More than gold

Gold SovereignIn 1837 at Paihia in the Bay of Islands the first Maori New Testament was printed – Te Kawenata Hou. Shortly thereafter a messenger arrived at Paihia from Te Rarawa chief Nopera Panakareao. He had journeyed several days across country with a letter requesting a single copy of the New Testament – and a one pound gold sovereign to pay for it. The printer William Colenso noted it was the first gold coin he had ever seen in the land. Such was the hunger among the New Zealanders for the Christian scriptures.

As Keith Newman notes in his excellent book “Bible & Treaty”, within months of its first print run of 5,000 copies the Maori New Testament had quickly become a treasured taonga across New Zealand. Emissaries were sent from all across the land to Paihia requesting copies and wherever missionaries visited they were pressed for Te Kawenata Hou.

One those missionaries Rev William Williams tells the account of a Captain Symonds (RN) travelling in the central North Island. He and his party sought permission from the local chief to climb Mt Tongariro – it was denied. The chief remarked “They offered us gold, …had they brought us some Testaments we would have consented to their going up the mountain.” However the chief told them that if they returned in the summer with New Testaments the tapu would be lifted and they could climb the mountain (“Christianity Among the New Zealanders” 1867, page 286).

The amazing thirst for the Bible among Maori is something generally overlooked by modern historians. Instead they prefer to trivialise the work of the missionaries and marginalise the huge influence for good that Christianity had in early New Zealand. In one generation a nation had been transformed from a land of violence, vengeance and cannibalism, to a land where chiefs were willing to pay gold for Te Rongopai – the good news that brought peace.

The events of the 1830s in New Zealand show that radical societal change for the better is possible in our land. It has happened before and it can happen again. But it will take leaders like Nopera Panakareao, the Tongariro chief, and those who carried the true Taonga across the oceans to these islands at the uttermost ends of the earth.

Because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold…   Psalm 119:27

Ewen McQueen                                                                                                                                     October 2013

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An Action Plan to Affirm Marriage

WeddingFor those who read my last blog and said – yes but what can the Government do ? Here is a 10-point Action Plan to Affirm Marriage. By implementing a Plan such as this, our political leaders could begin the process of rebuilding a culture that honours our most important social institution.

1) Pass an Affirming Marriage Act. Such legislation would provide the legal basis for public policy initiatives to affirm marriage. It would also provide a clear and explicit commitment from government to recognising the value of marriage as a foundational social institution

2) Implement a national campaign to raise awareness of and promote the benefits of marriage for family life and society as a whole. The campaign would take the wealth of information already available and present it to the community in a non-judgmental and positive way.

3) Establish tax advantages such as income-splitting for married couples, to recognise importance of marriage and the contribution it makes to the economic and social good.

4) Abolish the marriage licence fee.

5) Implement a specific public sector policy target to increase the rate of marriage among young New Zealand couples aged 20 to 30 by 5%pa for the next ten years. The current Government already has targets in areas such as health, education and justice. These  have proved successful in encouraging focussed and effective action.

6) Ensure sexuality education that provides information on the importance and benefits of marriage. Our young people need all the facts so they can make informed choices. Current material used by the Family Planning Association does not deal with marriage in any substantive way.

7 ) Include the importance of marriage as a social institution as a dedicated study area in secondary schools social studies curricula.

8) Set criteria for NZ on Air funding to ensure programmes being resourced are not normalising the values and attitudes which undermine marriage. At the same time amend the Broadcasting Act to give a clear direction that respect for the institution of marriage should be a factor in setting broadcasting standards.

9) Reinstate the terms husband and wife on official forms and documents, to make marriage visible again and emphasize its social significance.

10) Provide additional legal privileges to married couples to re-establish the unique legal status of marriage. Our legal system should not treat marriage with the indifference of being just another form of relationship.

The aim of a Plan such as that outlined here is to achieve cultural change over a period of time. No single initiative will do this. It will take a range of policy actions in multiple areas all aimed at sending the same marriage-affirming message. Over time we can rebuild a marriage-honouring and family-friendly culture. A culture that the evidence shows will lead to far more New Zealand children being raised in loving and secure environments, rather than being at-risk and vulnerable.

