15 Feb 2010

Maori Party challenges National on family policy

7:25 pm on 15 February 2010

The Maori Party is questioning the Prime Minister's intention to ensure the party's flagship Whanau Ora programmes would be available to non-Maori, in another disagreement between the support partners.

The programmes, part of the two parties' support agreement, are aimed at assisting families in need. Funding is to to be announced in the Budget in May.

The policy has been been spearheaded by Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia, who has made it clear she wants Whanau Ora to benefit Maori specifically and that non-Maori could develop their own model if they wanted.

But Prime Minister John Key told Parliament last week his Government will ensure Whanau Ora is available to all New Zealanders who are in need.

Mr Key says part of the ethos of Whanau Ora will be an understanding and acknowledgement of the Maori way of doing things. However, he says any family will be able to join the programme and expects some Pakeha will want to sign up.

Mr Key says the Government has made it clear to the Maori Party that Whanau Ora will be available to all. He says the policy will be phased in and needs to prove itself in the field.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples says it would take a courageous Government to allow only Maori to access the funding.

Dr Sharples told Waatea News the programme is about tackling specific and long-standing problems which lead to Maori over-representation in negative health, crime and unemployment statistics.

Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell says Whanau Ora is an innovative approach and has to work for Maori in the first instance.

"If others are going to benefit by the principles, then we've got to work through the nuts and bolts of that," he says.

Earlier, the Prime Minister was required to step in after Pita Sharples openly expressed his concerns about the impact of league tables on Maori schools, once national standards have been introduced.

And more recently, Maori Party MPs indicated that one option for them would be to walk away from the party's agreement with National if the proposed tax package, including a possible rise in GST, adversely impacts upon Maori. However the co-leaders both say they will work through the issue with National.