When I was told I was the recipient of the Public Health Association Tū Rangatira mō to Ora award I was speechless. It took a little while to process. I’m not very good with surprises, and I consider the work I do for tamariki and whānau as a service, so being rewarded for it seemed odd. It’s not odd of course – it’s a wonderful recognition and huge privilege.
And so is holding a position that allows me to speak for, on behalf, and with, whānau Māori on the most urgent issues confronting them. It is something I value greatly.
More than that, I have spent my 14 years in Parliament meeting people all around the country, seeing communities, hearing the stories and feeling determined to improve things because it is the right thing to do. Because the need is great, and I know we can do better. This is not about me. It’s about who we are as a nation.
Central to ensuring whānau Māori thrive, is the need for us to meet the potential of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its guarantees of protection, provision and participation. Te Tiriti matters because foundations matter; we are a house of cards if we don’t get the basics right.
We also know that the changes of the past 30 years have imposed policies that forced families into poverty and significantly increased income and wealth inequalities. I’m angry that the Government ignores the 148,000 small children missing out on the basic things they need to be healthy: milk, meat, fruit and vegetables, clothing, blankets, and a decent standard of housing.
I want families supported so that Mums and Dads don’t have to work excessive hours in two or three jobs, undermining their physical and mental health because they have few employment protections and struggle to pay the rent and power bills.
I have seen the evidence showing high rates of lung infections, skin infections, and infectious diseases children suffer unnecessarily; the gaps in health and education results; the much higher rates of youth unemployment experienced by Māori and Pasifika. Just this morning, we learned that rheumatic fever rates are not falling in Auckland this year. Shockingly, in Auckland the rates for rheumatic fever for Māori children are 47 times higher than for non-Māori children. And I am passionate about the opportunity for Aotearoa New Zealand to ensure that every family/ whānau lives in a healthy home, with the resources they need to nurture their tamariki.
This has to be the priority for our nation. Through well-coordinated Government policy and strong communities, we can create the conditions for wellbeing: adequate income and good work; decent housing and stable tenancies; connected communities and supported families, with schools as hubs that make it easy for people to access health and other services.
There is so much to love about our nation and I am proud that the Green Party is focused on how we make things better. I have talked often about our commitment to ending poverty and I am going to keep talking about the practical steps for doing so.
Tū Rangatira mō to Ora acknowledged the work I’ve been doing. I appreciate that because it can be tough working to effect the political and cultural change we need for our tamariki and their whānau. But I’ll keep working in their service, to build the understanding we need to get it right for children and I am optimistic because I know there’s a large movement of people standing beside me, to ensure we do.
We are working for supported families, strong communities, a nation that values its youngest citizens and lives up to the promise of Te Tiriti o Waitangi because we want a vibrant and healthy Aotearoa New Zealand.