Feeling underwhelmed by the “revolutionary” Wellbeing Budget? Here’s why.

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

(This article was first published 16 June 2019 at catherinemikenn.com).

Last month, members of the Labour Party’s Māori Caucus held a public consultation meeting on the Government’s celebrated Wellbeing Budget (hosted by Te Puawaitanga marae, Otangarei).

I arrived with much anticipation, hoping to hear from our elected representatives about the smorgasbord of progressive policy changes for tangata whenua in particular.  I listened intently as one after another our MPs shared, with obvious authentic enthusiasm, about the positive budget reconfigurations across several wellbeing areas for Māori.  

However, as the minutes rolled by, I became increasingly frustrated and disturbed.  Why?

In a nutshell, all the action and programs the MPs were sharing about were simply optimising the usual suspects of failed policy spaces, while at the same time allowing systemic violence and oppression of Māori to perpetuate.  

To use a simple metaphor, we can retrofit a house for increased wellbeing all we want with insulation, heating systems, smoke alarms, water tanks, energy efficient appliances, security systems and such.  But if the foundations of the building are riddled with Borer beetles, or built on unstable shifting ground or in a flood-prone location, all those retrofits are pretty much a moot point.  You know instinctively that the wellbeing of the whānau will remain chronically at risk.

Some of the structural issues which I observed the Government’s Wellbeing budget failed to mention included the need for:

  • Audits of all kāinga and communities to determine levels of climate emergency vulnerability (including ensuring water security for ordinary people as a priority ahead of industrial exploitation of our water for corporate private profit);
  • Equitable distribution of wealth (to reduce poverty), including modern monetary reform to free us from a debt-based economy and society;
  • A plan to address automation, robotisation and technological redundancy of the workforce (including shortening the working week, or encouraging part-time employment) ; and
  • Constitutional transformation that has He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi at its heart, and prioritises environmental health, realisation of human rights and protection of our democratic and civic institutions first – ahead of corporate greed and privilege.

To their credit, when challenged on where the plan was to address such root causes of Māori suffering and structural violence and oppression, Kelvin Davis and his colleagues shared with the hui that the Government had a number of initiatives in the pipes (e.g. to reduce institutional racism across all departments, a plan for the disruptive impact of technology on employment, and strengthening Te Tiriti provisions across legislation).

On the other hand, those assurances were undermined by the lack of comment on other systemic issues, plus emphasis on the fact that “change wouldn’t happen overnight.” 

My reply was that Māori had listened to every Government kicking the can down the road on addressing the systemic violence.  Overnight?  Try close to an accumulated 185 years of stuff “not happening” for Māori.  Isn’t it high time we eliminate that phrase from our vocabulary, as simply meaningless?  In this time of urgent climate, economic and other converging crises, the delays are simply unacceptable. 

No wonder movements such as the School Strike 4 ClimateExtinction Rebellion and others, powered by people’s alarming loss of faith in politics and Government to make the urgent change necessary, are on the rise.

No wonder there’s a sense that this is just more rhetoric about “transitional” policies, but not “transformational”.   

It just feels like ‘groundhog day’ all over again.

You would expect, in a time of unprecedented crisis and urgency, a political response that was sufficiently transformative and revolutionary.  Instead, Māori and all citizens face yet another lacklustre political reaction that fundamentally will hold us in an insane, vice-like ‘business as usual’ death grip.

The question we’re all left wondering, for our own sakes, and that of our children and our children’s children: what’s to be done in the face of such chronic political failure? What will you commit to doing about it?

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