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The Māori Problem

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This story was originally published in Newsroom.co.nz and is republished with permission.

OPINION: Right on cue, the Government announces an inquiry. The footage of the Government's persecution of a teenage mother in hospital was causing a PR headache. The remedy for that is more PR. When that doesn't work, go to court. When that doesn't work, call an inquiry. It's the last option in the PR arsenal when you're getting your a... kicked.

It gets it off the front page and means those in the firing line no longer have to explain their screw-up because someone else is looking into it.

Then there's the press conference flanked by important people, ie Labour Māori MPs and iwi.

* New Zealand's own 'stolen generation'
* Two inquiries into baby 'uplifts'
* Māori will no longer tolerate the removal of babies by the state
* Yes, we are the Stolen Generations
* Group starts protests against Oranga Tamariki's uplifting of children

For too long when it comes to state abuse of power over children, Māori MPs have been missing in action. Likewise iwi leaders.

One comment I hear variations of from state abuse survivors is "where the f... were iwi when I was being abused in (insert name of state institution here)." I've yet to come up with an answer.

But since the Treaty was signed the Crown has always tried to find "iwi leaders" who will conform to its will and give their decisions legitimacy, even though many of those decisions have not been for the benefit of Māori at large.

Tracey Martin was on a hiding to nothing and her grip on her portfolios looks tenuous. She had to do something to take the heat out of a volatile situation that was only escalating and threatening to consume not just her but the Government.

Government ministers and the bureaucracy that reports to them have immense resources and one of the greatest resources is that of managing their image. That resource can be deployed to put out fires or minimise criticism.

But even the highest paid spin doctor cannot get around the raw images of state employees harassing a young mother who has recently given birth and the whānau supporting her. The Government had lost control of the message that they've crafted at the cost of millions and didn't know where to turn. So let's have an inquiry.

And this is all the "inquiry" exercise is about. Containing the problem. It is not about fixing the problem.

The problem is… well, that's the problem. Everyone defines the problem differently, so don't expect a solution to arrive any time soon.

The problem is usually defined as a social one and one that is specific to a certain group of people. They are poor and they are Māori. This fact is studiously overlooked, or alternatively they are labelled something else which is about judging their character - they're lazy, they're useless, they're dysfunctional, they kill their children. Or in bureaucratic-speak, they have high and complex needs.

Actually no. Their needs are fairly basic. The need is actually singular. Economic security. Without economic security, you're under constant stress from every direction and any human being only has a certain reservoir of tolerance for stress before things begin to unravel in all sorts of ugly ways. For a number of whānau things have been unravelling over multiple generations.

Time for a little historical excursion.

Between the........

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