Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi challenges Labour's target for Māori share of public service contracts

Labour's plan to encourage public service agencies to cast the net wider when awarding contracts with a new 5 percent target for Māori has been challenged by the Māori Party. 

The Government spends $42 billion a year on procurement of goods - the act of obtaining goods or services - and Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson hopes the new 5 percent target will help Māori get more of a share. 

"The new five percent target for public service contracts for Māori businesses is an important step towards a more inclusive and prosperous society," Jackson said on Thursday. 

"Small and medium businesses face significant challenges as a result of COVID-19. That is exactly why targeting Māori businesses and jobs is a priority for the new Government. The target will encourage agencies to use their buying power to create social and economic value."

Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi questioned the commitment in Parliament, asking Jackson why the procurement target isn't 16 percent to reflect the Māori population in New Zealand. 

"The Māori Party campaigned on 30 percent procurement. This Government is saying 5 percent. Is he aware the Māori population is 16 percent and where did he get his 5 percent from?" Waititi asked. 

"The 5 percent target is an aspirational target," Jackson responded, drawing gasps and groans from the Opposition benches. 

"I know it's hard for the Opposition to understand that word," Jackson shot back at the Opposition.  

"It is a really good start because the National Party refused to acknowledge indigenous procurement and I say to the members to support this percentage. It's a good start for our party and we're hoping to increase it over the next 12 months."

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson defended Jackson, asking: "Has he received any correspondence from the Opposition as to whether they would support a 16 percent target about procurement?"

"Not in the last 50 years have we received anything from the National Party to support any indigenous procurement," Jackson replied, sparking laughter from other MPs. 

Economic and Regional Development Minister Stuart Nash said by accessing more of the Government's annual procurement spend Māori business owners and staff will benefit from greater training and employment opportunities, economic resilience and business growth.

"Māori businesses have a strong presence in the primary sector and tourism, in accommodation and the food industry, the retail sector and in the trades. This policy has the potential to further assist with kick-starting of economic activity into other sectors."

Robertson acknowledged earlier this month that Māori, along with Pacific people and women were hardest hit by the economic impact of COVID-19. 

"I will be working closely with the ministers in these areas to make sure there is an inclusive recovery and rebuild," Robertson said. 

The Government has also acknowledged in the past that the Māori prison population is disproportionate to their population. They make up more than half of the prison population. 

In 2017, the Waitangi Tribunal criticised Corrections for having no specific plan or target to reduce Māori reoffending rates and the high number of Māori in prison.

The Government wants to reduce the prison population by 30 percent in 15 years, and to reduce Māori incarceration - though it hasn't yet set a specific reduction target for the latter. 

A $98 million "whānau-centred pathway" was announced in 2019 as major first step in changing the way Corrections operates to help reduce the prison population.