Ms Heka Goes To Wellington.
When Bryan Bruce’s excellent documentary, “Inside Child Poverty“, screened last year, New Zealand’s poor and powerless burst into the living rooms of middle-New Zealand like never before. It caused a furore, screening only days before the election and becoming an overnight ‘hot’ political issue.
As Bryan Bruce said,
“ “… It’s not because their parents don’t care. They do.
They’re just poor. Typically they can’t afford heating so they huddle together in one room and in large families that’s how diseases such as tuberculosis, meningitis and rheumatic fever are spread,” he explains.
Bruce then travels to Sweden to find out why the Swedes are second for child health and New Zealand is third from the bottom.
“What I discovered is that they work smarter,” says Bruce. “They know that for every dollar they spend on prevention they save about $4 on cure. They have a completely free health care system for children up to the age of 18”. ” – Source
Had it not been for a certain infamous Epsom tea-party, which distracted the public’s attention, it might possibly have swung the election in Labour’s favour.
Bryan Bruce’s stark, no-holds-barred truth certainly encouraged one person to take up the cause; Jazmine Heka, 16, student,
Upon learning of her campaign this blogger wrote, commending Jazmine Heka for having the courage to make such a public stand.
There is something energising and uplifting about youthful idealism, that is positively ‘infectious’ to others. Youthful idealism seems to compel older, supposedly ‘wiser’, folk to reassess pressing issues and shamefully we ask ourselves; why are things not any better? Why is it left to children and young folk to prick our consciences?
Soon after, this blogger wrote another related blogpiece on Karen, who was promoting not one – but three petitions sponsored by Ms Heka.
The petitions called for;
- To provide free healthy school lunches to all children attending schools
- To provide free healthcare for all children including prescription costs
- To introduce warrant of fitness’s for all rental homes
(The petitions can be downloaded here.)
That blogstory was shared throughout this blogger’s Facebook contacts, including Ms Heka. In March, Ms Heka contacted this blogger explaining that she was visiting Wellington and could we assist her in meeting members of Parliament, to promote her campaign and petitions against child poverty .
It was a privilege to be asked. Phone calls were made. Messages left. Appointments confirmed.
Due to a mix-up in airline arrangements, Ms Heka bussed from Whangarei to Auckland, and after five hours, bussed from Auckland to Wellington over Thursday night. By Friday morning, when we arrived to pick her up at 9am, she and her friend had had only two hours sleep.
Despite her fatigue, she was cheerful and keen. It would be a long day ahead of us.
Our first appointment was with Tracey Martin, New Zealand First’s spokesperson on Youth and Women’s Affairs (amongst other portfolios).
Once through security, NZ First MP, Tracey Martin came to meet us at Reception and we adjourned to a nearby conference room,
The conversation between Ms Heka and Ms Martin took up the full hour we had been allotted, and was deep and wide-ranging.
Ms Heka asked if NZ First had any policies relating to children’s issues.
Ms Martin replied,
“We haven’t got a specific child poverty plan… but there are probably several policies like dental care , for example.“ *
Ms Martin referred to NZ First’s under 5′s free healthcare programme that had been introduced in 1997. She added that NZF had been a dominant supporter for the “HIPPY” programme, which is a reading and home educational programme directed at several low decile areas.
Ms Martin asked if the petition calling for “free healthcare for all children including prescription costs” also involved increased access to dental care for children. She said that lack of dental care was a real problem, especially in the north, where incomes were low and unemployment was high.
Ms Martin said that the mobile dental clinic these days only assessed the child’s teeth, and then advised parents what remedial work needed to be done. The mobile dentist did not carry out the actual remedial dental work themselves,
“We shifted from dental clinics at schools to mobile dental clinics. They come under the DHB services. What we’re now hearing is, and I’ve got to have this confirmed , but what we’re now hearing is that the mobile clinic will certainly go to the school and they’ll look at the children’s teeth but they won’t fix anybody. So the parent then has to drive the child from where ever that is to the local largest township to go to the dentist to have the tooth fixed.
