Jacinda Ardern speaks at Te Whare Runanga in 2018. Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images

‘Hold us to account’: has Jacinda Ardern honoured her 2018 Waitangi pledges?

On this day two years ago, Jacinda Ardern delivered a powerful, acclaimed speech at Waitangi. She implored her audience then, as she has again in recent days, to hold her to account on delivering for Te Ao Māori. We’ve taken that speech and held it up against the Labour-led government’s achievements to date.

In February 2018, the new prime minister Jacinda Ardern headed up to Waitangi, not just for an obligatory one-day cameo appearance but for a full five days, which were spent in wānanga with a number of different groups. Many praised Ardern for doing what recent PMs from both parties had failed to do – let Māori air grievances and feel heard instead of taking up all the oxygen and provoking people that are in many respects already too close to the edge.

As noted in a piece by Annabelle Lee: “For the first time a prime minister will come to Waitangi and spend more time listening than talking.” Unsurprisingly, there were no big disruptions to Waitangi proceedings that year.

Delivering her first Waitangi address, Ardern stood on the mahau of Te Whare Rūnanga on the upper Treaty grounds and asked to be held to account.

When we return, in one year, in three years, I ask you to ask of us what we have done. Ask us how we have given dignity back to your whānau, ask us what we have done to improve poverty for tamariki, ask us what we have done to give rangatahi opportunities and jobs. Ask us, hold us to account. Because one day I want to be able to tell my child that I earned the right to stand here and only you can tell me when I have done that.

We’ve endeavoured to do so here.

What she said

Ask us what we have done to improve poverty for tamariki.

What they delivered

In 2018 the government introduced the Child Poverty Reduction Act and Children’s Amendment Act, and convened a Welfare Expert Advisory Group to review the welfare system. Initiatives have included abolishing most school donations, school lunches for some schools, extending free GP visits, increased paid parental leave and a new families package (made up of the Best Start support for newborns, the Winter Energy Payment for all beneficiaries and Working for Families tax credits).

Child poverty is measured in a range of different ways, from material hardship (children living without seven or more items which are considered necessary for their wellbeing, from a total list of 17) to how many children live in a household with less than half the median New Zealand income. Health, food insecurity, education and housing all also contribute to child poverty.

Baseline rates to calculate child poverty statistics in New Zealand were released last April, for the year ending June 30, 2018. The first measure found 16% (about 183,000 children) were living below the poverty measurement of half the median income before household costs were taken away. That number rose to 23% when households that earn less than 50% of the median income had housing costs deducted.

This is down from 27% (290,000) of children in 2017 and 28% (295,000) in 2016, according to the Child Poverty Monitor.

Hardship grants continue to skyrocket however and demand for emergency food parcels from Auckland City Mission increased by more than 40% in 2019.

While not measured using the same metrics, the Ministry for Children’s child protection practices are a symptom of child poverty (specifically those relating to Māori), many of which were put under the microscope in 2019.

Work like the Whānau Ora-led enquiry into Oranga Tamariki and Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Porou’s models for iwi-led social services show an overwhelming distrust of the state when it comes to child protection services.

What she said

Ask us what we have done to give rangatahi opportunities and jobs.

What they delivered

At the end of 2017 the Labour-led government announced that school leavers would be eligible for a year of free provider-based tertiary education or industry training (including adults who hadn’t yet completed a year of study). They also introduced $50 a week boost to student allowances and loan entitlements for living costs. The government eventually intends to introduce three years’ free tertiary education and training by 2024.

More than 13% of young people aged 15-24 were not in employment, education or training as of March 2018, and the figure was higher at 21.3% for Māori. The government’s Mana in Mahi scheme looked to give young people that had been on a benefit for six months or more on-the-job training, while providing employers with a subsidy. However, in July last year it was reported that a third of the 247 Mana in Mahi participants had dropped out. In August the programme was expanded anyway, to allow for 2000 participants (half of the 4000 initially forecast for 2018).

What she said

We also bring with us a special role in minister Kelvin Davis, who holds for the first time the portfolio of Crown/Māori relations. We did not create that role lightly. As we discuss here with Ngāpuhi the Treaty settlement, that is before us, within our sights, we also have to start thinking as a nation of what extends beyond the negotiating table.

What they delivered

In many ways the Ngāpuhi settlement process has found itself back at square one, with a leadership overhaul for the rūnanga after iwi chair Sonny Tau and chief executive Lorraine Toki stepped down and it was found that Tūhoronuku, the group mandated to negotiate Ngāpuhi’s Treaty settlement, no longer had the backing of its people. A new settlement framework is set to be built over the next six months. This doesn’t seem like a bad thing, ngā hapū and takiwā of Ngāpuhi are being given the chance to set the terms for more localised claims.

Last year the treaty negotiations minister, Andrew Little, attended 42 hui in Ngāpuhi.

What she said

My hope is that they know this place’s history, that they know of the 28th of October and Whakaputanga, the Declaration of Independence. My hope is that they would know the history of Te Tiriti, and what it meant for us as a nation, and that they know those stories as I was taught yesterday by Ngāti Manu… those stories may be hard to hear, but I am certain they are even harder to tell.

