From time to time, New Zealanders from any number of political persuasions have rubbished the way the Aussies treat their indigenous communities.

We like to think that, no matter how slow our Governments have been to understand and deal with the injustices to Maori since 1840, they’re way more enlightened than their Australian counterparts.

Possibly. But, if so, not by any spectacular margin. Take, for instance, what’s happening in Western Australia. Colin Barnett is their premier and he’s cried poverty and announced that probably 100 or 150 remote aboriginal communities will close because they aren’t “sustainable”.

He’s calling the shots because, in Australia, it’s the state governments which have the responsibilities for “maintaining” indigenous communities. And, in the case of Western Australia, the state government doesn’t want to foot the bill, which the premier says is $40 million a year. So the families will have to move on, no matter how deep their ties are with the land where they’ve been living.

How heavy handed! It could never happen here in New Zealand. Never. But, hang on. Hone Harawira says it’s already happening here.

Here are his comments on Waatea News:

“While we’re protesting against the closure of remote communities we need to be mindful the Government here is doing the same things, picking up families from places like Panguru and saying you have to move out of there.

“People have moved home, built a house, got a job in the forestry and, all of a sudden, the forestry industry turns belly up and they’re not allowed to go on the dole. So they’re forced to leave, with the Government deciding they can’t stay there.”

Hone is referring to the Limited Employment Locations policy which the Ministry of Social Development uses to determine who is and isn’t eligible for Job Seeker Support (the dole). To quality for Job Seeker Support under the Social Security Act you need to prove that you’re not in full-time work, but you also have to prove you’re available and willing as well as taking steps to find it.

Generally speaking, this is a tightly drafted provision. If the criteria are met, then you qualify. There is, however, a small zone of judgement where policy makers can decide that you are not, for example, “willing” to undertake full-time work. To determine whether this is the case, the Ministry uses policies like Limited Employment Locations.

This policy applies to beneficiaries who move from an area with strong employment prospects to an area where job prospects aren’t at all rosy. So, if you move from central Auckland to Panguru because you can’t afford the astronomical rents in the city, then you could be denied Job Seeker Support – even if you are genuinely unemployed.

This is problematic from a legal perspective. It puts the onus on the applicant to prove that there are good reasons for moving – and that the reasons fit the bureaucratic criteria.  But, as well as being dodgy as a matter of legal principle, the policy is especially unfair on Maori.

Say you’ve just lost your job in the city and home is calling you back. You have obligations to fulfil, but you need the temporary security of Job Seeker Support. Well, if you’re moving from Wellington to a relatively jobless scene such as Kawerau, then there’s no Job Seeker Support for you.

The policy can amount to discrimination even if there’s no intention to treat Maori unfairly. It could discourage us from fulfilling our cultural obligations – and prompt the decline of small Maori communities.

It’s not precisely the same situation as in Australia. But it is damaging. And, once again, Hone Harawira may just have a point.


© e-tangata, 2015

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