That’s wonderful when you’re in an urban area perhaps, but… you got to take time off from work to do that. So what that means for our rural areas where many of our lower deciles are, is that the parents now have the costs of transporting their children…
The parents aren’t going to take those children. Because they can’t afford the gas, to get the children to the free dentist in Te Awamutu. That is why we put in free mobile dental clinics.
So, you know, there are issues that come up, issue by issue by issue like that. That one hasn’t even broken yet. That one I’m still waiting to make sure that I know 100% that’s it’s taking place. “
Ms Martin recalled when, in her youth, every school had a dental nurse and clinic-room on school-grounds, and children’s teeth were properly looked after,
“Our policy is that all children must have access to free dental healthcare for the period of their schooling.”
Increased funding for mobile dental vans was one aspect she felt was important in this area.
Ms Heka questioned further,
“So what about, like, all their healthcare? Not just dental?“
Ms Martin’s response,
“Well, it’s in our manifesto. The policy is that we had childcare extended and free doctor’s visits for under 5s through to all primary school aged children, so up to the age of 10. And we wanted that to cover 7 day, 24 hour care. When you live close to a major hospital that’s not a problem. But when you don’t, like in Warkworth for example…the closest emergency place on a Sunday was Red Beach that’s 30 minutes ‘that’ way [indicates] and that cost me $110 to have him x-rayed there so that then they would put him into hospital. Or the parent in Warkworth would have to drive the hour and a half to Starship.”
Ms Heka suggested the option of having a doctor in school to check out kids.
Ms Martin nodded in agreement and said they had raised this issue in 2006 with children being assessed for ailments such as glue-ear, and for hearing tests carried out. She said “it was all very well for them being done there, but they weren’t being followed up, and some of that was around the cost of having to follow up with doctor’s visits, etc, etc.”
Ms Martin said that this issue had been raised in the media, asking for more intervention in schools. She said it might be feasible if, for example, the largest school in a “hub” of schools had a dentist and clinic, and serviced all schools within the area of the “hub”. Ms Martin referred to schools being in “clusters” so not every school would need such facilities. She suggested a doctor that went out daily to the other schools, but was based in the [largest] school.
Ms Martin was concerned at how such a programme might be funded and said it comes down to the most efficient and effective way of funding.
At this point, this blogger raised the point of how our taxation base inevitably comes into issues like this. The point was made that we have had seven tax cuts enacted since 1986, and people wonder why we don’t have the social services we once had, or would like to have. It’s not rocket science – we still have to pay for things.
Ms Martin agreed and referred to a “brilliant speech” by Russell Norman (Green Co-Leader), where he revealed that government had lost $2 billion of of last year’s tax-take. She said, “three years of that and we wouldn’t have to sell any state assets“.
Had those tax cuts [2009 and 2010] not happened, we could afford free healthcare for all children.
Ms Martin referred to the Mana Party’s financial transactions tax, which she said Annette Sykes called “the Hone Heke” tax, and which “was worth looking at, and worth taking really seriously“. It was understood that such a FTT would have to be internationally implemented, as it might otherwise risk causing a capital-flight.
[Blogger's note; it's refreshing to see a politician referring openly and honestly to good ideas from other political parties, instead of remainly stubbornly 'tribal' on party-policy issues. May this local form of 'detente' flourish and thrive.]
Discussion turned to school meals, as per one of Ms Heka’s petitions. Ms Martin stated asked if the petition was calling for full, hot cafetaria-type meals, or “brown-bagged” lunches? She said she had costed “brown bagged” lunches consisting of a sandwich, muffin, piece of fruit, and a drink, at $3.52 per bag.
There was a question as to whether all children should be given school meals (whether cafeteria-style or bagged lunch) or whether it should be targetted only.
The pros and cons of targetting were weighed. The concensus seemed to be that targetting children from low-income families would likely end up as a form of stigmatising. One idea that seemed to have merit was a universal free school lunch, with an opt-out choice for parents who did not feel the need to participate.
