New Year, New Prime Minister (Mana Magazine)

Note: Between August 2014 and May 2017 I was a regular columnist for Mana Magazine and my writing was focused on this medium, while also managing a very hectic work schedule.  Articles during this “Interregnum” were all originally published in external sources.

In early December, just when we thought that 2016 – the year of great political and economic upheaval – was winding down one last surprise was sprung on New Zealand politics.  The man many assumed would emulate Keith Holyoake and lead our country for 12 years suddenly, and unexpectedly, resigned as Prime Minister.  Never before had we seen a PM leave on his or her own terms.  Nor has such an orderly transition of power occurred.  Within a week, Bill English secured a sense of personal redemption and was sworn in as Prime Minister, alongside the appointment of Paula Bennett as Prime Minister – the first ever Māori women (and only the second woman) to hold the position.  It was an historic moment in New Zealand politics.  As we enter 2017 and cast our eye forward to the upcoming General Election, this change in our political leadership could have important ramifications for the Māori economy.

As John Key was the popular Prime Minister, Bill English is the economic Prime Minister.  His career, spanning time with the Treasury, 26 years as an MP, and 9 years as Minister of Finance has been defined by two things: the incremental improvement in our economic framework and a commitment to a social investment approach to public spending.  The social investment approach is a framework of considering the long term cost of the biggest social issues facing the country and targeting public spending today on areas which can generate the best return in first solving these issues and, second, in reducing the long term liability of these social issues on the Government’s finances.  Welfare and crime prevention have been the early targets of Bill English’s approach under this framework.  As Prime Minister, we can expect this to expand every more in Budget 2017 and in the National Party’s General Election Manifesto.

What does this mean for Māori?  There are three main areas I will be watching closely in 2017 in the lead up to the election.  First is the progress of the new Te Ture Whenua Māori legislation; increased support for Whānau Ora; and prison reform.  There is reason to be optimistic about the English-led Government.  The emphasis on solving long term societal issues through targeted spending allocations should benefit Māori communities the most.  Economically, socially, and criminally; Māori continue to lag behind Pākehā in every statistical metric.  Take, for example, Māori land development.  Reports place the unrealised economic potential of Māori land as high as $6 billion – a sum frequently used as justification for the reforms of Te Ture Whenua Māori.  Realising this potential will have a dramatic impact on the Māori economy.  Realising this potential requires significant investment from the Government.  A Government sponsored $1 billion investment fund for Māori land owners (in parallel to the $1 billion housing infrastructure fund launched last year), operated through a Māori owned and operated bank, will provide a massive return to New Zealand over the long term.  Does this Government have the courage of their principles to back it?

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