Jun 29, 2012

The problem with Whanau Ora

In another Whanau Ora controversy, Winston Peters has revealed a Palmerston North based provider owes $75,000 to IRD in overdue GST and PAYE tax. The provider, a branch of the Women’s Refuge, also overpaid annual leave. Following an audit report funding was frozen.

This controversy, in conjunction with the others, illustrates serious competency issues in the delivery and monitoring of Whanau Ora. The problems can be attributed to teething issues, but I think that explanation is too simplistic.

Whanau Ora outsources social service funding and delivery. More often than not the government outsources to organisations that do not have a proven track record in delivering and monitoring social services. The Women’s Refuge, for example, is a proven provider when it comes to providing accomodation and support for battered women. However, beyond that service, the Women’s Refuge is untested and inexperienced. I think it is fair to assume no one in the Women’s Refuge has the institutional, administrative and business experience to competently deliver social services beyond what they specialise in.

This was always going to be the gamble with Whanau Ora. There were never enough organisations with the capacity and experience to deliver what the government does or did. There are exceptions, the Waipereira trust is probably the most prominent example, but they are the exception not the rule.

It is an indictment on Te Puni Kokiri that these controversies keep occurring. TPK was, after all, restructured in an attempt to put more focus on Whanau Ora.

I support Whanau Ora in principle. The idea that communities should deliver social services makes sense. The idea that social service delivery should be centralised is also smart. However, the ideas do not seem to be working well in practice. This, I think, can be rectified over time. The government needs to take a more active role in building capability among providers. Any approach otherwise is just negligent.

Jun 27, 2012

Best and worst performing Maori MPs for June

I've updated the best and worst performing Maori MPs list. Te Ururoa Flavell remains in the best performing list while Catherine Delahunty -yes, a Pakeha - also wins a spot. Wellington City Councillor, and the most effective councillor according to the Wellingtonian, Paul Eagle is also included.

Rounding out the bottom half is Hone Harawira for his stubborn position on marriage equality. Tau Henare also finds himself on the worst performing list thanks to his poor form on Wikipedia.

Again, this these are my own subjective opinions are they're open to criticism.

Jun 26, 2012

Refusing to budge on marriage equality

Hone Harawira is refusing to moderate his stance on marriage equality, or at least that’s how he came across on Radio Rhema (the Christian radio station). In a revealing interview Hone claimed to have never voted for something he didn’t believe in. When questioned on what’ll happen when his personal view clashes with Mana’s view, Hone was unclear.

Well, Hone can’t afford to be unclear. He’s on record as saying that the movement is bigger than he is. This seems to suggest that he’ll follow any decision the party makes. However, saying that you’re unsure what will happen in the event of a clash seems to suggest that Hone’s backing away from his indication to vote according to the party position. Like I said last week, the Maori Party provides an excellent case study what happens when you ignore your members.

I think Hone will have to cave. After all, there isn’t a split within the Mana Party. There is a split between Hone Harawira and the Mana Party. On marriage equality Hone’s view is divorced from the Mana Party’s view. Some Mana members, or Hone apologists, are attempting to write off the issue as unimportant. Others are claiming marriage is not a Maori concept and, therefore, unimportant. This ignores the fact that marriage, although a western concept, is one that the huge majority of Maori adopt. Therefore, Maori are invested in the issue. Furthermore, the Mana Party is more than just a Maori party. It’s a radical party too, in other words an anti-discrimination party, and cannot claim radical status while upholding marriage discrimination.

Most interestingly Hone claimed never to have voted for something he didn’t believe in. This is admirable, but not a practical stance for a leader of a parliamentary party. After all, Hone isn’t in Parliament representing himself – he represents Te Tai Tokerau and the Mana Party. Hone is obligated to follow the party line even if he doesn't agree. Any actions otherwise legitimise the Maori Party's claim that Mana is really the Hone Party.

I support Hone Harawira and I support what the Mana Party stands for, but on marriage equality Hone is being regressive and I don’t support his position or his justifications. Lastly, Hone’s opposition to marriage equality makes this gesture to the gay community look hollow. A cynic would say Hone’s position reaffirms this gesture to Destiny Church.

Jun 25, 2012

Merging the Maori Council

It’s commonly accepted that the New Zealand Maori Council is redundant. With the rise of the Maori Party, the Mana Party and the Iwi Leaders Group, the Maori Council find their position threatened.

