31 August 2012
It is a very scary feeling when someone reminds you that you are sitting on top of active volcanoes in Auckland. I have always known the volcanoes were there and the issue of whether they were active or dormant never crossed my mind until Jamie Morgan wrote “500,000 People in Lava’s Line of Fire” and reminded me last Thursday on how Auckland would fare in the event of a volcanic eruption.
The graphic prediction is quite frightening and has triggered a kind of phobia that continues to haunt me constantly; and that is not healthy when one has to consider that we have already been shaken by recent issues of great importance in maintaining a vigorous society. Nevertheless, I have started to plot an escape route in the event any or all of the volcanoes in Auckland erupting in the future. The latest theories suggest that an eruption would hurl debris 1.5 kilometres, toxic gases will fill the air, ash falls would be thick, fast flowing lava will stretch for kilometres, and some 500,000 people would be affected immediately.
It is also not so comforting when scientists cannot forecast when such an event would happen; but they are sure about one thing, it could happen at any time. This is chilling stuff, even if it is just conjectured images of a possible reality. But, such fear factors could not have come at such a challenging time when many of our Pacific Islands communities have already felt the strong tremors triggered by the political mayhem of recent weeks. To begin with, John Key has a battle on his hand with the Waitangi Tribunal regarding Maori water rights, and all indication suggests it will erupt into a stand-off between the government on one side, and the Waitangi Tribunal and Maori iwi on the other. Tremors were also felt last Wednesday night, as Parliament passed the same-sex marriage bill on its first reading by 80 to 40 votes; a slap in the face for all Pacific Islanders and their church communities. But, no surprises there, I guess, as history continues to justify, time and time again, the old colonial attitude of “who cares about what Pacific Islanders think”.
The setback just adds to the pain that is mounting and continuing to hurt the Pacific Islands communities in Auckland, especially the realisation of the impact of the recent Auckland Super City rates and fee charges hike take its toll on the low income and the poverty stricken families. The words filtering through from Manukau, where many of our Pacific Islands people, the unemployed, and low income earners live, residents and house owners have been slapped with a 41.4 percent rise in wastewater cost on top of a 3 percent rise in rates.
But Manukau is not alone; Waitakere, Auckland Central, and North Shore, have also been taken to the cleaners. I hear many of the churches (and I am sure charity organisations as well) have had their rates increased by a whopping margin which has prompted suggestions that the word ‘super’ in Auckland Super City was a prophetic allusion to super rates, super water bills, super taxes, super car-parking charges, super tolls, super rubbish collecting charges, super rents, super property prices, and, let’s not forget, the super salaries, super allowances, and super spending on the part of the Auckland Super City council members. And if these issues weren’t enough to push the poor and poverty stricken families into the path of molten lava, a recent report by the Ministry of Social Development shows that average income has fallen for each household and the poor are definitely getting poorer and the rich, you guessed it, continue to increase their earnings.
Notwithstanding that, the latest report by the Children’s Commissioner and the Expert Advisory Group (EAG) entitled Solutions to Child Poverty in New Zealand not only confirm the poor state of income for many householders, but has provided comprehensive proof that those same low income households spawned 25 percent or 270,000 children who live in poverty; a figure that has remained constant since 1992. According to the report, poverty was six to seven times higher in families on benefits than for children in families where one adult works full-time. It also shows that 56 percent of children in poverty come from sole-parent families compared to 12 percent from two-parent families; and still our MPs want to increase these statistics by supporting same-sex marriages. But the most disturbing fact is that 50 percent more Maori and Pacific Islands children live in poverty than European children. Now, how ‘super’ is that given the increases by Auckland Super City Council, and the fewer benefits hand-outs from the government, unemployment continuing to increase, and the number of those in poverty continues to rise. And the government still believe everyone in New Zealand are doing fine.
There are no words to describe the egotism displayed, not only by John Key, but by the Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, who has refused to acknowledge that there is children poverty in New Zealand. The EAG suggests putting more money into children welfare before the age of five years through a Universal Child Payment Scheme, putting aside money for meals in the poorest schools, re-balancing the family tax credit, improve housing, and provide social lending with the help of banks and community sectors; the benefits, according to EAG, would profit New Zealand society in the future. It is interesting that the report on household income and the report on child poverty, has coincided with a report from a study commissioned by Every Child Counts which recommends that wages be increased and paid parental leave for a minimum of eighteen weeks be implemented to reduce poverty. But John Key has gone against a Universal Child Payment and has reserved comments on the other recommendations by the EAG.
