More funding needed for schemes 'by Māori, for Māori' - Willie Jackson

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson says there is institutional racism "in every area of New Zealand society" that won't end until there is more funding for "by Māori, for Māori" solutions.

The Cabinet minister, speaking to Newshub Nation on Saturday, said inequities for his people had been around for a long time.

"It's not just in the justice system - it's been in the health system, we've talked justice, we've had Oranga Tamariki, it's in the media - we've been sidelined in the media. So in every area of New Zealand society, we have institutional racism. It's one of the reasons I came into politics... I got sick and tired of our people being singled out. 

"In 1988 we had the report into social welfare that said institutional racism was the most insidious, most destructive type of racism around because it affects generations and it affects vulnerable people. You have intergenerational effects... are things turning around? Well, I think this is a Government that has showed and is showing that we're putting some of the frameworks in place in terms of the turnaround."

He cited Oranga Tamariki as an example. The agency, formerly known as Child, Youth and Family and the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, made headlines in 2019 when it was revealed Māori and Pasifika children were far more likely to be uplifted from their families than Pakeha

"We had all the criticism in terms of the racism... this Government has responded," said Jackson.

"We've got an all-Māori board, a Māori chair, we've got an interim Māori CEO, and there's a plan in terms of by Māori, for Māori funding. So I think we're finding our way through this. We've got a Prime Minister and a Government who are committed to change." 

Willie Jackson.
Willie Jackson. Photo credit: The Hui

Labour's caucus has the highest number of Māori in any New Zealand Government in history - 15 - and make up a quarter of Cabinet, where most of the power resides. Jackson says real change won't come however until Māori services get more funding.

"You've had Māori providers who've been given crumbs for many, many years. Look at health - Māori health has been in a catastrophic position, that's what our Waitangi Tribunal said... We're coming up with a Māori Health Authority. I think that's a good start, that's a good framework, but we have to fund it properly. We're looking at that now... we'll be much better off if we have an independent Māori Health Authority that looks after the interests of our people. A by Māori, for Māori solution.

"I can't tell you exactly where we're going to be in three years, but I know that's the way forward. I know in terms of Oranga Tamariki, we need to devolve funding to our community groups who've been working off the smell of an oily rag. I know in education we have to do something drastic when 50 percent of our kids are leaving school without qualifications."

Last year's Budget was dominated by the COVID-19 response, with little new spending for specific Māori initiatives. Jackson said he doesn't know what new spending will be in this year's Budget, due next month, but has respect for Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

"I can't tell you what's going to be in there. I can tell you that I advocate for more resourcing and funding... I'm like any other minister who has to negotiate with him. He's a good man - he's got a Ngati Porou background, he's got a Ngati Porou partner so he's part of our tribe - so I try and use anything and everything I can to get more funding across the table."

Māori also face huge inequities in the justice system - they're more likely to be arrested, charged and convicted of the same crimes as other ethnicities, and make up about half of all prisoners. Jackson said Kelvin Davis was the most committed Corrections Minister he's ever seen, and has been working on bringing the total prison population down - though the proportion of Māori has still been rising. 

Jackson said why that is the case was a question for Davis, who declined to come on the show.

"You'll have to work that out with him," Jackson said. "I'll come onto your show every Saturday if you like, no problem."