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    Rongo Wetere
    Get tougher call for Maori jobs
    18 OCTOBER 2000


    The head of a Maori commission which the Government wound up after the election can see no political will to eradicate unemployment.

    Maori Employment and Training commission chairman Rongo Wetere says it is pointless tackling endemic unemployment among his people without declaring war on all joblessness.

    This was because Maori unemployment is usually three times higher than the general rate, rising and falling with the overall level, although it was down to 13 per cent in June from an historical peak of 27.3 per cent in 1992.

    Mr Wetere wants the Government to appoint an employment governor, to establish full employment as a required economic setting just as Reserve Bank Governor Don Brash must keep inflation between zero and 3 per cent.

    His employment commission and three others were appointed by the previous Government's Maori affairs minister, Tau Henare, with budgets of $3 million each.

    The other three were established in 1997 to find ways to advance Maori economic development, health and education but the employment commission did not get started until April 1998.

    All four were put on hold just before Christmas by Mr Henare's Labour successor, Tai Tokerau MP Dover Samuels, and formally dissolved in February.

    Mr Samuels, who was replaced as minister in June, says valuable recommendations of the commissions were adopted in the Closing the Gaps strategy to redress inequities facing Maori and Pacific people.

    This included setting up a business facilitation service within a new economic unit of the Maori ministry Te Puni Kokiri, and reviewing legislation which he says is stopping Maori land from being used to create jobs.

    Although the commissions were to have operated until June, he said unspent funds were needed for Closing the Gaps, for which the Government has allocated $29 million this year to Maori and Pacific communities to set their own economic and social programmes. Mr Samuels said the Government recouped more than $2.5 million from the $12 million allocated to the commissions.

    The employment commission contracted teams of senior economists and researchers, led by Professor Ian Shirley of Massey University, to conduct studies of barriers to employment in six regions where Maori unemployment was high.

    Although the teams produced voluminous reports, co-director Bruce Bryant says the whole point was to produce recommendations on how to put employment action plans into practice after holding workshops with local people.

    In Waitakere, for example, the commission was proposing a partnership between the city council, Waipareira Trust, the Auckland University of Technology and the booming boat-building industry to train unemployed people in the high-skills end of the business.

    The commission's premature wind-up left it unable even to hold a planned workshop in Northland, with the country's highest unemployment, let alone produce its final recommendations for the six regions.

    However, the Mayors' Taskforce for Jobs is recommending to the Government that the commission be given six months more funding to complete a national employment strategy.

    Mr Wetere, who also heads the big Maori tertiary training institution Te Wananga o Aotearoa, said employment needed to be lifted right out of the political arena and dealt with as a national emergency.

    He was disappointed the Government seemed not to have a strategy for achieving full employment, and had not even set specific goals for reducing unemployment.

    A Government employment strategy issued by Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey sets goals of minimising disadvantages to people in the labour market and of maximising their potential through education and training initiatives.

    But it shies away from any quantifiable goals, such as National's spectacularly unmet promise to halve unemployment in three years from 1990, a period in which unemployment hit record highs.

    The paper says the Government cannot ensure particular labour market outcomes, although it can provide a regulatory and funding environment to encourage economic growth and job creation.

    Mr Maharey said it had always been the Government's aim to move towards full employment, while refraining from setting finite targets.