Our responsibility for what we know

04/07/2012 Comments Off on Our responsibility for what we know

Statistics New Zealand publishes a handy annual pocket guide to the country’s statistics. It has GDP, numbers of sheep, all the important things.

This year, they have Te Ao Marama, ‘a snapshot of Maori well-being and development’. It is again in the handy pocket-sized format. Oh, yeah, and the graphics (see below) are cool.

What is clear from the data is that the Maori population is different from the NZ European/Pakeha population. Stats NZ shows that Maori population tends to be young, tends to work more in specific occupations, and tends to have higher rates of unemployment. They also tend to express more dissatisfaction with the state of the environment.

Whatever policies we enact have different effects across the population. Policies to reduce unemployment, for example, are more valuable to groups with higher unemployment rates. Policies to support raising children are more valuable to groups with higher percentages of children.

So, what is our responsibility for using this knowledge of the Maori population? If we know a policy is going to trade off, say, higher unemployment against greater funding for individuals over 80 years of age, then we also know that these policies will affect Maori and Pakeha differently.  Maori have more stake in measures to reduce unemployment, because they are more likely to be unemployed. Pakeha have more stake in health care for those over 80, because they are more likely to live that long.

One possible answer is that the ethnic dimension shouldn’t be our focus. Yes, Maori may be more likely to be in certain jobs or age groups, but the main thing is to focus on employment and health and not get wound up in secondary considerations.

But the big difference is the Treaty of Waitangi. My immigrant’s understanding of the modern interpretation of the Treaty is that it established a bi-cultural country. Maori and British are co-equals, and the country should be managed to serve them both. If policies are detrimental to specific groups which co-incidentally happen to have more Maori or more British/NZ European/Pakeha, then what should we  do about it?

Put another way — how much should the dimension of ethnic identification feature in our discussions and decisions across all policies?

Te Ao Marama provides some interesting statistics, but also raises some important questions.


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