Prime Minister’s statement, presented to Parliament yesterday.
“I have reflected over summer on three things that remain true to me. No matter how much this Government did in the last year—and it was plenty—there is more to do. There is more to do. Even if there’s a summer break, I didn’t stop thinking about that for a moment.”
The things to be done include the development of a wellbeing Budget.
“We’ve frequently said that [conventional] economic measures are not enough, so the agenda for us around wellbeing is absolutely critical.”
National’s Paula Bennett agreed a wellbeing budget sounds nice.
“Who doesn’t want to have good wellbeing?
“But the numbers on welfare are going up; the numbers needing food parcels have increased to record levels; the numbers on the Housing New Zealand wait-list have gone up…”
And so on.
In his response to the Salvation Army, Grant Robertson referenced more politically agreeable data:
“We’ve lifted the incomes of more than 384,000 families by $65 a week, on average, now and $75 when the Families’ Package is fully implemented. We’ve helped families by making it free for every kid under 14 to go to the doctor and pick up a prescription.
“We extended paid parental leave, and introduced the best start payment for every child born in New Zealand, providing $60 a week for up to three years to support every family at the most crucial time in their children’s’ development.
“Over a million New Zealanders benefited from the winter energy payment that gave families up to $31.82 a week to help keep them warm and dry over the coldest month.”
This year’s Wellbeing Budget would continue that work with its priorities including reducing child poverty, improving child and youth wellbeing and addressing family violence as well as supporting improved mental health and lifting Maori and Pacific incomes, skills and opportunities, Robertson said.
Meanwhile Te Puni Kokiri was releasing a paper which welcomed Treasury’s work on national wellbeing and argued for wellbeing to be viewed from a Maori perspective:
This paper argues that wellbeing considered from an indigenous perspective moves the public policy discourse beyond Western constructs of wellbeing and enables an improved lived experience of wellbeing for everyone.
While this paper has a focus on wellbeing for Māori specifically, it articulates a way of looking at wellbeing that can be applied to the full range of populations within Aotearoa New Zealand, and to indigenous populations universally. It offers a way of accounting for various values and beliefs that drive people’s experiences of wellbeing and of responding to the needs, aspirations and interests of collectives and the individuals within them.
The paper champions “a holistic view of wellbeing in which people can identify for themselves the outcomes they want to have balanced or prioritised”
It says there is no one way to look at wellbeing and brings several unmeasurable factors into considerations:
People view wellbeing differently depending on their values, beliefs and social norms. The way Māori view wellbeing is different from the way other New Zealanders view wellbeing.
It is informed by te ao Māori (a Māori world view) where, for example, whenua (land) is not seen just for its economic potential, but through familial and spiritual connections defined by cultural concepts such as whakapapa (genealogy) and kaitiakitanga (stewardship).
The paper assigns a key role to the Treaty of Waitangi, which it says
… puts significant weight on partnership, active protection of Māori interests and redress to address past wrongs – including ongoing disparity and inequity experienced by Māori and their ability to access and benefit from capital stocks in various forms.
Actually, the treaty makes no mention of a partnership and the signatories did not aim to redress Maori disparities and inequities.
They had no need to worry about disparities and inequities back in 1840, as the Te Puni Kokiri paper acknowledges:
History has seen Māori move:
- from circumstances at the time of signing Te Tiriti where they successfully undertook international trade, re-wrote the rules of warfare with their defensive earthworks and had farming expertise that at one time fed the majority of the early settler population in Aotearoa New Zealand
- to being a population with declining wellbeing that can be characterised as poor in relation to almost all of the measures monitored by government.
The paper provides familiar examples of those measures such as:
- 51% of prison inmates are Māori,
- 61% of children in care are Māori,
- Māori household net worth is $23,000, with European net household worth valued at $114,000
- 28.2% of Māori own their own home, compared with 56.8% of Europeans.
The paper quite rightly says this poor performance against key statistics suggests that, from a Living Standards Framework perspective, Māori wellbeing significantly lags behind that of other New Zealanders.
To remedy this, the government is advised to bother less about bad stuff that has happened (which can be measured) and focus more on potential (which can only be guessed).
In particular, it will be critical to focus less on the failings of Māori in terms of statistical outcomes and instead look to the potential capability within the Māori population that will support improved wellbeing.
Values and spiritual beliefs are another unmeasurable feature of what is being promoted.
Values are a key driver of the choices people make. Beliefs and social norms inform Aotearoa New Zealand’s values and relationships, playing a major role in framing the individual and collective realities of New Zealanders’ lives.
Where policies or interventions are based on values that do not align with those of the recipient group, there is an increased risk of those policies or interventions failing. The beliefs and norms of Māori differ from those of the wider population…
The report further emphasises Maori difference from the rest of the population…
The depth, nature and complexity of the relationship between Māori and government are substantially different from the relationship observed between non-Māori and government. This difference is reflected in Te Tiriti and the Crown’s obligations to Māori under it. In this context, it is Te Tiriti that plays a central role in defining how the Crown’s relationship with Māori should be expressed, rather than whether it should exist at all.
But then it demands a fair and impartial approach to policy-making:
An expectation of good and effective government is to ensure that all populations can access equitable opportunities to achieve wellbeing.
Isn’t this akin to what former National leader Don Brash advocates, for which he is condemned as a racist?
Further discussion is generated on the issue of multiculturalism:
There is a strong interest within Aotearoa New Zealand to successfully embrace biculturalism. At the same time, however, the country is experiencing increased multicultural diversity that brings new experiences, perspectives, cultures, understanding and often an increase in social acceptance and tolerance. Both are critical to a shared future.
Should we forget about biculturalism and embrace the reality of multiculturalism?
Oh, and let’s not overlook Te Puni Kokiri officials promoting their own wellbeing:
While understanding and then applying te ao Māori may be challenging for government, it reflects a mature approach to the discussion of wellbeing and diversity. To support a re-framing of the Government’s thinking on wellbeing in the future, Te Puni Kōkiri has a significant body of expertise that can assist the development of an approach that will be new to the public sector, but not Māori.
These officials want our society to to use “the indigeneity lens” (and, by definition, their advice on how to use it) as a model to be developed to suit the diverse populations in New Zealand.
It will be fascinating to hear what other groups in our population have to say about the emphasis that should be placed on this world view and the proposed approach to wellbeing to which the rest of the public sector can (or should?) respond.