Nothing Progressive About It: Thoughts on Tariana Turia’s “Whanau Ora” Programme.

By   /   July 17, 2013  /   9 Comments

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 4.4/5 (13 votes cast)

TDB recommends Voyager

Far from being a modern and progressive social programme, Whanau Ora has been, from its very inception, an attempt to present a politically inspired programme for the enrichment of private individuals as a bold reassertion of traditional Maori values and practices.

Screen Shot 2013-07-17 at 12.54.22 PM

JACINDA ARDERN is right and wrong about Whanau Ora. She’s right to insist that any programme funded by the state remain accountable (both figuratively and literally) to the state. But she is quite wrong to identify Whanau Ora as a progressive measure worthy of Labour’s support – provided it remain under the supervision of Te Puni Kokiri.

Far from being a modern and progressive social programme, Whanau Ora has been, from its very inception, an attempt to present a politically inspired programme for the enrichment of private individuals as a bold reassertion of traditional Maori values and practices.

Tariana Turia’s brainchild represents an extraordinarily brazen attempt to introduce the principles of neo-tribal capitalism to the intricate and largely voluntary world of Maori social service. In exactly the same way as the cultural power of the traditional iwi was used to mask the creation of powerful capitalist corporations, run by and for the Maori power-elites of the 1980s and 90s, the architects of Whanau Ora have seized upon the extended family structures of the Maori as an ideal framework for extending a web of nepotism and patronage across Maori society.

A web woven by and for the Maori Party out of golden thread.

In this respect, Whanau Ora represents an even more retrograde step than the diversion of the progressive struggle for indigenous rights into the oligarchic machinations of the leading iwi corporations.

In the latters’ case there are powerful incentives to re-invest a variable fraction of their Treaty settlement millions into cultural and educational programmes of at least some benefit to ordinary Maori people.

Whanau Ora, however, steps a long way past the complex legal obligations of the modern corporation. In removing her programme from Te Puni Kokiri’s oversight, Ms Turia has effectively taken Whanau Ora beyond the conceptual reach of modernity into the archaic and entirely anachronistic world of the culturally intact and uncorrupted extended family units of the classical Maori.

That no such social entities remain in the New Zealand of 2013 makes not the slightest impression on Ms Turia, whose entire political career has been predicated on the assumption that 200 years of contact with the wider world has left Maori culture essentially unchanged. Whanau Ora was launched in the extraordinary expectation that extended family structures, unmodified and uncorrupted by the devastating historical experience of colonisation, would step forward confidently to re-assume the social responsibilities of the pre-modern village-dweller.

But, we may be very sure that whatever emerges from under the Whanau Ora umbrella will look nothing like the social-support mechanisms developed by pre-European contact Maori. Much more likely is the emergence of a regime which fans of The Godfather trilogy and The Sopranos would recognize immediately.

We are, after all, talking about $60 million per annum – distributed according to rules that, as far as anyone can tell, will be made up as the distributors go along. Exactly what sort of reciprocation will be made, either formally or informally, by the recipients is not the sort of information Ms Turia believes the rest of us have the slightest right to ask for or receive.

It’s all pretty outrageous. The really intriguing question, however, is: what arcane arguments persuaded John Key’s National Party to sign up to such an egregious exemption from even the most basic expectations of transparent and accountable public administration? And the most truly frightening answer is that the National-led Government regards Ms Turia’s project as some sort of pilot programme for a more general privatisation of social service delivery.

This would suggest that our future lies in some terrifying hybrid of Late-Capitalism and Medieval Feudalism. A feudalised capitalism would dismantle the structures of the modern state to the point where most citizens would find themselves increasingly beholden to private power. Like our medieval forebears, we would be at the mercy of authorities over which we exercised no effective political control but upon whose good opinion and charitable impulses we were almost entirely dependent.

There has been a tendency among what used to be called the “New Left” to see all manifestations of bureaucratic state control and administration as oppressive. From the late-1960s the consistent call from the libertarian Left has been for devolution and participation: a sort of anarchistic self-management based on the principle that “small is beautiful”.

But those who add their voices to these demands have probably never lived in a village or a small town in which the writ of central government doesn’t so much run as hobble. Think about the small towns of America’s Deep South. Think about the personalisation of every form of resource distribution. Think about getting only what the patriarch in the big house up on the hill decides you and your family deserve. Think about what might happen to all those who, whether by thought or deed, refuse to conform to their community’s political, cultural and religious expectations.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. But they never tell us what sort of person the village-raised child grows into.

“City air makes you free.” That was the promise medieval society held out to the serf who broke free of his feudal master’s grip. Civilisation itself takes its name from the civis – the city – in which the concepts of individual freedom, democratic accountability, and rational, judgement-free public administration were born.

