It is not ‘them’ or ‘us’ – it is ‘we together’

photo of Trevor McGlincheyTrevor McGlinchey
Executive Officer
New Zealand Council of Christian Social  Services

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā maunga, e ngā awaawa o ngā hau e whā, tēnei te mihi atu ki a tātou katoa.  All authorities, all voices, all mountains, all rivers – greetings to us all.

I spent Waitangi Day with whanau and a wide community representation at Ōtākou Marae commemorating this important occasion with Ngāi Tahu whānui. We were privileged to hear a number of excellent speakers, one of whom was Tā Tipene O’Regan.   He reflected on the maturity we have gained as society when considering the Treaty of Waitangi and what it means for New Zealanders.

He discussed the infamous 2004 Orewa speech by Don Brash (http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0401/S00220.htm ) and how this speech created great waves of controversy and came close to toppling the Clarke led Labour Government.  He contrasted this with Mr Brash’s 2016 foray into the same territory, the formation of the Hobson’s Pledge group (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/84816163/Is-Don-Brashs-new-Hobsons-Pledge-the-support-group-that-white-people-need ) to oppose proactive policy development to recognise the Treaty rights of mana whenua. Tā Tipene opined that this Hobson’s Pledge gamut fell into the pond of New Zealanders’ political awareness with barely a ripple.  No one was really interested!  He saw this as great progress, over only 13 years, in the political consciousness of New Zealand.

Such progress, he warned, cannot be taken for granted.  We must jealously guard progress and continually work to maintain and extend the achievements that have been won over the years. All such progress can be lost overnight with enough social and political turmoil.  Look at the closeness of the Scottish referendum, the Brexit Vote and of course the election of Donald Trump.  In a memorable line Tā Tipene said, “ I don’t expect too many feminists are waking up in ‘Trumpestan’ this morning feeling great about the progress of women’s’ rights in the USA!” So, yes indeed, great progress can be overturned in a short moment in time.

Christian and other community-based social services providers are constantly working with those on the fringes of society.  Positively recognising and supporting the strengths of marginalised individuals, families and whānau,  people who have become to mainstream New Zealand the ‘them’, the excluded, the denied rather than the ‘us’, those who are accepted and part of society.  When policy is constructed, it often seems to be focussed on ‘them’, whether it’s making access to benefits and financial support harder and harder, evicting people from their State owned family homes for transgressing ever more difficult tenancy rules. Or, as is currently being proposed, planning for early removal of children from their troubled whānau as set out in the new Vulnerable Children’s legislation.

Much of the political turmoil that has arisen internationally has come out of a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality.  While we may wonder at the strange political movements and election results that have emerged overseas, we must also ponder on how far we are willing to go in blaming the  ‘them’ in our own society.  Do we really believe children living in poverty are the fault of bad parenting – not low wages/benefits and overpriced housing? Or that parents who struggle to provide safe homes have made bad choices and their children must be removed – rather than these parents being the product of broken government care systems and intergenerational poverty.  Parents, who we should support to keep their families whole, homed and loved?

The lessons learnt from New Zealand’s struggle with the Treaty and from international political shocks is we must strive for inclusiveness, it is not ‘them’ or ‘us’  – it is ‘we together’ who will see real social progress continue to be made.

This blog has been contributed by a member of ComVoices

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