Hone Harawira delivers the State of the Nation speech in Mangere, on behalf of the Mana Movement.
Being here at Kia Maia for MANA’s State of the Nation address recalls a relationship forged 75 years ago between Ratana and Labour, when Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana and Michael Joseph Savage charted a path to give succour to te pani me te rawakore – the poor and the dispossessed.
Back then NZ was coming out of the Great Depression – times were tough, Maori and the poor had suffered hugely, and the state responded with job creation schemes, state housing programmes, a quality education system and solid healthcare programmes built by Savage, and endorsed by Ratana.
And underpinning everything was a call to honour the Treaty of Waitangi to bring equality between Maori and Pakeha.
That Ratana / Labour alliance continued right up until the 1980’s when Labour launched an asset sales programme which led to massive employment, gave tax breaks to the rich and increased taxation on the poor with the introduction of GST.
Labour’s economic policy of the time was called Rogernomics. Its leader was Roger Douglas and one of its greatest cheerleaders was Phil Goff.
Ever since then Maori have struggled, the Ratana / Labour alliance has fallen away and today Labour holds only 2 of seven Maori seats.
National’s philosophy of helping the rich get richer at the expense of the poor, and of using blatant racism to promote its legislative agenda, has had an even greater impact on our society.
Rob Muldoon was notorious for a racist arrogance which gave birth to land occupations at Bastion Point and Raglan from where MANA drew two of its candidates, Kereama Pene and Angeline Greensill, and the Springbok Tour protests led by MANA’s John Minto.
Muldoon was followed by Jim Bolger under whom the nation was burdened with the “Mother of all Budgets”, a vicious attack on the foundations of the welfare state that led to the privatisation of our health system, the commercialisation of our housing sector, and the reneging on promises in superannuation and education.
Bolger’s term saw MANA’s Waitakere candidate Sue Bradford arrested on numerous occasions for fighting for the rights of beneficiaries, and MANA’s Waiariki candidate Annette Sykes accused of sedition for daring to challenge the state.
And that’s why I am proud to be part of MANA’s leadership team … because I stand alongside people who are heroes in the struggle for Maori rights, for human rights and for the rights of Pacifica, of workers, beneficiaries and the poor; I share the stage with people who have stood against both National and Labour governments’ attacks on the marginalised and the defenseless.
And if ever the country needed a movement to redress the devastation caused by 25 years of free-market economics under both Labour and the current right-wing government of National, ACT and the Maori Party, then now is the time and MANA is the team.
The country is crying out for a new direction, a direction away from the broken belief that the market will provide, and that capitalism will lift us from the quagmire of destitution, and the facts are simple – 25 years of prancing down the capitalist road has given us staggering levels of unemployment, third world diseases in communities of the poor, huge increases in the price of food, electricity and petrol, an ever more costly health system, and an education system designed to keep the poor from ever achieving success.
AROHA AND AUSTRALIA
One option for many Maori and the poor is to skip the ditch to Australia – 100,000 Kiwis have given up on NZ and gone to Oz in the last 3 years alone in search of a decent days wage for a decent days work.
And nothing quite reflects this trend like the story of Norman Kirk and a young Maori boy walking hand in hand at Waitangi in 1973, an image that remains imbedded in the minds of those old enough to remember, and then seeing John Key trying to recapture that aura by strolling through Waitangi with Aroha Ireland in 2008, after first meeting her at an election photo opportunity at McGehan Close, a poor neighbourhood in Mt Albert.
Aroha’s story is a typical one – not long after the photo shoot she was kicked out of school, spent time in CYFS care, and left the country because New Zealand offered her nothing and because more opportunities existed for her in Australia – a scenario too many of our whanau have become accustomed to.
The root cause of this exodus is the failure of successive governments to deal with the issue of poverty and the growing gap between the rich and the poor, particularly ironic given that the English came here to escape the pain of poverty and sent their convicts to Australia … and now we’re running away to Australia and those who stay are increasingly more likely to wind up in the new jails being built every year to house the poor and the oppressed.
THE STATE OF THE NATION
And that is the primary issue that defines the State of the Nation today – poverty – which is at record levels right now – at exactly the same time that the rich are experiencing record levels of wealth; when the top 1% has more wealth than the bottom 50%; where the gap between the rich and the poor is worse than in most developed countries; where poverty has become the norm for much of the country; and where we have 270,000 children going hungry every day, suffering from bad health, and picking up diseases that we thought only existed in the third world.
Let’s just take a moment to think about that statistic – 270,000 kids living in poverty, right here in Aotearoa. How many of you thought you would ever hear those words spoken about how NZ treats its children? What has gone wrong with this country’s consciousness, with our sense of right and wrong, with the moral obligation that says we will ensure that future generations are provided with better opportunities than we had?
I am sure that many people tuned into TV3’s documentary “Inside Child Poverty” last night, and I congratulate the producers of the show for forcing us to confront our ugly reality; I thank the Child Action Poverty Group for their efforts in bringing this reality into our living rooms; I feel for young Mathias who has to go to hospital every few months for an illness that could have been prevented; I struggle to accept that in this land of milk and honey one in every five kids lives in poverty; and I find it hard to believe that in a land of such wealth, NZ has the third worst child health statistics in the OECD after Mexico and Turkey.
But the truth is that successive governments since the mid-80s have driven us down the path of selfishness, where those in power have been preoccupied with chasing the dollar and ignoring the pain.
