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Tariana Turia, Sustainable Economic Development

Speech – The Maori Party

I was interested when I looked at the programme today and saw the connection between the Whanganui region and the global economy. It spoke to me of the universal truth I have known all my life, epitomised in our saying, ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au. …Whanganui River Institute Annual Conference on Sustainable Economic Development

Alexander Library, Queens Park, Whanganui
Friday 26 February 2010; 2pm

Hon Tariana Turia, MP for Te Tai Hauauru

I was interested when I looked at the programme today and saw the connection between the Whanganui region and the global economy.

It spoke to me of the universal truth I have known all my life, epitomised in our saying, ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au. Literally – I am the river and the river is me.

Our Whanganuitanga – our affiliations to Whanganui and the river – is the ultimate expression of our world. Within that, the River is an integral part of our life. It provides physical, cultural, spiritual sustenance. It is our place of recreation.

The late Matiu Mareikura shared this view with the Waitangi Tribunal and I quote from the Whanganui River Report

“Our people go to the river to cleanse themselves, they go to the river to pray and they go to the river to wash. They go to the river for everything leads back to the river. And the river, in return, suffices all our needs.

Without the river we really would be nothing because of all the resources that it gives back to us, the history that has gone on in the past with our people who have lived on the banks and used it as a motorway, used it as the only thoroughfare”.

And so when I think about the place of the Whanganui region in the global economy, my thoughts are always associated with our river – our lifeblood, the heartbeat and pulse of the people.

I think about the 143 marae that were established along the length of the river; some of our people have unique names for each of the 240 or so rapids between Taumarunui and the tidal limits.

It is far more than a means of electricity generation, a transport link, a source of food. As my dear friend Niko Tangaroa would say, ‘the river and the land and its people are inseparable’.

So how does this unique relationship with Whanganuitanga bear any relevance to this conference on sustainable economic development?

The Maori economy is characterised by a concentration of Maori assets in the primary and secondary sectors.

Most Maori businesses are concentrated in export industries such as fishing, forestry, agriculture and tourism sectors – all which are exposed to global economic conditions and therefore to global fluctuations.

Significant numbers of Maori are also in sectors particularly vulnerable to current international economic developments, including the construction and manufacturing industries.

So when we look at the health of our river, we are automatically linked to the health and wellbeing of our people, and that relationship is intimately associated with the economic and commercial prosperity of this region.

Put simply, we cannot interfere with the nature of the river without it having consequences.

Sewage discharge, bush clearance, farm runoff, sedimentation, landfills, gravel extraction, water abstraction, headwater diversion, commercial fishing operations, and the Tongariro hydroelectricity scheme has all had a direct influence on the destruction of the fisheries in this rohe.

Our people often say that when the awa became sick, so did the wellbeing of our iwi – such is the close nature of our relationship.

What we have seen over the years in Whanganui is that the impacts of land loss and land reform, of pollution, of limited economic growth, have cost our people dearly.

From being self-sufficient people of the awa, we became dependent on elements of the system, we lost contact with our traditional supports, and for some of our people the sheer wonder of life, the mauri, has lost meaning.

This, then, is a critical time to be considering sustainable economic development for the Whanganui River, the West Coast region.

The international alliances and relationships based on business links, niche market advantage in clean and renewable energy, creative arts, sports and culture, are all dependent on a thriving economy; and a thriving people.

We know that Maori can represent a considerable source of future growth, that Maori economic development is not only important for Maori, it is important for New Zealand’s economic performance overall.

An immediate response for determining Maori economic priorities is to recognise the diverse range of stakeholders within the sphere of Maori economic activity – from Maori employers and employees to Maori business owners to tribal and pan-tribal commercial entities.

The Maori asset base is substantial – conservatively estimated to be $16.5 billion.

But of all the resources available, the greatest opportunity for our future sustainability is human capital, he tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

Improving the skills, training and qualifications of young Maori is a huge priority for me in my capacity as Associate Minister of Social Development. One of the most exciting ventures I have been involved with is the Community Max scheme which I introduced last year with some $40million of funding to support up to 3000 places.

Community Max targets unskilled 16 to 24 year olds with low or no qualifications whose chances of getting work are limited. It combines opportunities for youth employment with the important role of community support wrapped around them. And from all the reports I’ve received, it’s been incredibly positive not just for the participants but for their greater community.

I think what Community Max demonstrates so well is that the challenges ahead of us, are not simply about finding jobs – as important as that is.

It is about exploring the enormous untapped potential of our young people, supporting them to develop capability and capacity in the area of innovation, enterprise and economic wellbeing.

And significantly it is about strengthening the value associated with being Maori – what some may call the quadruple bottom line.

The priority for Maori sustainable economic development in this area must include Maori taking a lead role in determining their economic development aspirations and fostering development that works for them.

And this is where I come to what I believe is the greatest opportunity for transformation – whanau ora.

I said earlier, than when the river is sick, our people are sick. Whanau ora is about understanding the connection between all the parts, understanding the many variables that have the potential to bring benefits to whanau right across their social, economic, cultural and collective benefits.

In many respects it’s about joining the dots. Joining up the aspirations for good health, strong education, full participation with economic gains, participation in te Ao Maori and the aspirations and commitments between and across generations, and between the ambitions of individuals and the shared hopes of the whanau.

I am really keen to support a movement towards measuring the impact of any initiatives through the outcomes for whanau.

Those outcomes may be for whanau to be self-managing; to be living healthy lifestyles or to enjoy full participation in our community. An important indicator of success for many whanau will be in strengthening their capacity to live in ways guided by our values, beliefs, obligations and responsibilities – nga kaupapa tuku iho.

Success will also be evident in whanau who are economically secure while flourishing socially – taking care of each other, nurturing, cohesive and resilient.

We are still working through the ways in which we demonstrate an integrated approach to whanau wellbeing, but suffice to say, an effective relationship between government and community agencies who intersect in the lives of whanau is a crucial part.

I want to thank the Whanganui River Institute for your initiative in holding this annual conference, and if there is one message that I would hope you retain from today; it is about the importance of supporting people to determine their own solutions.

We must have faith in our own potential, to make the changes we need, to join the dots, and to take the widest look at our strengths and aspirations.

Whanau ora is essentially a pathway forward that reminds us that to live comfortably today and in the years ahead, our unique heritage, histories, genealogies, relationships and resources will provide us with all that we need.

Tena tatou katoa.


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