Opinion: Budget 2024 does not fulfil te Tiriti obligations

Published: Fri 31 May 2024 06:10 PM
By Julia Whaipooti*
As the full, sweeping effects of the latest Budget start to be realised, it's crucial to remember that it sits on the cornerstone of our founding rights and constitutional document, te Tiriti o Waitangi. At the moment, Māori are responding to a rhetoric that doesn't seem to recognise our existence. And the Budget appears to reflect that.
Before te Tiriti o Waitangi, there was no annual Budget.
Iwi, hapū and whānau up and down the country were engaged in highly productive trade - with each other and the foreign travellers increasingly arriving on their doorstep. The relative wealth of Māori at this time is well documented.
It was with this wealth, and the reinforcing of their tino rangatiratanga through the Declaration of Independence in 1835, He Whakaputanga, that Māori then engaged with the British Crown in the signing of te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Yet things changed for the worse after 1840. As Queen Elizabeth II euphemistically described it in 1990, "Today we are strong enough and honest enough to learn the lesson of the last 150 years, and to admit that the Treaty has been imperfectly observed."
In the more direct words of Papa Moana Jackson: "To honour the Treaty we must first settle colonisation."
The wealth that Māori had was systematically stolen from us. The whenua that we lived on was taken by the Crown, what we traded became the Crown's, and what we spoke became the Crown's language.
So, when we look at the Budget set by the government in 2024, we see it through the lens of remembering. Remembering that 94 percent of Aotearoa is no longer Māori land, that Māori are as a result over-represented in the homelessness experienced today, that Māori face discrimination and longer wait times in receiving healthcare, and that our taonga, te reo Māori, is an endangered language.
Recent surveys show that the public has more understanding about te Tiriti and the impacts of colonisation on Māori than the heated political rhetoric might lead us to believe. And while there are differing views on te Tiriti, in a survey commissioned by Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission in 2023, we found that most people in Aotearoa want us all to move forward by listening more and ensuring that decisions about te Tiriti are made on a truly equal footing between Māori and the Crown.
It's this context that we need to bear in mind as we look at the government's Budget. Does the way the government is spending its pūtea (money) move us forward as a nation? Does it increase our ability to listen to each other? Does it fulfil the Crown's te Tiriti obligation to actively protect Māori from harm and protect the rights of Māori as indigenous peoples? And does it get us closer to truly honouring te Tiriti o Waitangi?
The short answer to these questions is "no". Budget 2024 has almost no extra funding for Māori development. In fact, as Te Ao Māori News has reported: "A working couple earning the median Māori income ($50,238 for the year ended June 2023) with no kids and no superannuation will get $70.13 per fortnight, and $1,823.50 per year returned in tax cuts. But a couple earning the median Pākehā (NZ European) income ($60,790 for the year ended June 2023) with the same parameters will get $101.50 per fortnight, roughly 1.4 times the tax cuts for the median working Māori couple."
How can we strive for equality when our starting point is so dramatically different?
As I look for positives, I see an overdue commitment of almost $50 million over three years of funding for Te Matatini. But the cynic in me also thinks, there is funding for the performance of our culture but not the lived experience of it. As it happens, Te Matatini injected at least $22 million into the Auckland economy in 2023.
The strike action carried out by thousands of people across the motu on Thursday aimed to be a show of economic force - to demonstrate to our government that despite our unequal footing, Māori are workers, taxpayers and constituents whose significant contributions to society matter. I urge our decision-makers to recognise that the success of Māori will lead to the success of all people who call Aotearoa home. The Tiriti relationship is a founding fabric of Aotearoa and remains yet to be honoured.
Regardless, the right of Māori to exercise tino rangatiratanga remains as unmovable as the moko kauae on my face. That right sits in our whakapapa and is recognised in te Tiriti o Waitangi. It is not determined by any government budget.
*Julia Whaipooti is Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission's tatau urutahi/shared leader.
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