In such an event, parents opting out could select from a range of charities where the money could be re-allocated, perhaps to other charities working with children or increased dental care . It was agreed that there were several options open to how such a programme could be managed and that a fair, workable solution was not beyond our abilities.
Ms Heka asked how NZ First would implement the programmes that her petitions were promoting.
Ms Martin replied by stating that NZ First believed that the primary cause of poverty in New Zealand was a lack of jobs,
“People aren’t working. We have to create more jobs,” she said. “One way to do that is to cap the New Zealand dollar like some other countries do, which creates more employment through more exports.”
Ms Heka then asked Ms Martin about introducing a warrant of fitness for all rental housing in New Zealand. She asked if NZ First had a policy on this issue.
Ms Martin replied,
“We don’t. But I think it’s a great idea!”
Ms Martin added that the suggestion of a warrant of fitness for all rental properties tied in with NZ First’s minimum standards of care for the elderly. She said “why would we not actually come up with a national standard in the same way what you’re talking about, which is we’re talking about rental properties,” and added “we’d certainly be interested“.
The discussion moved to a related issue, and Ms Heka asked about NZ First’s policy regarding having a high-ranking minister – or even the Prime Minister – as the Minister for Children. The premise being that if the Prime Minister was also the Minister for Children, then it would give extra impetus to policies as they might impact on his portfolio; the nations young people.
Ms Martin agreed saying,
“Well, to keep that in the view, I would have thought. To make sure that it’s part of every conversation; how will this, downstream, affect children.“
If the Prime Minister was Minister for children, it was suggested, then as with US President, Harry Truman, “The Buck Stops Here” on child poverty issues.
It was suggested that NZ First could make this a priority, for the future of New Zealand. Ms Martin agreed it was a matter she would raise with the NZF caucus.
The issue of Kiwi migration was touched upon, with the suggestion that people – especially young folk – were leaving New Zealand, not just because of lower wages here, but because they felt no connection with society and thus were able to up-and-leave for “greener/richer pastures” in Australia. Because we weren’t looking after them, they had no roots to keep them in New Zealand.
At that point Ms Heka, speaking from deep within her heart, gave us an insight into how young people were viewing things around them,
“It feels unfair. It feels like… like if you’re not rich, you’re not counted in society. That’s the feeling I get… the feeling youth get. I talk with people my age, in my group and stuff and that’s the feeling that they get, they don’t want to be in New Zealand ’cause the feelings not good, not right. And they feel like you’re not being looked after, and stuff.
What I think is that child poverty, like, I feel like it’s swept under the carpet. And the government, they’re not really tackling it straight ahead. It’s just being talked about; something being hidden and nothing’s done about it. They’re going around in circles. And then you got all these children suffering and nothing’s… no one cares really…
… In the community you’ve got the Salvation Army, people like that helping but that’s not enough. We need the government to step up and actually be the leaders of it.
Ms Martin replied, and said,
“So with regard to how you said about... “
At this point, she paused. Ms Heka had spoken about youth and their feelings about disconnection. It gave her pause for thought. Ms Martin continued,
“… it is an interesting feeling that is happening, and you said about it’s unfair, that actually the country itself doesn’t necessarily care about it’s citizens. And if you look at the turnout , the voter turnout, that now we’ve also got citizens that think actually, ‘I can’t make a difference either, so why should I vote?”. Now there you’ve got a real problem. Because that will get to a certain level inside your society and people will revolt.”
She added ,
“I’ll take all these things back… I’ll take it back to caucus; caucus will meet again in a fortnight when Parliament comes back [from recess] and ask the guys to to start working towards policy areas for this, for 2014.”
At the concklusion of our allotted time, Ms Heka asked if she could be kept informed on NZ First’s progress on developing the ideas that had been discussed. Ms Martin readily agreed and provided Ms Heka with her direct contact details.
Ms Heka then asked Ms Martin if she would sign her petitions, to which the MP happily agreed.
Continued at Ms Heka Goes To Wellington (Part #Rua)
* Recorded and transcribed mostly verbatim.
* * *
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