For consultation purposes, the government prefers to deal with the Iwi Leaders Group. The government prefers to deal with an organisation that’s ideologically sympathetic. I think it's fair to describe the iwi leaders as neoliberal. For example, they support asset sales, PPPs and so on. However, what cements the Iwi Leaders Group as the advocacy and consultation group of choice is money.

The Iwi Leaders Group are a multi-billion dollar collective. The Maori Council, however, is anchored by an Act of Parliament and an act that is due to be reformed or, quite possibly, wiped off the statute books. The Iwi leaders are secure. On the other hand, the Maori Council is subject to the whims of the government of the day.

In my opinion, the Maori Council still have an important role. The Iwi Leaders Group largely represents the commercial interests of iwi, with some notable exceptions, whereas the Maori Council’s focus is more broad. It is, after all, the Maori Council who are lodging the water claim. In contrast the iwi leaders are engaging in backroom dealing in an attempt to secure a political solution. The iwi leaders are taking a pragmatic approach, arguably the best approach, but I prefer the Maori Council’s approach. Before engaging in deals, I’d prefer to know the legal position. Then again, an adverse finding undermines your bargaining power. The threat of legal action is persuasive, but neutralised when the Court has or will find against you.

Perhaps the water claim issue illustrates the need for the Maori Council and the Iwi Leaders Group to merge. Both sides are taking opposite approaches and, in the process, undermining each other. The Iwi leaders already perform many of the Maori Council’s functions, only with economic leverage and political connections that an Act of Parliament can’t give. Surely the only option, or the most sensible option at least, is to merge.

On a slightly different note, there are claims that the revival of the Maori Council is merely a power play on behalf of Donna Hall and Sir Eddie Durie, the co-chair and Hall’s partner, and a useful vehicle for other Maori power players, for example Rahui Katene. I don’t put much stock in this. I rate the integrity of Sir Eddie Durie too highly.

Ultimately, I think a merger has to be on the cards. The Maori Party, Mana Party and the Iwi leaders perform what the Maori Council once did, only more effectively. There isn’t any space for the Maori Council.

Kelvin Davis on improving education

When the government says that national standards, charter schools, league tables, performance pay, quality vs quantity of teachers will all raise achievement, they might be right.

That's because there are very few strategies that teachers (or governments) can implement that actually make students dumber. Teachers can rightly put their hands on their hearts and swear that what they do in class lifts achievement. Just about everything has some positive effect, but some have a large positive effect while others barely register. It would make sense to develop policy based on those strategies that have the greatest positive effect.

The much quoted Professor John Hattie's research lists, from most effective to least ffective, 138 different 'things' that may be implemented in education, and all but five have a positive effect on learning. The five strategies with a negative effect are: Summer vacation (-0.09), Welfare Policies (-0.12) Retention (Holding kids back a year, -0.16), Television (-0.18) and Mobility (-0.34). So unless we prescribe longer Christmas holidays, keep kids back a year or two, or force students to watch an extra 8 hours of TV a day, almost everything else will have SOME positive effect on learning.

The same goes for government policy - practically any educational policy will have some positive effect for some students.

In order to get the best achievement outcomes from any policy, the policy itself needs to be supported by research.

What does Hattie's research say?

Any 'strategy' with an effect size of 0.40 or less is practically pointless. Which makes sense.

In Hattie's list the strategy with an effect size of 0.40 (Reducing Anxiety) is exactly halfway through the list of possible strategies. Hattie is saying if any particular strategy is to be used it should at least be in the top 50% of strategies.

What does the research say about Charter Schools?

Charter Schools have an effect size of 0.20, or the 107th out of the 133 strategies that have some positive effect. Charter Schools are therefore an extremely pointless and expensive strategy.

There are still 40 strategies that are deemed pointless, but, are still more effective than Charter Schools.

What does the research say about League Tables and Performance Pay?

Nothing. They don't rate or feature in any way in Hattie's research.

What then is the basis for League Tables and Performance Pay if there is no research evidence to show these two 'things' will make a difference? How does the government know these two 'strategies' won't have to be included alongside the five already proven to make students dumber?

There are 106 'things' more effective than Charter Schools at improving learning, of which 66 are deemed to be very effective. 

