Slow start to Maori economic renaissance

FIONA ROTHERHAM

Last updated 05:00 23/11/2012

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OPINION: What's holding the Maori economic renaissance back?

Nothing, if you believe the new Maori economic development strategy released this week. It sets ambitious goals to boost education, workforce skills, financial literacy, use of natural resource, and exports.

It pays to remember Maori were consummate traders way back.

In the report, Maori Economic Development Panel chair Ngahiwi Tomoana said today's Maori descended from ancient sailors who criss-crossed the Pacific, searching for opportunities in trade and discovering new products.

Once they reached Aotearoa, they did the same thing among iwi, hapu and with Pakeha. Fresh water, fish, flax, timber and foods were exchanged for fabric, tools, equipment and guns. 

Tomoana said the swamping of the Maori population by subsequent migrations, however, turned the Maori trading nation into a dependent one.

"As a result we have spent the last 100 years or so in survival mode with concepts of mana motuhake [self authority] and financial freedom at the fore but always at a distance."

The time has come, he says, for that to change and for Maori to take a front foot in instigating an economic turnaround in trade and commerce here and abroad.

There are huge negatives resulting from that dependency to overcome first. 

The figures speak for themselves. Maori are over-represented in the 'long tail' of education outcomes with just over half of Maori students leaving school without NCEA level 2.

Even worse, a larger proportion of Maori youth (22 per cent) aren't in employment, education or training when compared with other ethnic groups. The Maori unemployment rate is current 13.9 per cent, close to double the national rate.

All that impacts on financial wellbeing. Maori have lower rates of home ownership and net worth than non-Maori households, and an estimated 30 per cent of all working age Maori were on a benefit as at March, compared with less than 8 per cent of Pakeha.

Clearly change is, in fact, overdue.

Most reports make pretty boring reading. What sets this one apart is its ambitious goals for the next five years and that it also describes what to do to achieve them. 

Their success matters. An earlier report by economic consultancy BERL modelled various scenarios to show potential benefits or costs to the Maori economy and wider New Zealand economy. Doing nothing would see the current Maori asset base devalue by around $600 million by 2040. Conversely, improved economic performance by Maori could add $25 billion to our national GDP by 2061. 

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Some of the boldest moves in the new strategy include Government and Maori working together to consider new models of compulsory schooling that better meets Maori needs and gets whanau more involved in education.  

That includes considering a Maori form of charter or partnership school or "an entirely new model".

Another key area is Government and Maori speeding up talks on developing natural resources sustainably, which fits in with National's own agenda.

This includes setting up a Resources Development Forum by mid-2013 on how to jointly develop opportunities for non-nationalised and nationalised resources. Currently up to 40 per cent of Maori freehold land is estimated to be under-performing, with problems in existing regulation cited as the cause. It recommends working with Maori landowners and local authorities to remove those development road blocks.

A third key area is building Maori exports, particularly to China. The plan includes Maori enterprises and collectives forming a collaborative model than can leverage off "brand Maori" to create opportunities in China, with the hope of replicating any successful models in other markets.

Although this is about Maori taking charge of their own renaissance, the key will be how well they collaborate with each other, Government, and other groups.

One example is the extension this week of an existing partnership formed in July between the Federation of Maori Authorities (FoMA), representing 140 Maori businesses, and Business New Zealand. Federated Farmers, Industrial Research and the National Urban Maori Authority have joined the party with the aim of helping Maori businesses innovate and commercialise their wares and to make Maori land more productive.

Baby steps maybe, but it's a start on the journey.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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