Mahuta plugs the progress of Maori at powhiri for our big APEC year

A rich mix of fresh pronouncements from the Beehive includes the delivery of an election promise to improve the wellbeing of workers with more sick leave.  Yes, this may adversely affect the wellbeing of their employers, who will be obliged to do the paying.  But this has been partly offset by a sop which extends by 10 months the rules allowing affected businesses to put their debt on hold by 10 months.

Ministers have also advised the people who employ them (we, the people, dear reader) of:

  • The government’s intention to enable drug users and pill poppers to check on the quality of the stuff that gives them their buzz;
  • The government’s giving more protection to consumers who borrow money (at the same time as it is amassing a record-high public debt to be repaid by all consumers who pay taxes);  
  • Plans to make the public sector carbon neutral by 2025, starting with the phasing out of the largest and most active coal boilers;   
  • A bill to keep an election promise to have a new top tax rate of 39 per cent on income earned over $180,000. The new rate will apply from 1 April 2021.

Oh – and then there’s the speech delivered by Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta to APEC big-wigs, although it seems to have been pitched to resonate with a Maori audience as much as with an international one.    

The speech was delivered at a pōwhiri on Wellington’s waterfront where the local tribe, Te Atiawa, and several government ministers welcomed representatives from the other 20 APEC economies.

Mahuta  described APEC as a hugely important international event and said APEC 2021 (NZ will be the host) would be one of the largest ongoing virtual events in the world, with more than 300 meetings conducted across New Zealand.  

The pōwhiri was one of the few physical events of New Zealand’s APEC virtual host year. The first virtual APEC 2021 meeting, the Informal Senior Officials Meeting, will be held on 9 December.

Mahuta briefly brought history into considerations and attempted to make it relevant to the experience of other APEC countries:  

“It is significant to note that around 700 years ago, our ocean-navigating Māori ancestors or tūpuna traversed the vast Pacific Ocean, using the signs they observed in the stars and ocean currents to travel south to ultimately arrive here in Aotearoa. I hazard a guess that they would have stopped off at many of your homelands across the Pacific along the way to rest, recuperate and re-stock supplies for the long journey ahead.”

She mentioned the inclusiveness and environmental sustainability that have become potent  components of policy-making under our caring prime minister. 

“We seek to promote trade and economic growth that is inclusive, especially as it relates to women and indigenous peoples, to ensure APEC makes full use of the untapped economic potential of these and a number of other groups. We will also focus on sustainability, not only in response to environmental realities such as climate change, but also to facilitate a green economic recovery from COVID-19.”

The spirit of “partnership” was not overlooked:  

“APEC New Zealand Officials are working in partnership with the local tangata whenua, Te Atiawa Iwi, to ensure that we maintain our Māori cultural integrity in the way that we welcome, host and farewell our manuwhiri, our guests.”

Then global challenges were addressed (albeit briefly):

“As you may well recognise these are challenging and uncertain times. A global pandemic has cause us to be caught in the same storm and while we are experiencing the impact of this storm very differently collectively we know we must get through the other side.

“Responding to COVID-19 will be top of mind for New Zealand, and we will be looking to use a number of mechanisms to facilitate an effective, long-lasting economic response to the crisis as we set out a ‘new normal’ approach to support our resilience.

“Following the biggest economic shock in 90 years, we will focus on rebuilding confidence in the multilateral trading system. An effective, functioning and rules-based multilateral trading system, with the World Trade Organisation at its centre, underpins APEC’s work to support our economies to grow together and be cognisant of the challenge before us. Promoting indigenous collaboration to broaden the diversity of our approach, and the consequent benefits to women and young people is also important.”

Mahuta declared she was heartened by the progress made by New Zealand since this country last hosted APEC in 1999. 

But her measure of New Zealand’s progress  – dare we suggest it? – was somewhat narrowly focused on the achievements of one racial group: 

“In 1999, Māori were largely invisible in New Zealand’s hosting and were mostly reduced to ceremonial and cultural roles. However, we are determined that for APEC21, Māori will play a more prominent and meaningful role in New Zealand’s hosting. I anticipate this approach may assist broader opportunities for indigenous peoples and economies to connect in more meaningful ways.

“Over the last twenty years the Māori economy and asset base has grown exponentially enhanced further by Treaty Settlements, which have provided an economic base for our people. Today, the Māori economy is valued at around $50 billion and represents six per cent of New Zealand’s total asset base. The Māori economy includes a range of authorities, businesses, and SME employers who self-identify as Māori.

“From 2010 to 2018, Māori enterprises have increased in number by over 30 percent and employee count by 50 percent. However, the general consensus is that further diversification of the Māori asset base is required to ensure resilience in the long-term.  We are starting to see this across the Māori economy with Māori businesses branching out into new investment areas including geothermal, digital, education, and housing.

“With the Māori economy in such a solid position, we have an excellent opportunity to diversify the benefits our trade policy and within APEC over the next twenty years.”

And the progress – was there any? – of the national economy?

We may suppose MFAT officials or Mahuta’s speech writer reckoned it wasn’t worth mentioning.   

But Mahuta did acknowledge that indigenous recognition can be a sensitive subject and that the New Zealand experience is not uniformly replicated across the Asia-Pacific.

She offered this country’s help in changing their ways of doing things:   

“We are willing to share our experience and offer support to assist economies to enable the greater participation of indigenous communities in trade and economic activity, including through APEC. Economic inclusion such as this approach will contribute to greater equity and opportunity for indigenous peoples and can contribute to greater social cohesion and stability in our region”

Wrapping up her speech, Mahuta told the locally based APEC economy representatives that, because of the virtual nature of NZ’s host year, they would play an even more important connecting role between NZ officials and their home agencies.

She told New Zealand government officials they had an enormous task ahead as they prepared proposals, meeting papers, statements, projects and events during the year, all while ensuring a strong New Zealand sense of manaakitanga, hospitality.

And last but by no means least she addressed tangata whenua, Te Atiawa Iwi, and Māori organisation partners, saying 

“ … you are our Treaty partner and represent Māori cultural and economic interests in APEC and what we strive to achieve across these economies.”

In conclusion, she drew on the wisdom of her ancestor Tāwhio who said;

“Ki te kotahi te kākaho ka whati, ki te kapuia e kore e whati.

” ‘When a reed stands alone it can be easily broken, but bound in unison it stands firm, joined together, and is unbreakable!’

“That is the intent of APEC 21 that we Join, Work and Grow Together.

“No reira, Turuturu Whakawhitia mau a kia tina! Haumi e, hui e, tāiki e! Tēnā koutou. Tēnā koutou. Tēnā tātou katoa!”

Among the signals we pick up from this, diplomats and APEC representatives who want to understand everything Ardern’s second-term ministers tell them should get to grips with te reo fast – or recruit local staff who can do the translating for them. 

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