What they delivered

In September last year Ardern and Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced New Zealand history will be taught in all schools and kura by 2022. This was set in motion in 2015 when Leah Bell, Rhiannon Magee, Tai Jones and other Otorohanga High School students started a petition calling for an official day of commemoration for the New Zealand Wars.

What she said

We must always be honest about our history, and what it means for us. I hope that they know the history even of this place where the Māori Battalion here paraded as they heard the words that talked about the price of citizenship and I look forward to us acknowledging the role of history for the Battalion here in the future as well.

What they delivered

A new museum to honour Māori armed forces opens with a dawn blessing this morning, situated just behind James Busby’s house on the Waitangi upper Treaty grounds, in a development that was part of the coalition agreement between New Zealand First and Labour. Eastern Māori MP Sir Apirana Ngata made his “price of citizenship” speech at the Waitangi centennial in 1940, describing an obligation for Māori to fight in the second world war to earn the respect of their peers and the equal rights due to them. There was some controversy around using the Māori Battalion name, with Ngāti Porou and descendants of the East Coast C-Company saying it was only appropriate for the Te Tai Tokerau museum to focus on the A-Company, who were drawn from Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Whātua and other northern iwi.

What she said

I hope that they know the value of kaitiakitanga that we have a role as guardians of our environment, and if we want to look after our people we must look after the earth as well and gift it better than what we found it.

What they delivered

The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019 was given royal assent in November last year, with all but one member of parliament voting to pass it into law. The bill aims to reduce net emissions of all greenhouse gases (except biogenic methane) to zero by 2050.

And yet the government announced last week that $5.3 billion is to be spent on building or widening roads, part of an $12 billion investment in infrastructure across New Zealand. Generation Zero, early architects of the Zero Carbon Bill, called it “a major failure by the government to follow through on the Zero Carbon Act”.

What she said

I hope they know that we value the ability to speak frankly and openly to one another. Kanohi ki te kanohi – face to face – and we should never shy away from that, because if we don’t speak freely how do we change?

What they delivered

Face to face is exactly what the land protectors at Ihumātao asked from the prime minister last year. Invitations to visit the contested whenua so she could see and feel for herself exactly what was at stake went begging, however. Approaches from movement leader Pania Newton and a hīkoi from Ihumātao to her Mt Albert office to present a petition of more than 26,000 signature were ignored. Ardern responded: “I will visit Ihumātao, that has been no question for me, it is all just a matter of timing.”

A resolution had been expected to be announced by Waitangi Day 2020

What she said

… it’s those rangatahi who don’t have access to the mental health services who take their lives …

What they delivered

Just over year ago the government accepted 38 of 40 recommendations by the mental health inquiry. 2019’s Wellness Budget included three new acute mental health units in Tauranga, Hutt Valley and Whakatāne. Just in time, as 2018 recorded the highest number of suicides in New Zealand since records began.

The future of crucial charitable services like Youthline and Lifeline are uncertain, and talks are in progress about centralising helpline services.

And on the subject of health, furious criticism has been levelled at the prime minster by the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency who say that the government’s undermining of the commissioning-model, which has delivered over and above expectations and outcomes for Māori health, is in breach of the Treaty.

 What she said

“…it’s the incarceration of the Māori people disproportionately to everyone else that is the distance between us.”

What they delivered

The criminal justice system is a multi-layered issue, involving harmful historical social policies, institutional racism, inequality, housing, health and education. Untangling these strands was never going to be easy and delivering change in a meaningful way was never going to be possible without significant input from Māori.

Straight out the gate, Andrew Little and Kelvin Davis tried to repeal the three strikes law, which was shot down by coalition partner NZ First. Other justice reforms (Labour’s goal is to lower the current prison population by 30% over 15 years) include putting convicted people on home detention if their sentences are shorter than two years, and making it easier for accused people to get bail. Issues like double bunking in prisons still persist, as well as high numbers of people on remand.

The 2019 budget delivered in May allocated more than $2 billion a year for Corrections, with $98 million going towards Māori reoffending specifically. By June, Davis announced they would not invest in the Waikeria mega prison, and would instead include a mental health facility.

New Zealand now has its largest police force in history. Māori are almost eight times more likely than Pākehā to be the victim of police violence, while police set their attack dogs on Māori at more than 12 times the rate they set them on Pākehā.

Armed Offenders Squads, consisting of officers armed with assault rifles, are also being trialled until April, even though the rate at which firearms are used against police has been declining since 2015, when records began.

Insecure housing is another key factor in high incarceration rates. A pre-budget announcement of $197 million for the Housing First Initiative to fund 1,044 new places for long-term homeless people for the next four years. However, there were only 6,400 state homes planned for the next four years and over 11,000 families currently waiting for a state home.

How did she do?

All of the issues identified by the prime minister in her 2018 Waitangi speech have been addressed by the coalition government in some way. The effectiveness of those policies and solutions, as with everything in politics, are open to differing interpretation. What’s important is our leaders continue to listen and make themselves available to Māori every day of the year, not just for a few days in February at Waitangi.

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