It would make sense for the government to stick to what is proven by their guru's research to make a difference and really create the conditions where quality teachers can weave their magic.Only when the proven strategies are all implemented, should they pull out their ideological ideas. However, I suspect by then there would be no need.

By Kelvin Davis

Jun 22, 2012

Welcoming Kelvin Davis and Jack McDonald

I'm getting tired of reading my own opinion here, and I suspect some of you might be too. So, with that in mind, I'm pleased to tell you former MP Kelvin Davis and former Green Party candidate Jack Tautokai McDonald will be contributing around here.

Kelvin is a former Labour MP and has been appearing in the media recently as a political commentator. Jack was the young gun candidate for the Greens in Te Tai Hauauru last election. They'll be bringing a valuable perspective to Maui St.  

Jun 21, 2012

Marriage equality, privatisation and the Maori Party and the GC

The marriage equality debate isn’t about to die anytime soon with Te Kaea and the Herald picking up on Hone Harawira’s opposition, or failure to take a position. The Maori Party and the Greens are in support while Labour’s Louisa Wall has a bill in the ballot that would legalise same-sex marriage. Despite strong support from these quarters, our male MPs seem to be stubbornly against or, like in Hone’s case, refusing to take a position. It’s a pity because opposition to equality goes against Maori values. It’s also poor form for some Maori MPs to demand equality for Maori, yet refuse to demand equality for other marginalised groups. Step up male MPs. 

Although the Maori Party voted against the privatisation bill, they also voted against Labour’s amendments to the bill. Again, this was poor form. Apparently a blanket decision was made to vote against amendments that did not concern Maori or the Treaty. This wasn’t good politics. Voting for the amendments would have indicated the Maori Party’s supposedly strong opposition. Instead, the Maori Party voted with the government thus making their opposition to the substantive bill look very, very hollow.


The GC wrapped up last night and I’m going to change my opinion - again. The show was nothing like Jersey Shore and nothing like a documentary. It was an excellent piece of storytelling in a format that was just right for the demographic. The show was full of fluff, there’s no doubt about that, but it also confronted some interesting questions, for example what does it mean to be Maori in Australia. Arguably we didn’t get a wholesome answer, but we got enough to draw our own conclusions. The show’s worth a second go.


It’s Matariki… Happy Maori New Year.

Jun 20, 2012

Fail: Why the Maori Party's wrong on education

As former education professionals, you would expect Te Ururoa Flavell and Pem Bird to know a thing or two about education. However, on charter schools, performance pay and league tables Flavell and Bird have got it wrong.

From Waatea:

Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell is backing Education Minister Hekia Parata's reforms.

"I think we've got to look at new ideas so for example I haven't got a problem with looking at charter schools. If it doesn't work, so it doesn't work. We've got to look at things like pay performance because that might encourage our teachers to lift performance even better, particularly around dealing with Maori students. Let's look at it. We shouldn't be precious about staying with what we've got because clearly it isn't delivering what we want," Mr Flavell says.

While Pem Bird informs RNZ that:

The Iwi Education Authority says league tables would make schools more accountable for performance and more responsible for achieving results.

Authority chairman Pem Bird says any ranking system would make schools work harder, because results would be explicit and transparent.

He says if his annual results weren't good, he wouldn't despair - it would be a challenge for him improve the following year's performance.

These are incredibly simplistic views. “If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work” is a terrible approach to policy making. Charter schools, performance pay and league tables are not abstract concepts that will have no tangible effect on learning. They are concrete policy initiatives that will affect the lives of all Maori children. With that in mind, it is reckless to endorse policy just because it quote “might” work.

Flavell, having based his views of performance pay on the idea that it provides an incentive, is misguided. Performance pay provides an incentive, but an incentive to narrow outcomes. All of a sudden schooling becomes about test scores rather than broader goals, for example equipping students with reasoning skills, ideas of social responsibility and so on. 

In other words, performance pay encourages teachers to teach to the test. Such an approach fell out of fashion long ago. What we need from out students isn’t the ability to rote learn, which is what performance pay and its bastard teaching to the test encourages, but the ability to reason, innovate and so on. 

As for charter schools, well, I can see the attraction. The idea conforms with ideas of tino rangatiratanga. Charter schools put Maori in charge of Maori. Iwi, for example, could deliver the curriculum and revive our culture. Rongoa Maori could be offered as a subject.