And this election campaign itself has been highlighted by a refusal to accept the reality of child poverty in our homeland, promises of an economic turnaround that nobody believes, and a media show about a meaningless cup of tea in Epsom; when our focus and attention should be on our countries inability to deal with the fact that 270,000 of our children are going without proper food every day.
MANA doesn’t have all the answers – not by a long shot – but we are committed to putting forward policies that help the poor, putting an end to policies that enrich the wealthy, and if necessary mobilising the people to fight for an end to poverty in Aotearoa.
We need to stop tinkering around the edges, and we need wholesale and radical change or we will continue to lose generations of talented NZers to Australia and beyond.
We need to look to progressive countries like Sweden for models, we need to work with the Child Poverty Action Group to create solutions and we need to look to our history for answers to our problems, because the user pays model has failed us miserably and those who have suffered most have been the children of the poor.
CROSS PARTY ACTION
MANA takes the view that the most important issue of this election is poverty, and in particular child poverty. The poor need help – not excuses, not belated promises, but action – now – and we will work with anyone to address this issue.
And we don’t care who claims they’ve said it first, we don’t care who says they’ve got the best policies and we don’t care who wants to be the lead speaker – this goes deeper than political posturing and the hope of securing a few votes here and there.
We need to park our politics at the door, commit to listening to the experts like CPAG, and we need to agree upon a course of action that delivers immediate and positive change for the children of the poor.
We need a formal commitment to a plan to eradicate poverty and we need to work together on legislative change regardless of who the government might be.
We need to commit to doing something now – not next month, not next year – but now, before poverty becomes normalised in our lives.
The world is in deep trouble with the European economy on the edge and America struggling to repay its debts, and unless the world switches on to a financial transaction tax to lessen the pressure on the poor, we are going to be staring a full-blown global recession in the face where poverty will become a way of life for even more of our people.
And having allowed ourselves to be locked into the global economy without safeguards, we need to accept that when economies start going down the toilet, nobody is going to care about our exports or about our economy or about our people – it will be literally every man for himself.
That’s why we need to act now, and we need to act together to push through the policies that will turn our economy around to cater for those in need, before those in need join their rebellious comrades in wreaking havoc around the world right now.
Failure to act is simply not an option. We call on all those who profess a love for our country to join with us in a war on poverty before it’s too late.
MANA’S PLAN TO ERADICATE POVERTY
But it’s one thing to identify the problem; it’s another to offer solutions. MANA’s policies are geared towards eradicating poverty, and here is our plan to improve the nation.
Cost of living
1 Abolish GST to ease the financial pressure on those on low incomes
2 Get rid of pokies, loan sharks, and liquor outlets in poor communities
3 A free high quality education system because that is the best investment a country can make in it’s future
4 Free meals for children at schools because every child deserves the opportunity to learn and to start the day with a decent meal regardless of their circumstances
5 Provide jobs for everyone on the unemployment register – in schools, marae, hospitals, old peoples homes, kaumatua and kuia flats and community facilities – because a working family is a better family
6 Increase the minimum wage to $15 to put more money into the hands of workers and more money back into the economy
7 Make the first $27,000 tax-free to give people more money for the basics in life such as food, power, petrol and rent
8 Commit to building 20,000 new state houses to reduce overcrowding and health problems, and to provide the basis for thousands of apprenticeships and jobs in all of the building trades
9 Set state rentals at 25% of a family’s income
10 Free healthcare for all because paying to keep a nation healthy is cheaper than paying to fix a population suffering the many illnesses of poverty
There are other ideas but this package would immediately reduce the level of poverty by increasing incomes, reducing prices, and providing people with jobs and homes.
PAYING THE BILL
Our ideas aren’t rocket science, and we can pay for them with a simple savings and tax plan – saving money by giving no more tax cuts to the rich, no more tax breaks for big business, no more bailouts for failed finance companies, cancelling the construction of new prisons, no more subsidies for private schools, and no more public monies on millionaire yacht races – and a simple taxation plan based on the Hone Heke Tax, a real Capital Gains Tax, an Inheritance Tax, and a Progressive Income Tax.
I began this address by talking about the alliance between Labour and Ratana and the bond they formed to serve their people. Today, we face an almost identical set of circumstances. We are in a financial storm that threatens to get worse before it will get better. We have an ever-growing population of poor people in desperate need of employment, housing, education and health.
Ratana and Savage’s foresight saw a new dawn in the politics of this country – the creation of the welfare state and a set of priorities that ensured that those less fortunate did not go without; a revolution that protected those on the very edges of society.
Today we need another revolution – one where people give a damn about the 270,000 kids who aren’t getting enough to eat every day; where society commits to housing those living in inadequate and overcrowded housing; where we find the money to put everyone into work; and where we pass legislation to eradicate poverty.
We need to turn our priorities on their head, and reorder our world to put our people before profit and our children before everything.
This Saturday voters will have an opportunity to back a party who have identified eradication of poverty as a primary goal, of voting for a party that chooses to walk away from the same-old way of doing politics, of choosing a party of activist leaders with the best record of all candidates in stepping up to the plate in defence of the poor and the defenceless, and of supporting a party like we haven’t seen since the Labour Party of the 1930’s.
MANA has no other agenda except the restoration of Maori rights, Pacifca rights, human dignity and reaffirmation of the rights of the workers and the poor.
We wish all candidates well over the next few days, but in particular we wish a new world for te pani me te rawakore, where everyone’s mokopuna can grow up in a world that is a far better one than we live in today.