No doubt there are many other policy initiatives that could be also implemented. All it  will take is some focused and creative thinking, and the political will. There is plenty that can be done – if we really want to.

Ewen McQueen                                                                                                                           September 2013

Posted in Cultural Renewal, Honouring Marriage, Protecting Children | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Vulnerable Children Bill – Legislating Failure

The Vulnerable Children Bill was introduced into Parliament last week. It will fail.               It will fail because it does not address the key question raised in its opening paragraph. That paragraph states,

“The Bill forms part of a series of measures to protect and improve the well-being of vulnerable children – children who are at significant risk of harm to their well-being now and into the future as a consequence of the environment in which they are being raised.” (Vulnerable Children Bill – Explanatory Statement)

Why are so many New Zealand children now being raised in at-risk environments ? The Vulnerable Children Bill, like the Green and White Papers which preceded it, simply ignores this question.

At the National Party conference in Nelson last month, the Prime Minister introduced his keynote address to the delegates with a short video interview. In it he stated that above all else, family life was the foundation to the success of a nation. Who would disagree? He then repeated the now common refrain that families come in many forms and it doesn’t really matter, as long as there is love in the home. Many delegates nodded sagely at his warm words. However that is all they are – warm words with little basis in reality.

The social science evidence is very clear that family form is highly influential in determining outcomes for our children. Even our own Ministry of Social Development (hardly a bastion of social conservatism) has acknowledged that research shows children in single parent and cohabiting households “do not fare as well as children in married-parent households.” (Family Resilience and Good Child Outcomes: A Review of the Literature, Ministry of Social Development, 2003, page 43).

On the issue of child abuse the evidence is particularly stark. Children in “revolving-door” families where mum’s latest boyfriends come and go, are 50 to 77 times more likely die from abuse (refer Strong Families Thriving Children, Submission on the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children, 2012, page 5 ).

Of course there will always be exceptions – single parent families which flourish (like the one John Key grew up in) or married households that are abusive and dysfunctional. However public policy is not built on exceptions. It should be evidence based and built on what is generally true in the aggregate. That evidence is clear for all with the intellectual honesty and political courage to see it – family structure does matter. More specifically, married two parent families offer by far the safest environment for raising children.

The policy response to this should not be a Bill mandating state sector agencies to formulate more policies, procedures and frameworks. It should be an Action Plan to affirm marriage.

What might such a Plan look like ? Read my next post.

Ewen McQueen
September 2013

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Tainui $700M answers settlement skeptics

Tainui Annual Report 2013Last week Tainui Group Holdings reported total assets of $738million. This comes from wisely stewarding the $170million they received in their 1995 Treaty settlement, plus their share of the fisheries settlement. Their success in growing the tribe’s wealth is a resounding answer to those prone to skepticism or even cynicism about the Treaty settlement process.

Certainly the process isn’t perfect and there have been mistakes along the way. However the example of the two major iwi who settled early – Tainui and Ngai Tahu – has shown that new futures can be forged, where in the past injustice has prevailed.

The Tainui Group Holdings Annual Report tells a story of economic development, wealth creation and expanding employment and educational opportunities for the tribe’s 64,000 members. It begins with a vision statement which looks…

To lead Maori economic development, alongside other iwi-owned businesses, to benefit Maori and the whole community. To maximise wealth, provide long term returns and a consistent dividend to our Shareholder. We do this primarily through strategic acquisition, investment and development of property, and by investments in growth assets and fishing.”

Tainui are well on the way to achieving their goals. As they fulfill their vision we will all benefit.

Ewen McQueen
July 2013

Posted in Economic Transformation, Treaty of Waitangi | Tagged , , | 32 Comments

Tame Iti should apologise

Tame Iti should apologise for the trouble he brought upon the Tuhoe people. The police raids were not without cause – and Tame Iti bears prime responsibility. Iti and his colleagues in crime were were found guilty by a jury. He and the media treating him like some Maori Mandela seem to have forgotten that.

