This is the start of what I hope will be a periodic review of what’s been happening in Parliament and what it might mean for Pacific communities. This week I’ll focus on three possible law changes, two bad and one good.
Youth Rates – the Government has introduced a Bill into the House to extend youth rates. This will create a lower wage, of $10.80 per hour for young people under the age of 19 who have been out of work. The Government thinks this will help create jobs, despite no loss of jobs when Sue Bradford’s bill abolished youth rates.
As Pacific populations are younger and pacific youth unemployment much higher and more likely to contribute to their family finances than the nationwide average, this will have a much bigger impact on Pacific communities.
We would never accepted lower wages for women, people with refugee backgrounds, or Maori or Pacific people who are struggling to get work – because that would obviously be discriminatory.
It seems though that the Government thinks young people don’t need the money as much as the rest of us. I think they must be imagining their own, privileged children who can still stay at home without having to pay board, and spend their money on clothes and music and going out. It would be nice if this was the reality for more Pacific young people and families but it’s not.
Charter Schools – The Education Amendment Bill was introduced, this will set up charter schools, allow more search and surveillance in schools, make it easier for the Government to merge schools, and also enable Government to more easily take action against schools resisting National Standards.
The Government is promoting charter schools as a way to improve educational outcomes for the 1 in 5 who are leaving school without NCEA level two. I know some Maori and Pacific communities are excited about the opportunity of charter schools that will truly culturally affirm their children and be free of low expectations and racism.
However, the Education Policy Response Group, consisting of 12 NZ College of Education experts, conducted an in-depth examination of research studies from Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States; countries with models on which New Zealand charter schools may be based.
Group convenor Professor Emeritus Ivan Snook noted “The evidence is clear that charter schools have the potential to cause harm to the very groups of students they are supposed to help.”
Professor of Teacher Education John O’Neill also says “It is, for example, quite common for charter schools to lead to an increase in inequality based on culture, race or socio-economic status.”
The Government needs to resource Pacific language materials and teachers, help develop programmes like Te Kohtahitanga that has been so successful at lifting Māori achievement, and make a commitment to addressing child poverty which, with 270,000 children living in poverty, has to be the biggest barrier to student achievement in this country.
Extension of In Work Tax Credit – Metiria Turei’s bill that would put an extra $60 every week in the hands of beneficiary families had it’s first reading. The vote hasn’t happened yet though so there is still a chance to lobby the MPs that may change their mind.
Sixteen percent of Pacific people are unemployed, compared to less than six percent of Europeans and thirteen percent of Maori. During recessions Pacific people are often the first to be laid off, and due to structural and individual racism Pacific people find it harder to get employment.
The Government is doing little to nothing to challenge the immediate barriers work, or create jobs.
The Government recognizes that at times sole parents will need to stay at home to look after their children.
This Bill will help those families through the tough times, and make it a bit easier to put food on the table and the heater on in winter. Knowingly keeping families in poverty is to deprive their children of equal opportunities and deny all of us the benefit of a society that involves everyone.
Clean Water – I’m not going to stereotype all islanders as caring about waterways and nature but it was once considered the birthright of everyone born in this country, and I bet in every Pacific nation, to swim in our rivers, lakes and seas and, with permits, to collect our food. To find out that 2/3rds of our rivers and lakes are unsafe to swim in and 1/3 of our coastal beaches are too denies us that birth right. It removes another opportunity for free recreation from all of us, and again increases our reliance on supermarkets for our food.
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