Concerns govt lacks vision for Māori economy post Covid

Māori business advisors are concerned the government has given no clear direction for the future of the Māori economy.

Nanaia Mahuta, Minister for Maori Development and Local Government being interviewed in te reo Maori by Maori TV.

Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Before Covid-19, the Māori economy was worth more than $50 billion.

But the pandemic has hurt many Māori businesses and some say the government should have a plan to support them by now.

In April, the government set aside $1 million to run an 0800 number for Māori businesses to access professional advice. By Tuesday, it had received 149 phone calls.

KPMG New Zealand Māori Sector lead Riria (Missy) Te Kanawa said the government response hasn’t targeted the Māori economy much.

“There was a $1m Māori business assistance package and that is the extent of what I’ve seen in terms of targeted intervention into the Māori economy and that isn’t much.”

“It’s not there – and a lot of the assistance that businesses can pick up, it’s for professional advice … it’s not necessarily anything that businesses can use immediately.”

The government has spent billions of dollars supporting businesses more widely through wage subsidies and loans.

But Te Kanawa said Māori businesses have unique needs and they may not get caught up in the mainstream offering.

“We need to realise there is some bias in these systems and so are Māori needs likely to be taken care of if the decision makers don’t have a Māori lens?”

Māori back the government’s focus on jobs with its $50b Budget package as well as the investment in trades and shovel ready projects.

Te Kanawa said while this will boost jobs for Māori in the regions, the $6.5m set aside for the Māori economy is not enough.

“The way I see the Budget at the moment, particularly the job stuff, it’s low wage – and we want our people out of low wage.

“If we want Māori businesses employing Māori people then we are not going to get there on a six and a half million dollar investment – we are going to need to see something much better there.”

Te Kanawa is concerned that the government has not yet released a plan to advance the Māori economy.

“I’d like to think we were looking ahead and someone can come back to us and say here are the industries where we see the most potential for Māori, for Māori to be moving into high value wage rather than low value wage.

“That’s going to take a generation and therefore the steps we are going to need to take between now and then are this.”

In 2019, the average earnings for Māori in paid employment was earning $244 less than Pākehā per week.

Māori business advisor Andre Taylor agreed there has been no clear direction from the government for Māori economic activity.

But he said Māori should not wait for the government to act.

“This would be the best time for us to accelerate our economic aspirations – this Covid has woken everyone up and now is the time to get things done and push things through,” he said.

Taylor wants to see the government back Māori and iwi into big business.

He said the government could support iwi to procure contracts for big regional projects, and it could guarantor iwi who need bank loans to foot the bill.

“The whole thing around what the government can do for Māori is support our economic initiatives, and I am talking about the big stuff, infrastructure projects, our own building projects.

“If we own the companies, we can hire Māori – we can set the terms and tikanga for how a business is run.”

Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki said enabling iwi to access procurement is a winning idea.

In any case, he is hoping a strong Māori economic plan is on the way, to ultimately lift Māori employment outcomes.

“The problem is, the government is genuinely struggling with what to do and how to do it, other than just hand things out,” he said.

“The biggest risk is missing the opportunity to completely change the dynamic of Māori business and industry.”

But Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta insisted there is a plan in the works for the Māori economy.

In a statement, she said she’s been talking with iwi, Māori businesses and industry leaders.

“In the second phase of the Budget spend we will be developing plans to stimulate the Māori economy in some detail,” she said.

“The Maori economy is worth $50b dollars to Aotearoa’s economy so it is critical that we get this right.

“The plan must help our people and that help must be sustainable and balanced.”

The government should have more details of its plan around June.

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