Waatea News Update

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Location: Auckland, New Zealand

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Imprisonment rate internationally indefensible

As the Government looks at measures to lock up more people for longer sentences, the Race Relations Commissioner is warning the current imprisonment rate for Maori is putting New Zealand in a bad light internationally.

In his annual report released today, Joris de Bres highlights 50 percent of prison inmates are Maori.

He says it's a long term pattern which was raised at last year's United Nations periodical review and by the Committee on the Elimination of racial Discrimination, and it's likely to feature again this month in another UN review of New Zealand's civil and political rights.

“What this report is recommending that we do have long term targets and set specific targets to reduce that rate of imprisonment. It’s absolutely unsustainable. It’s internationally indefensible and we really do have to come to grips with it. We cannot sustain this,” Mr de Bres says.

The economic recession has increased the disparities between Maori and pacific workers and others, with 30 percent of young Maori now unemployed.


Greens co-leader Meteria Turei says Government changes to tertiary education will shut the university doors to Maori.

Ms Turei, who gained a law degree as an adult student, says the school system has failed many Maori and university is a way they can recover.

She says the changes will reduce the places for second chance students.

“So those of us like myself who failed at school will not be able to go to university unless we pass other courses first and try to get some sort of university entrance when we are adult students, and I think that is going to shut out hundreds if not thousands of Maori from university,” Ms Turei says.

She says the Government seems to want to keep the poor and Maori in their place at the bottom.


Marakopa Maori who were forced to stand by and watch power company contractors blow up a two-storey sacred stone are vowing to fight for other waahi tapu.

Clearwater Hydro, a subsidiary of Te Kuiti-based The Lines Company, removed Te Rongomai o Te Karaka at Te Anga to clear the way for a small hydro scheme.

Marae spokesperson Natasha Willison-Reardon says it's not the first sacred site destroyed by the developers.

“Blowing up one of our puna, our springs out there which is called Kimiora which was used to bless people. It comes from a waterfall called Tangiwai. They’re diverting those. There’s a whole lot of things we need to be working on now,” Mrs Willison-Reardon says.

The marae committee was contacted by the office of Maori Affairs minister Pita Sharples yesterday, and it hopes the government will step in to stop further desecration.


The Race Relations Commissioner says this year's local government elections will be a big test of how far the nation has come in finding a place for Maori.

In his annual report released today, Joris de Bres identifies political representation at local level, and in particular in the Auckland super city, as priority areas for action.

He says that applies especially to the Auckland super city, where there are still questions over how much of a voice Maori as well as Pacific and ethnic communities will have, and whether the new council will continue the relationships its predecessors have built up with iwi.

“These two issues of voice and of community programmes are vital ingredients in terms of the new super city and they have yet to be addressed adequately,” Mr de Bres says.

Other priorities include doing something to tackle the disproportionate number of Maori in jail, and the high rates of unemployment among Maori youth.

The report is being launched this morning in Henderson by Mr de Bres and Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey.


A Northland anti-smoking campaigner says marae need to be the health centre for Maori people - and that's why they need to be smoke free.

Witi Ashby from the Patu Puauahi group says 19 marae in Tai Tokerau are now Auahi Kore, and the number is slowly rising as marae trustees are encouraged to enforce policies of smoke free environments.

But he says it means overcoming long standing practices and habits, especially from smokers who may be the engine room that drives a marae.

Mr Ashby will make a submission in Auckland today to the Maori Affairs select committee inquiry into the tobacco industry, about how the early deaths of smokers has affected the cultural life of Tai Tokerau tribes.


Yesterday's launch of youth court sittings on West Auckland's Hoani Waititi Marae was the realisation of a dream for a champion of marae-based courts.

Former youth court chief judge Mick Brown says when he promoted the idea 20 years ago, it was labeled separatist.

He says it's a sign of times have changed.

“Socially I think we are on the move. I’m pleased at some of the big claims being settled. There’s a new attitude out there and that please me greatly,” Judge Brown says.

Marae-based youth courts are a logical extension to the family group conferences he pioneered as a way to make offenders aware of how the effect their crime had on victims.

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