The pitfall, however, is that iwi have no experience in delivering education. Add to this the shortage of Maori teachers, especially te reo Maori teachers, and the fact that there are precious few models to draw on.

On league tables, Bird’s conception is shallow. League tables “might” encourage schools to work harder, or alternatively encourage schools to skew results, purge and refuse to accept weaker students, teach to the test and so on. I tend to think the latter is more likely.

Furthermore, National Standards aren’t standardised thus rendering the comparisons (i.e. league tables) almost meaningless. A different set of standards also apply to Kura, therefore any comparison between Kura and mainstream schools is utterly pointless. So for Maori parents wanting to compare whether Kura or mainstream schools are better for Maori children, league tables will offer no guidance. With that in mind, what the fuck’s the point?

I’m constantly amazed at how disappointing the Maori Party can be. Is anybody doing their homework in the party? Or are they just going off intuition? I don’t know what’s going on, but they’re doing Maori a disservice when they endorse the government’s plans for education.

Jun 19, 2012

Hone Harawira and marriage equality (updated)

Hone Harawira is known for a lot of things, but not many people realise he is a social and moral conservative. He is against, for example, drug liberalisation and gay marriage and in an interview with Bryce Edwards Hone claimed to be against a society of “choice”. This, I think, reveals an authoritarian attitude not uncommon in Maori males of Hone’s generation.

Taking this into account it appears Hone shares more in common with his former colleagues – meaning the Maori Party – than he cares to admit. I read Maori as being a conservative people, if not always politically. This is true of Maori raised in the radical tradition too, the most prominent example being Hone Harawira.

Many Maori are raised to hold steadfast to our culture and our ancestor’s traditions. This is not a bad thing, in fact it’s a great thing on balance, but it encourages cultural rigidity and a fair amount of conservatism. For example, many Maori (almost exclusively men) outright refuse to develop our customs to accommodate shifting attitudes around the place of women in society – think women speaking on the paepae. These situations reflect the social conservatism of many Maori.

Anywho, as I said Hone Harawira is opposed to gay marriage, or marriage equality as it’s positively framed. This position has been opposed universally within the Mana Party. Leading members have asked Hone to justify his position, but he is yet to face the membership with a justification. This is unacceptable from the party leader and he will be rightly savaged for it.

Hone takes the position that marriage is not a human right but a way of doing things. This, I think, is a fair assessment. However, it’s no reason to oppose the institution of marriage being available to same-sex couples. If it’s a way of doing things, why not ensure that that way of doing things is equal and does not discriminate. Such a position would be consistent with Mana Party values.

I don’t think Hone will be able to maintain his position. Party pressure will be considerable. On the small chance Hone remains steadfast though, his former party provides a salient illustration of what happens when you ignore your members.

UPDATE: According to Maiki Sherman on Twitter Hone Harawira would not be drawn on the issue of gay marriage saying that the party is still developing a position. This conflicts with the view Hone expressed in this interview with Bryce Edwards. For a list of MPs and their positions on marriage equality see this.

Jun 12, 2012

Revisiting the GC

I’m revisiting my opinion on the GC. After a few weeks watching the show, it’s nothing like I imagined. Last month I labelled the show racist. This call, in the context of the first episode, was a fair one. However, the show hasn’t taken the trajectory I expected it to.

The GC suffers from an identity crisis. There’s a tension between recreating Jersey Shore and on the other hand presenting a realistic portrayal of Maori on the Gold Coast. These two ideas don’t sit well together. For ratings sake, the producers have to make the show entertaining and that involves relationship dramas, the boys on the prowl and so on – Jersey Shore stuff in other words. However, the rationale of the show was to present a realistic portrayal of Maori on the Gold Coast and the show was funded along those lines. Finding an acceptable balance is hard task and one the makers of the show don’t seem to have achieved. I’m sure Bailey Mackey, one of the producers, want’s to strike a balance and present Maori in a positive light. However, the format of the show isn’t conducive to doing so. The show is not billed nor designed as a documentary – it’s a reality drama series and comes across as such.