The High Court judge who sentenced Iti and his colleagues to a term of imprisonment summed up the situation perfectly. Justice Hansen described the “bushcraft” explanations provided by Iti for his paramilitary activities in the Ureweras as “utterly implausible”. He went on to note that,

“As I view the evidence, in effect a private militia was being established. Whatever the justification, that is a frightening prospect in our society, undermining of our democratic institutions and anathema to our way of life.” NZ Herald 14.02.13

Justice Hansen said he could not understand why Tame Iti was developing “military capability” at the same time as negotiating Tuhoe claims before the Waitangi Tribunal.  Hansen further noted that the media focus on police actions,

“…should not divert attention from the unlawful activities which necessitated the investigation in the first place.”

The Police Commissioner and now the Minister of Police, have both apologised for police actions which overstepped the mark in the Urewera raids. Will the media now turn their attention to the one who caused all the angst and drama (and taxpayer cost) in the first place?

In spite of the provocative and stupid actions of Tame Iti and co. the Crown has had the good grace and sense to progress settlement negotiations with Tuhoe to a successful conclusion. Historic injustices have been addressed with financial compensation of $170million, vesting of Te Urewera National Park in a new entity overseen by Tuhoe, and a formal Crown apology for its past actions.

So the Crown has taken responsibility for its actions, made redress, and apologised.         Will Tame Iti ?

Ewen McQueen
May 2013

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Convention Centre – Where is the vision ?

Waterfront Auckland design concept for the Wynyard Quarter

Waterfront Auckland design concept for the Wynyard Quarter

Auckland’s International Convention Centre should be on the waterfront. The Wynyard Quarter provides the obvious location for a piece of stunning architecture that will embed international visitors into the city and its harbour in the best possible way. With the viaduct basin nearby, ferry links to Devonport and the gulf islands beyond, this is the place which will showcase our city, help our waterfront flourish, and make us proud New Zealanders.

Unfortunately that is not what we are getting. Instead our visitors will be locked away alongside the grubby floors of the casino, in a building traffic-locked by wind-tunnel four lane streets with an outlook onto a concrete jungle. Why ? Because we can get it for “free”.

If the business case for the Convention Centre is as good as we are told in terms of ongoing jobs and economic contribution, then why can’t we make a straightforward honest investment to attain these benefits. Why stitch up some cheap deal that will only serve to devalue the opportunity we have to impress our visitors and grow a sense of place and pride in our city.

A few years ago we missed out on the opportunity for a waterfront stadium due to the parochialism and lack of vision among our local body leaders. Now we will miss out on the opportunity to have a world class convention centre on our sparkling waterfront, due to the lack of vision of our central govt leaders. Surely we can do better.

And of course there is no free lunch. The Sky City shareholders want their return. With the extra 230 pokie machines allowed as part of the deal they will get it. The Old Testament prophets used to speak about “grinding the face of the poor”. But that is another story….

Ewen McQueen
May 2013

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Aaron Gilmore – its not MMP, its character

The Aaron Gilmore saga has little to do with MMP. It has a lot to do with the way our culture now ignores character in favour of achievement. The latter can be stated (and indeed over-stated) in a CV. The former requires testing and assessment.

Yes Aaron Gilmore was a list MP. And there have been those who have made much of this fact. They suggest MMP is at fault for delivering him to Parliament and for the fact that until he resigned there was no way he could be removed.

However even if he was an electorate MP he could not have been removed from Parliament without his own resignation. Indeed he would have had an even stronger mandate to stay put and thumb his nose at his party.

Perhaps an electorate candidate selection process would have found him out earlier. However perhaps not. If those doing the selecting are more impressed by confident assertions of achievement (real or otherwise) than by character demonstrated through life and attested to by others, then we will continue to have Aaron Gilmores in Parliament.

To Mr Gilmore’s credit he has now resigned and expressed a desire to live his life with more grace and humility. If his life from here demonstrates this then it will confirm he has certainly learned a very hard lesson – a character lesson.

Ewen McQueen
May 2013

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