John Key and Paula Bennett both blamed the global finance crisis for the plight of New Zealand children living in poverty. But, it is not easy to dismiss children poverty with such tongue-in-cheek comments, especially after watching on television the children at Edmund Hillary School at Papakura and Cannons Creek School at Porirua, arriving as early as 7:30am, some without shoes, some with no packed lunches, and others very scantily clothed in the middle of winter, just to line up for “two weet-bix, a toast, and cup of milo” as was the case at Papakura, and a piece of fruit at Porirua. Such a small gesture resulted in such huge smiles.
It does not matter what the government rhetoric maybe as to the cause of children poverty in New Zealand, and whether Labour or National led governments were responsible; whether in the past or now. What matters is that in the last 30 years both government and, to a degree, all of New Zealand, have failed our children. Governments, especially, have put profit before people, and the present government has sustained that trend with policies that continue to take away wealth from the poor and their offspring, and putting it in the pockets of the rich and their children. It seems money and profit and personal wealth has become the focal point of government policies and not the welfare, health, safety, and protection of its vulnerable poverty stricken citizens.
The never-care-less attitude displayed by John Key, Paula Bennett, and the National led government has benefitted only the rich to the detrimental of the poverty stricken families and children. The government has not only continued to take away monetary benefits that had helped the poor families in the past, it has also managed to create less jobs, less opportunity to be tertiary educated, and less opportunity to live in affordable accommodations. The only avenue for many poor families is to resort to a life of crime, lack of health care, accept being unemployed, uneducated, and eventually creating a dysfunctional family, that will continue the family legacy into the next generation.
But, as MPs refuse to listen to the cry of the underprivileged, they continue to distance themselves from heart of the nation – its people; and like a dormant volcano the constant snubbing will cause an eruption that will leave a trail of destruction no amount of profit can heal. The conflicts that we see in many countries in the Middle-East, Africa, and Europe in recent months had all begun with ruling governments snubbing the voice of the deprived and the poor. But, as I continue to reflect on these issues, I am well aware that I, maybe, am just crying over spilt milk, and that government does not care much about Maori and Pacific Islands poverty stricken families and their children. Parliament seems to care more about a few thousands same-sex people and their rights but scoff at the rights of poor families and 270,000 children basic needs – food, security, education, and health.
I suggest we don’t wait for the government to discover it has a heart. If we care about our children then we must act now by becoming more responsible for our own children’s welfare, safety, education, and health; make it our priority. I call upon the Pacific Island churches to look at their parishes and their parishioners, and identify the families, especially the children, in your midst that are living in poverty. If the parents have fail their children, and the government care less for our children, then the church and our Pacific communities need to provide care, or at least, be a catalyst in caring. If we truly believe, as the Psalmist does, that our children are our inheritance, then no amount of poverty can prevent us from making sure that inheritance is preserve to safeguard the existence of future generations.
We can stop the tremors and prevent a major eruption; it’s time for us to make sacrifices. Sacrifice our packets of cigarettes, our half-dozens of beer, our love affair with the pokies and TABs, sacrifice some of our pride that clouds our judgment when we give and donate to various causes, our family commitments, and to our churches. But, I must also point out that while the needs of those in poverty are required to be met, I have no doubt also that some of our Pacific Islands families can provide for their children but have chosen instead to make their children take advantage of the generosity of others, so they can save money for their many addictions.
Here the churches have an obligation to help our poor people and their children; it is time for Pacific Island churches to stop reaching inward to itself but to reach outward to the poor families and children of poverty in their midst. Most importantly, as I have advocated many times previously, if your situation is not conducive to your family and children’s welfare, then move and find greener pastures. Never be satisfied or give in to the failures of others, or accept your current status as fate irreversible. Never lose faith in your yourself and your ability to make things better, and remember, despite our differences in colour, race, gender, and creed, we are all New Zealanders, and we all have a duty to seek the peace and prosperity of this country to which God has given us to dwell. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.