If Jacinda Ardern and the Labour Party were outraged by the General Practitioner who assumed the right to lecture his female patient on the evils of contraception, then they should step back in alarm from the whole concept of Whanau Ora.

There’s nothing progressive about it.

***
Want to support this work? Donate today
***
Follow us on Twitter & Facebook
***

9 Comments

  1. fambo says:

    wow

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +11 (from 11 votes)
  2. Draco T Bastard says:

    A feudalised capitalism would dismantle the structures of the modern state to the point where most citizens would find themselves increasingly beholden to private power.

    Which is exactly what National want. Just need to look at the stories about the rich creating jobs and that it’s the rich that pay for everything that come out of conservative, tight-wing think tanks. All those stories go against the evidence but they’re everywhere and they all try to illustrate societies dependence upon the rich.

    I’m really not surprised by National supporting policies that would entrench such dependence either. Such dependence allows the rich to get even richer.

    VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +12 (from 12 votes)
  3. “Civis” is a citizen, not a city. “Urbs” is city. Though, and I presume this is what you meant, the English word “city” (and its Romance cognates, such as French “cité” and Spanish “ciudad”) are derived from “civitas”, which means citizenry or citizenship.
    I take your point. But the evils of central bureaucracy are not made-up or hypothetical either. Ask a WINZ or StudyLink worker why their organizations are riddled with inefficiencies. The answer comes down to: because no-one with any authority to change things cares about the clients. That in turn is partly because the people with authority are separated from the clients by multiple layers of bureaucracy and, often, hundreds of kilometres of country (to say nothing of socioeconomic divisions).
    What would you say to involving the trade unions in the income support system? They must, at least, have considerable accumulated knowledge on the best places and ways to look for work.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +11 (from 11 votes)
  4. Shona says:

    Thank you Chris, once again your erudite analysis of the reality of rural politics in NZ is so much better than anything i have tried to articulate on various blogsites over the last few years. Having lived in rural Northland for most of my life I have always been accused of being a racist whenever I have tried to point out the reality of Maori nepotism.It is as negative an influence in rural communities as the bigoted fascism of the National voting farmers.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +12 (from 14 votes)
  5. [...] Nothing Progressive About It: Thoughts on Tariana Turia’s “Whanau Ora” Programme – Chris Trotter writes, [...]

  6. Rob says:

    I’m sure there are some out there who would like things
    To be done in the name of the “King” as was the case in past times
    Is that “King John” or the “chief of the local Tribe/Iwi??”

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  7. Psycho Milt says:

    The really intriguing question, however, is: what arcane arguments persuaded John Key’s National Party to sign up to such an egregious exemption from even the most basic expectations of transparent and accountable public administration? And the most truly frightening answer is that the National-led Government regards Ms Turia’s project as some sort of pilot programme for a more general privatisation of social service delivery.

    Well, that or Key had to give the Maori Party something in return for participating in his government and settled for this, which is a distinctly less frightening but also distinctly more likely answer.

    That said, thanks for the post – this is as bad as the ‘devolution’ proposals under the fourth Labour government, and for the same reasons.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +4 (from 6 votes)
  8. Phil says:

    Thanks for the analysis Chris. Indeed, yet another example of a ‘government’ actually devolving it’s ‘governing’ to someone else, usually the Corporate or private sector. In this case we await the destination of this transferral. I can’t help but conclude that government is a facade for corporate Interests, full stop. Downer, Fletcher, SKY, Fairfax, Mainzeal, Countdown / Progressive Enterprises, Ozzy Banksters, Insurance Companies, Team NZ Americas Cup fiasco, RWC, Corporate lobbyists etc.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  9. mcclairy says:

    Identity politics is a very slippery path to go down with Zionist Israel being the worst example in today’s world. Separation of church and state was an ideal whose time had come when introduced during the renaissance with the occasional revolution to make a point. Do we need a political system that allows parties based on religion, race, ethnicity, gender, or whatever identity gets up your nose? One can understand the need for Maori seats in the past due to the ravishing of Maori culture and loss of their lands post Tiriti Waitangi but with the settling of historical grievances, hopefully nearing an end, Maori achieving excellence in so many areas of public life, as women were forced to do to gain recognition, an MMP parliament then broad based parties are more than capable of demonstrating diversity within. We have moved on haven’t we from the “white, male, wealthy, pin stripe suit domination ” ? If there are social injustices that need addressing shouldn’t that be an overriding aim of all political parties…..serving the needs of all New Zealanders not just those at the top of the mountain as privilege and wealth trickle up as happens now and again. Positive discrimination has its uses when it all becomes lopsided but should also have a use by date when its purpose no longer exists. Now we wouldn’t want to see a Muslim Brotherhood rearing its ugly head in our politics, so why do we allow it for other identities?

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)