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Location: Auckland, New Zealand

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Turia: Time wrong for benefit reform

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia says it's the wrong time in the economic cycle to radically overhaul the benefit system.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett this week unveiled more active management of long-term beneficiaries, rigorous assessment of sickness beneficiaries, and a requirement domestic purposes beneficiaries seek work once their youngest child is six.

Mrs Turia, who is Ms Bennett's associate minister, says it's a dangerous set of changes.

“If we were in a time of high employment and if we had the jobs that we were able to put people in to, I would be really supportive of benefit reform but I am not supportive at this time,” Mrs Turia says.

She says raising children is hard work, and many Maori children will suffer under the reforms.


The author of a report calling for the scrapping of Maori seats says there are better ways to ensure Maori representation.

In Superseding MMP, Luke Malpass from the right wing think tank Centre for Independent Studies proposes a lower house elected by a first past the post system and an upper house or senate chosen by proportional representation.

Mr Malpass says Maori seats are an anachronism in a modern liberal democracy, but there is reason why the number of MPs who are Maori should not continue to increase, as it has under MMP.

“Because we are creating more electorates there is far more scope, especially if I look at the talented Maori Party MPS, I can’t see why they wouldn’t be elected in a general electorate,” Mr Malpass says.

The Maori party could also choose to seek seats in the senate by winning a large enough proportion of the vote.


Meanwhile, Auckland mayor John Banks says he wants to see the Maori Party putting up candidates for the new super city council.

He says the party has people capable of working on the council, and they can ensure Maori have their say.

“I want to encourage them to stand for public office and civic duty because it is their country more than anyone else, their mokopuna’s future, our future together as one united New Zealand, and we’ve got to get this right,” Mr Banks says.


Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira says a bill allowing courts to deal with prisoners via a video link could increase the number of Maori being found guilty.

The Maori Party is supporting the bill going to a select committee.

But Mr Harawira says as someone who has spent time in prisons and courts, he believes it will be easier for judges to find people guilty if they don't have to look them in the eye.

“Because most of our people are before the courts on these sorts of charges, to a large degree it is our people who are going to be those videoed people that get switched off – ‘I don’t want to listen any longer to his person plead for his liberty’ – and that’s what’s going to happen,” Mr Harawira says.

He says having the right to face one's accusers if something he has always admired about the British system of justice.


Ikaroa Rawhiti MP Parekura Horomia says the Maori Party is selling out its constituents by backing the Government's proposed benefit reforms.

Party co-leader Tariana Turia says the middle of a recession isn't the right time to be changing the rules for beneficiaries.

But Mr Horomia says under its support agreement, Mrs Turia and her colleagues have to vote for it.

“I'm hoha that the Maori Party is even voting for it to the select committee. We certainly won’t be and you can’t even think of giving away on ths stuff. This will do a lot of damage to our people, coupled with the gold card, coupled with the 90 day bill, it’s just outrageous," Mr Horomia says.

He's also outraged by social development Minister Paula Bennett's insinuation those on benefits are bludging or having a free ride.


An Otara youth worker says anti-alcohol messages are missing their target audience.

Shardae Khursal from the Otara Youth Collective, who has Ngati Hine and Indian whakapapa, says the south Auckland community is sick of negative press, and is trying to address problems like alcohol abuse.

She says agencies who want to get the anti-alcohol message across need to learn how to engage with youth.

“One of the biggest problems we have with young people today is we are all quite stubborn so it is hard for our parents or anyone older than us to get a message through to us. I think it’s more about trying to understand the right way of talking to us young people and educating us in a way that we are learning together,” Ms Khursal says.

She wants to see more Government-funded youth education programmes.


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