So... the Maori Party supports universal work-for-dole. The 'cab' metaphor is getting tired, but what, exactly, are they driving at? Is this a political feint that accidentally became a blunt stab? For their constituents, is it a stab in the back? And could this painful extension of mixed metaphors and hypotheticals get any more Sex and the City?*
The Maori Party generally and Tariana Turia in particular have fielded suspicion and discomfort from much of the left - for various reasons but including, I believe, for daring to be Maori for the sake of Maori people, and not necessarily for the sake of national cuddly togetherness and cross-cultural validation of Brand New Zealand, our postcolonial DIY be-mulleted paradise, nor even for the sake of the Left, the Natural Home of Oppressed Coloured Folk. Granted, Pita Sharples does play that inclusive 'national vision' line well to the nervous white libs, but Turia bothers much less. Armchair crypto-separatist that I am on Sunday afternoons, I admire her for that. Well now, with a concerted bridging of their two approaches, they've answered that gap in truly 'national' policy by coming up with a shady version of ...a National policy.
What a bloody shame.
Said the Herald on Saturday:
It should be compulsory for all unemployed beneficiaries to be placed on work-for-the-dole or training schemes, Maori Party co-leaders say.
Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said: "It is hardline but this is a serious situation and it's our people trapped in that whole benefit package idea. If we are going to break it, then that's how we do it.
"We're tired of our people being tied to the benefit strings, it leads nowhere, it gives no hope, it becomes a way of life instead of a stop-gap measure and that's what we're fighting against.
"If you are going to give benefits out, let the people start using the skills of working and supporting something in order to get their benefit.
Asked if he wanted compulsory work or training for all people on the unemployment benefit, Dr Sharples said: "I'm talking about all people, it has to be all people." [my emphasis]
Yeah baby - One Law For All! Discursive revenge at last?
It's obviously not actually a policy yet, just some calculated thinking out loud. There are no details on the Maori Party website, so it can't even be called 'cobbled together.' You can see in the article that the Maori Party is worried about Maori school leavers going straight onto benefits, and long-term unemployed people trapped in multigenerational cycles of dependence. We do know though, that Maori school-leavers are increasingly going into training and further education of their own accord thanks to institutions like te Wananga o Aotearoa. Also, nearly 67% of everyone on the dole is short-term unemployed as of the September 2006 quarter. Long-term unemployment has steadily shrunk as a percentage of overall unemployment over the past few years, and is currently holding steady. In the current labour market, most people on the dole are actually capable of finding a real job without being made to work in a fake one for, like, practise.
If this is discursive revenge, you can almost see the joke. Sharples is taking what he, and all the conservative elements of New Zealand, want to do to the Kahui family, and applying it to everyone in a hyperbolic social policy explosion. Tough love! One Law For All! Not just chain-gangs for uneducated brown people, but for university grads in the 'motivated self-starter' category, and all those white-boy alt-pop Lil' Chief bands on PACE! Heh. I mean, terrible.
All this aside, there's this glaring detail: Work for Dole didn't work. Here are a couple of tables from the original WINZ evaluation I just linked to. Neither programme improved participants' chances of actually moving into real work, and in fact reduced those chances for a year.
Even before that report came out, everyone hated the Work for Dole scheme, including capitalists. Very pertinently, The Maori Employment and Training Commission thought it was crap.
To make it work, according to the Commission in 2000, the programme would have had to transform into something else entirely - that is, sustainable and well resourced Maori/iwi-based community development that led to the creation of actual real jobs that paid real wages. In other words, not a Work For Dole scheme. Also, with the need for state injection of ongoing resources into what would essentially be a relaunch of the Community Employment Group (ref: Hip-hop tour), such a scheme would be anathema, surely, to what National and Act had in mind for employment and benefit reform in a potential coalition government with the Maori Party.
Iwi-based community development & employment projects, and increasing Maori participation in post-school skills training (such as as been achieved through wananga) are some of the best examples of what decentralisation and devolution could deliver for Maori people. But these things have nothing to do with a universal 'work for dole' employment policy, or other punitive benefit-eligibility measures.
If there had been any point in giving the Maori Party your party vote at the last election when you weren't on the Maori electoral roll (ref: overhang), I'm one of the people who probably would have. Good thing I'm not actually Pakeha, or you might have just vomited on your keyboard. This possible not-quite policy however, could be about to lose the Maori Party my hypothetical lame lefty bourgeois non-Maori vote that I can't even give them and that they're not interested in anyway.
But if the Maori Party want to seriously swing right, it's their prerogative, and something for their voter base to respond to. So if there is *anyone* reading Public Address who actually votes Maori Party - ie. on the Maori roll - or is a member, now's the time to chip in. Er... anyone?
*(Sharples is clearly the Carrie, Turia is the Miranda. Hone Harawira and Te Ururoa Flavell can fight it out for Samantha, but I think we can guess who'll win.)