What the Wellbeing Budget means for Māori.
One of the five priority areas announced this year is ‘Lifting Māori and Pacific income, skills and opportunities’.
Today’s Budget has tried to move the dial by allocating additional funding to Whanau Ora, the revitalisation of our language, health programmes, and a Kaupapa Māori approach to tackling reoffending. This targeted funding is supplemented by universal programmes which will also positively impact whanau in need; for example the indexing of welfare payments to average wage growth instead of CPI, removing the $76 NCEA fee, and funding decile 1-7 schools an extra $150 per student per year if they do not ask for ‘voluntary contributions’.
It is positive to see a softening on last year’s universal approach with more targeted funding and of course, more is always welcome. But any budget allocation increase must be paired with the systemic change to ensure the process of converting those budget inputs into the outcomes is effective. The Whanau Ora boost is significant - $80 million over four years. This is a programme that has handed decision making to local leaders to allow them to decide how best to support their people.
For the record, as a Māori I am not qualified to comment on Pasifika issues and therefore will focus on Māori in this article. I also do not speak for all Māori and cannot tell you what the diverse Māori people of Aotearoa think.
Turning budget inputs into desired outcomes requires much more than direction from the top. There are embedded mind sets, behaviours and norms that may need to be unlearned to create the space for changes in perception necessary to effecting the outcomes we seek for Māori.
Imagine a space where public sector executives go to unlearn the habits that have contributed to the now failing system. A place where our senior public servants have the opportunity to develop new mind sets necessary for effecting wellbeing at scale for targeted groups, immersing themselves in our rich, varied communities across Aotearoa, to embed real and genuine understanding and empathy (particularly with Māori communities and organisations) into the design of our system and programmes. The success of this requires immersion in the right context.
Imagine the possibilities when public sector executives - with the power and influence to determine direction, and communities - with their experience of what has worked, hasn’t worked, won’t work and is likely to work (for their context), spend real time together, every day, understanding each other’s perspectives and creating real solutions together. This year’s budget narrative hints at the prospect of getting closer to grass roots. The test will be if this resembles immersion in community settings over prolonged periods or more of the consultation, co-design approach where communities are asked to contribute after the thinking has been done in Wellington.
Wouldn’t it have been great to see resourcing for something like true collaboration in highly immersive community contexts in this year’s budget, governed in the spirit of true partnership between Government and Māori?
So what could this budget look like if we in fact did have such a place?
In respect of people, there would be strong investment in parenting and further support into broadening those education activities that are already changing the trajectory of young lives. The outcomes from kaupapa Māori education initiatives such Kura Kaupapa, Kura-a-Iwi, Puhoro STEM Academy, Tai Wānanga, Manukura and Tu Toa to name a few are all delivering results.
In terms of our whenua or place, we would understand that short-term economic pain incurred by nurturing our environment is in fact a longer term investment, in the vibrancy of our people and will buy us the time to realise that our future economic success rests much more in leveraging the talent and minds of our people than it does on those activities that are harming our planet.
With respect to the economy we would seriously consider ongoing resourcing of industry collaborations to help Māori build the critical scale and grow the commercial capability so it can convert the global trends around indigenous values into economic opportunities.
This is all food for thought, leaving one very important, inspiring question - what is possible if we dare to embrace approaches whose design is far more heavily influenced by those they are intended to work for? As opposed to being determined in Wellington, often a far distance from where the issues are experienced.