Budget 2022: While the government hailed it as a significant step for hauora Māori, others said the amounts set aside for Māori were insultingly small. Don Rowe reports.
Almost $580m of funding has been announced for new initiatives in the Māori health space, but critics say the government hasn’t gone nearly far enough – with some saying that doubling the amount would have been a good start.
The lion’s share of the funding, which in total represents just 2.3% of the overall new spending announced for health, is set to go to the Māori Health Authority Te Mana Hauora Māori. The authority, a new statutory entity which aims to work alongside the Ministry of Health to manage health policy and outcomes for Māori, will receive $168m for direct commissioning of services.
Just over $20m will go towards supporting iwi-Māori partnership boards, which serve as an intermediary between whānau, hapū and the authority, $39m has been pledged for Māori health workforce development and $30m will go to support Māori primary and community care providers, who were integral to driving vaccination rates in Māori communities over the last two years.
The establishment of the Māori Health Authority has been anathema to the opposition, with both Christopher Luxon and David Seymour pledging to disband it were they to take power in 2023. Proponents point to the disastrous health outcomes Māori face across the board – increased rates of child mortality, increased rates of cardiovascular disease, life expectancy seven to 10 years less than Pākehā, worse access to dental care – and the efficacy of by-Māori, for Māori programmes.
Last month, more than 60 NGOs including the Cancer Society, the New Zealand Mental Health Foundation, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons signed an open letter uniting behind the establishment of the authority, saying it was central to Te Tiriti and would help achieve equity in health.
This year’s budget, said associate minister for health Peeni Henare, “rightly acknowledges the critical role Māori providers and health workers played in our response to Covid-19 and are central to ensuring we can implement new models of care through our reformed health system.”
“Budget 2022 is about investing in our new healthcare system, a system that will see better health outcomes for Māori. Māori deserve a healthcare system that takes care of them and that responds to their needs. We are delivering that and more, in building a health system that takes care of Māori.”
Labour MP Willie Jackson called it “the highest Māori budget in the history of government” saying criticism was “all nonsense”.
But Rawiri Waititi, co-leader of Te Pāti Māori, was unimpressed, saying the budget did not deliver for Māori, or honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
“It has taken 182 years for Māori to get just 2% of the health budget. By that logic, we will need to wait 1840 more years to get 20% of health investment, and by then Jesus Christ will have returned.”
“There are some things that can be acknowledged including the boost to Whānau Ora and Te Matatini. Additional funding is always welcome to kaupapa Māori. But you won’t see me jumping up and down for less than 1% of a total budget when tangata whenua deserve more.”
“The biggest health reforms in a century needed courageous solutions, but to get 0.7% of the budget directed towards the establishment of the Māori Health Authority…”
Co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said the government had failed to appreciate the achievements of Māori healthcare providers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The government has not learnt from this success and has decided to withhold our unique Māori potential.”
Writing on The Spinoff, Māori accountant and business advisor Joshua Hitchcock (Te Ātiawa) said the budget was “woefully inadequate”.
“The opportunity is gone. An election year budget in 2023 is never going to deliver the investment required to achieve equitable outcomes for Māori. And we will continue to suffer because of it.”
Green Party health spokesperson Dr Elizabeth Kerekere agreed the budget did not go far enough, adding that health concerns do not exist in a vacuum and could not be siloed off from the impending climate crisis.
“This is still not enough. Te Mātāwaka would like to see a budget that properly invests in the broader social determinants of health. If the government is serious about the new health system eliminating health disparities for Māori, it must also lift main benefits to liveable incomes, build enough public housing, and face the institutional racism and discrimination against Rainbow people in this country.”
Act leader David Seymour said in a press release his party remained committed to removing the Māori Health Authority and “turning policy away from Labour’s race obsession”.
This is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.