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Is Whānau Ora about to be scrapped?

Whānau Ora is under review, with the findings being released this month. Dr Chris Tooley speculates on what the future holds.

Whānau Ora was set up by the Māori Party in 2010. It is an intensive intervention programme aimed at and defined by whānau, delivered upon kaupapa Māori frameworks. Kaiārahi (navigators) work with whānau to overcome a range of issues relating to education, poverty, social, health and justice and design plans that achieve greater independence. This is its true success – brokering trust and building relationships that create transformation. Over 45,000 Māori whānau have been supported nationwide.

The Labour Māori caucus understands this concept. One of their flagship policies, He Poutama Rangatahi, is a close variation of Whānau Ora — an intensive intervention programme with an employment focus aimed at rangatahi, that inevitably involves the whānau. Not surprising, given the architects of both policies included Māori MPs, albeit from different parties, who have had years of experience on the frontline of grassroots transformation before entering Parliament.

Both policies have pros and cons. Whānau Ora only funds the development and coordination of whānau plans, while existing contract holders must still implement them. He Poutama Rangatahi, on the other hand, funds both the development and the implementation of the plans, offering greater scope. However, He Poutama Rangatahi is smaller in scale as there will be fewer providers across the country.

It is likely Whānau Ora will stay. But the key question remains, in what form?

Whānau Ora is top heavy. When it was initially designed the infrastructure was built to commission $1.2 billion in funding. Currently it receives less than 50% of its capacity. If you imagine combining Whānau Ora with He Poutama Rangatahi — both in scope and scale — that concept was the original plan.

Obviously, after many attempts, the Māori Party was not able to secure this before they left Parliament.

The next government budget has been self-defined as the ‘wellbeing budget’. The Labour Māori caucus should take this opportunity to significantly upscale Whānau Ora as the infrastructure and successful providers are all in place. It should also include a pathway towards integrating with He Poutama Rangatahi at some point.

If they do no share this vision however, then look to see a downscale of the middle-tier of Whānau Ora, which includes the commissioning agencies and regional leadership groups, for efficiency purposes.

It will also mean the Labour Māori caucus have their eyes on another wellbeing vehicle for Māori, including replacing Whānau Ora with He Poutama Rangatahi altogether or will be upholding their policy of universalism, which is troubling for so many different reasons.

Another important design feature of Whānau Ora is its Treaty partnership framework. Overseeing it is a partnership group made up of iwi leaders and ministers established to collaborate on the ongoing development and expansion of the programme. Under the National-led government, it met quarterly. Under the Labour-led government, it has not been convened since they came into office over 12 months ago. The relationship between Labour and iwi leaders remains strained and undefined. Akin to their freshwater policy, they may look to restructure this group by adding other Māori representative groups rather than removing it altogether.

There is no doubt about the transformative power of Whānau Ora. It is not a question of policy design or infrastructure – it is now essentially a question of the Labour-led government’s politics that will determine its existence.

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Chris Tooley is the CEO of Te Puna Ora o Mataatua, an Eastern Bay of Plenty Whānau Ora   provider.


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