Failing to strike a balance has resulted in mixed reviews. On the one hand, commentators have praised the show as reflecting the aspirations and reality for young Maori. Unlikely commentators, most notably Fran O’Sullivan, have praised the show:

Instead of wallowing in some tribal backwater, they have skipped across the Tasman to build successful entrepreneurial futures alongside other Kiwis in Australia and enjoy the "sun, surf and sex" lifestyles.

Although O’Sullivan’s phrased her point poorly, its essence is true. The GC portrays what is becoming the best option for Maori – Australia. Although, as Paul Little says and I agree, the Gold Coast is a “cultural desert” it’s a desert with jobs, money and opportunity. The opportunity to cast off the cultural and political baggage that comes with being Maori in New Zealand.

Much of the negative criticism has claimed that the show does not realistically portra Maori on the Gold Coast. I tend to agree with this view. Few Maori, if any, would spend most of their time on the beach, on the town and mucking around in front of a mirror. How many property developer slash scaffolders do you know?

Much of the criticism is in this vein and, for the most part at least, is just middle class sneering. Wellington and Auckland intellectuals throwing stones from their sophisticated towers. Having said that, some of the criticism from those towers has been insightful. Paul Little makes the point that:

With their distorted values and priorities, Tame, Jade, Zane and their "neffs" (friends) could hardly be more representative of contemporary NZ culture and identity. Whether they intended to or not, the show's makers have created a subtle, devastating critique of NZ today.

To a certain extent, the cast of the GC represent New Zealand youth culture, more specifically Maori youth culture. The cast represent what the values many young Maori hold and their approach to life.

Of all my complaints, however, I don’t like the level the show is pitched at. There is no time given to how the cast deal with conflicting cultural values. How do the characters reconcile their lives in Australia with their upbringing and obligations back home? But, of course, the show isn’t designed to answer these questions and fair enough. If anything these aren’t questions for a prime time show, they’re questions for Maori. One's I don't really know the answers too.

Jun 11, 2012

Turia and Sharples reconsider retirement

Audrey Young reports:

Maori Party co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples have revealed they are reconsidering retiring from politics next election - just as a new poll shows them potentially holding the balance of power.

Mrs Turia and Dr Sharples had indicated that the 2011 election would be their last.

But they are reconsidering after being asked repeatedly by supporters, a party official said.

This is the party’s only option. Te Ururoa Flavell’s majority in Waiariki is soft and will weaken in the face of a strong candidate and campaign. If Tauranga or Tuwharetoa fall towards Annette Sykes, or the Labour candidate evenly splits the area, then a win in Rotorua will not be enough to carry Flavell.

The same is roughly true of Pita Sharples. John Tamihere is considering a run at the 2014 election and Mana will stand a strong candidate, potentially Nga Puhi man Clinton Dearlove. Sharples came within a whisker of defeat in 2011 and that, quite worryingly for the Maori Party, was against a Shane Jones whose mind was on his personal life and a Mana candidate who entered late. Hypothetically Sharples will be up against the strongest candidate Labour can field, read Tamihere, and one of the strongest Mana can field, read Dearlove.

Tamihere, along with his likely campaign manager Willie Jackson, are probably the best Maori campaigners in Auckland. Labour also has access to the likes of Shane Phillips and Kelvin Davis. The Maori Party, on the other hand, don’t appear to have access to like campaigners.

Having said that, Pita Sharples unseated in Tamihere in 2005. However, the Sharples of today is nothing on the Sharples of seven years ago. Sharples is tired and not cutting it well, I think at least, as a Minister at the moment. He is slow and does not appear as intellectually capable as he once was. In contrast, Tamihere has, minus one or two minor controversies, rebuilt his reputation and continues his good work with the Waipereira Trust.

As for Tariana Turia, she’ll win no matter who runs against her. Turia knows, perhaps better than her colleagues, that without her and Sharples – the party’s anchors – the Maori Party will fall. The tide is going out on the Maori Party and rising on the Mana Party. For that reason, she knows that she needs to stay. Such a move, however, only seems to prolong the inevitable. Without an ideological shift and tangible wins for Maori, the Maori Party is paddling against the current.

Jun 4, 2012

On Native Affairs tonight

I'll be on Native Affairs tonight. The usual political chat along with Sandra Lee and former National candidate Claudette Hauiti. The show starts at 8.30pm on Maori TV.

Oh, and Tame Noema, Alby Waititi and Jade Louise from The G.C are on as well.