Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Palagi take on the Pasifika report

by Justin Latif*
More Than Churches, Rugby and Festivals was launched at the Otahuhu Salvation Army Corps.
The Salvation Army’s Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit’s recently released More than Churches, Rugby & Festivals, A Report on the State of Pacific People in New Zealand. The launch was covered by a variety of media and seemed to have generated quite a stir amongst the Pacific community. But it would be remiss to jump to the assumption that given the focus of this publication is on the Pasifika population that it has no relevance to the rest of us. While I may not tick a Pasifika box on census night there are many ramifications for me in this report as a non-Pasifika New Zealander or Palagi.
Firstly, this report highlights the historical background of Pasifika in New Zealand, putting their immigration to these fair shores within the wider socio-political context. Their story is in many ways a story of all New Zealanders – which is that we have travelled here at some point in our family's history with the ambitious hope of finding a better, more prosperous life. And the struggles they have faced upon arrival are quite similar to many people of other ethnicities.
But as I read through the report, one thing that struck me about the influx of Pasifika is the highly visible way they have contributed to our society. Whether it’s been wearing our beloved All Black jersey or the baggy Black Cap , or putting our nation on the musical and acting map with their fantastic talents in these areas. It would seem no other recent migrant people have added so significantly as Pasifika to the things Kiwis hold so dear.

Attendees at the report launch, from left; Chris Frazer, Major Campbell Roberts and Diana Vao.
But on the other hand, as this report gracefully highlights, Pasifika people are being left behind in many other areas.  It seems we are happy to take the reflected glory of having someone like Michael Jones or Jonah Lomu scythe their way through an opposition rugby team, but we’re just as quick to blame an entire ethnicity for the failings of a few criminals when they feature on the nightly news. Why do we complain about the Australian laws which exclude New Zealanders from accessing public health and welfare services, when we do exactly the same thing for Samoan quota migrants. Why do schools in Mangere, Otara and Otahuhu have such a paucity of resources and facilities. Why do we turn a blind eye to worker exploitation on South Auckland’s commercial vegetable patches or the Bay of Plenty’s kiwi fruit orchards. And why has an election promise to clamp down on the corrupt loan sharks preying on Pasifika, continued to be delayed.

National list MP Alfred Ngaro addresses the audience at the report launch

These are questions I find myself asking and perhaps there are valid reasons for some of these scenarios. But overall it seems that we give a ‘fair-go’ to some and not all. While this report does well to highlight the issue of widening inequality, it is our responsibility to do what we can to reverse this.
*I work for the Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit but was not involved in the report's authorship.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The 710am 348 to Manukau

The 7:10am 348 bus to Manukau is an interesting experience. My first reactions to it were purely defined by an early morning fug that those of us who do not do mornings know too well. However as I slowly adjusted to the early starts, I started to reflect on how a bus journey can represent a lot. Many on there were like me, making their way to work, wrapped up well against the early morning chill with perhaps a coffee in hand and muesli bar to munch. There is a certain friendliness and community that builds by those experiencing together the sometimes harrowing experience of Auckland city transport.
The wheels on the bus...

But others were less well wrapped up, less fortified with a steaming coffee and breakfast. The bus journey sees a variety of people get on and off, a Samoan mother with five kids, struggling to get the full bus fare together for her kids to go to school, a young Maori boy without a jacket on a 10 degree morning. The lumbering Waka Pacific bus goes past streets and streets of run-down, overcrowded housing, past many who cannot even afford the bus fare at all.

Privilege is an interesting word, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group”. I am very aware that by virtue of my middle class, pakeha, relatively comfortable upbringing I am immediately granted certain privileges. It is considered normal for me to attend university, in fact, it would probably be considered unusual if I didn’t. I can afford to top up my hop card when I need to get the bus to the dentist, I can at a stretch also afford to go to the dentist when I need too.

Soon I will driving my car down the South Western Motorway to Manakau instead of the 7:10 348 journey. Part of me rejoices at the extra half hour in bed in the morning and the warmth of car heating on my way to work. But the other part of me wonders what I will lose by not taking the bus. Should not unfair privilege, like poverty, be something that we should be fighting? It is something that needs to be seen, and questioned, not just assumed. Because once you become aware of injustice, it is a lot harder to ignore.

By Annaliese Johnston - Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit intern

Saturday, May 18, 2013

We're back - just in time for the Budget

After a two year hiatus, the Just Comment blog is back. We hope to update this on a semi-regular basis with political and policy analysis, combined with thoughts on faith and theology. I hope you enjoy our upcoming offerings.
And to re-launch this blog, we have Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit's senior policy advisor Alan Johnson giving his take on the Government's latest budget.
Minister of Finance Bill English reading through Budget 2013
The Budget Circus - by Alan Johnson

For some time now the lead up to the release of the Government’s Budget resembles something of a circus.  The Minister of Finance is usually the ringmaster and various Ministers are the acrobats, magicians and clowns all coming up with feats which appear amazing, unbelievable or just plain silly.  The 2013 Budget has proven no different.

Budgets are more serious that this and they deserve to be treated as more than a circus.  Budgets are the time for the Government to discuss its vision for the future as well as the changes it wants to introduce and the priorities it is making.  Instead we get spin and trivia which appear designed to show the spinner in the best light and to distract us from the big questions.  Announcements from Minister are mostly about small budget programmes with the dollars inflated by reporting four years of figures. 

An example of this is the announcement that the Government was spending $20 million over four years to address the spread of Rheumatic Fever amongst the poorest of New Zealand children.  This is a great initiative of course but there are bigger questions being ignored here as we focus on such a small budget item.

For example, this $5 million per year represents just 0.04% of the total health budget of $14 billion.  What are we told about what is happening with this bigger health budget both in terms of  total spending over the next few years and the challenges which our public health system is facing?.  The answer is of course very little. 

A good thing about the Budget however is the massive amount of information which is provided by the Treasury and which allows interested citizens to dig into the detail.  Treasury even has a free app so that we can dig through this material on the move. 

Dig just a little and do your own analysis – apply total budgets to expected inflation rates and population growth and you can quickly work out whether or not Government is planning to spend more or less on our public health system over the next few years. 

The answer in this case is less. This year the per person spend on health will be around $3,150 but this falls to around $2,750 by 2016 at today’s dollar values.  We didn’t hear this from Mr English did we? 

But this decline in spending is even worse because it takes no account of our aging population nor the spread of diseases of poverty such as Rheumatic Fever.  It is no mystery that the health costs of older people are higher because they require more care and are in failing health. As we have more older people in our population total health costs will rise regardless of economic and population growth.  The Budget really tells that we are planning to spend less on public health when we should be planning to spend more.  What gives?

We aren’t talking about what gives – in fact we aren’t even talking about why give?  The problem of an aging population and declining health budgets is creeping up on us and those responsible for these budgets choose to distract us with trivia and short term thinking.

Surely as taxpayers and citizens we at least deserve an honest and open conversation over such issues.