$12 Million Dollar Handout Demeaning to Maori

By Owen Jennings

The Coalition Government has announced a $12 million handout to various marae to make them “disaster-ready”. 

It raises many questions. What does “disaster ready” mean?  What disasters are covered? What is the current state of maraes that they need disaster proofing? How come they are not already adequately disaster proofed? Do councils not stick their noses into Iwi buildings?

Given you and I worked all day Monday, all of Tuesday and some of Wednesday to raise this money for the Coalition to merrily fling around, are we not entitled to have questions answered? What accountabilities will be put in place? Why hasn’t Iwi settlement money been used for making sure marae are adequate for disasters? Why $12 million? Where is the cost-benefit analysis? How does this expenditure rank against funding cancer treatment? Or road upgrading? 

The silence hangs over the handout like a Waikato fog.

But it is worse than all of that, important that it is.

How does giving Maori another dollop of taxpayers’ hard-earned money actually help them? 

Firstly, it engenders a cargo cult mentality. Handing out cash for spurious reasons with little onus on the recipients to account for the expenditure encourages Maori to demand even more “help”. If it’s $12 million for some nebulous demand here, it could be $20 million for an equally obscure and unnecessary demand next week. If the tap leaks, turn it on harder.

Why work hard, save carefully, discipline spending, practise restraint, invest wisely when you can flick your fingers and grab some government money.  The messages given are horrendously bad. We are doing Maori, especially younger ones, a grave disservice. It is a mentality that has wreaked havoc among native people around the world.

It indicates to Maori and the rest of us that the Coalition leaders believe that being seen to be kind and generous is more important than facing the true underlying needs of a people. It indicates that those leaders have no idea how to deal with the disastrous social problems among Maori so they continue to throw money at the problem. It indicates that among those leaders is a selfish belief that, we the taxpayers, can be socked for money to fund every whim and flight of fancy that comes across their desk.

Secondly, it tells Maori that whatever their problem, money will fix it – taxpayer’s money. Whether it’s a gate on a road to a beach, access to an eel fishery, a track up a mountain, a dispute over where a road should go, or fixing a marae building, just put your hand out and the ‘problem’ will disappear. Dress it up as koha if it looks too grasping. Where is the dignity in such shifty dealings? Where is the respect for leadership when everyone turns a blind eye? We all need to know that money can be as corrosive as it can be useful.

Thirdly, isn’t a handout for a marae upgrade simple demeaning Maori as a people? Aren’t we saying, “Hey guys, we see you don’t know how to look after your stuff so here’s a few bob to help out. Us whiteys know how to run a tidy ship and we have plenty of dosh in the tin so you fellas can have a bit to fix up the mess you have made”. If I were Maori I would feel like I was a second class citizen. I would be thinking these Coalition people think I cannot manage my own affairs so they are throwing me a few crumbs.    

I am sure Prime Minister Ardern classifies this as part of her ‘kindness’ campaign. But kindness can be as destructive as meanness. It can destroy self-worth and dignity. It requires a long term strategy. It must have the real needs and the good of the recipient at the forefront. It is about the best interests of the receiver, not the giver. Sadly, that may be the problem.  Ardern is proving to be all about how things look, what reflection she can attract for herself, rather than being unselfishly and only committed to the needs of others.

The Treaty settlements have been an important part of our nation’s evolution and maturing. There were many grave injustices done that needed a cathartic redressing. They were rightly comprehensive and without rancour. However they should have also been final. Any remaining land claims should be tidied up as quickly as possible, paid generously and the Tribunal’s doors closed and locked.

To go on making payments of any sort is divisive and counter-productive to the best interests of all parties, particularly Maori. Just as dealing with injustices of the past was right, proper and a sign of our maturity so will be the completion of the process and the moving on.

Photoshopped image credit: Technomage