Off the field, where are the Maori?

The launch of the “real New Zealand showcase” to visitors for the rugby world cup last Thursday was an uplifting buzz of energy and excellence. Then a niggle: where are Maori in this showcase?

Serving the drinks.

Of course, Maori (and Pasifika) will be indispensable on the rugby field. But what about the economic New Zealand the organisers hope to go on selling after the fans have gone home? That is the aim of the spinoff events featured in the “real showcase”.

It wasn’t a bicultural New Zealand in the showcase. Visitors who come for the rugby and take the showcase booklet as a guide to the country they look around between matches will be surprised how brown we are.

The booklet presents — and speakers at the launch presented — a smart, inventive, designer-New Zealand that is real, world-class and cause for pride: the marine sector, wine, horses, film, music, biotechnology, merino-possum and much more.

Maori (and Pasifika) get a passing mention in music — you can’t talk music without them. But there is only a three-word mention in the booklet’s tourism section of that trade’s cultural dimension, a salient point of difference. There was no mention elsewhere, including in the excited introduction by Tourism Minister John Key and Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully.

They know Maori drop out of school, have worse health and half-fill the prisons off one-sixth of the population. Not exactly a showcase.

The showcased events are critical to the cup’s real success. The point of the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars subsidy is not just to temporarily fatten the profits of favoured businesses (never averse to a dollop of corporate socialism). The point is to expand the country profile and keep the customers buying the brand long after the ball has gone dead.

The point, in short, is the economy. Of course, Te Puni Kokiri is overseeing a range of cup-related Maori activities, so Maori will be in the picture. But in the economic showcase Maori scarcely figure.

Is that right?

In 2003 Te Puni Kokiri issued a report by the Institute of Economic Research on the “Maori economy”, defined as incorporations, trusts and the like, self-employed who identified as Maori, commercial transactions involving Maori culture, services oriented to specific Maori needs and housing owned by Maori.

It found that: the Maori economy was more profitable than the economy as a whole, grew faster from 1997-2002 and was more exposed to international trade; but had more difficulty getting finance and a lower return on assets; and Maori households contributed more in tax than they got in benefits. But as a whole the Maori economy amounted to only 1.4 per cent of the economy.

Last Thursday, the day the Maori-light New Zealand-brand events were showcased, Te Puni Kokiri issued a new report, this time by Business and Economic Research (BERL).

BERL has mined census and other data to calculate that value added by identifiably Maori enterprises — trusts, incorporations, iwi holding companies and the like and Maori employers and self-employed — is not 1.4 per cent of GDP but 5.9 per cent. Property services, food processing and primary industries are the biggest areas of activity.

The real figure may be higher than 5.9 per cent. BERL says “there are enterprises for which it is conceptually difficult to assign ethnicity” and the total includes “government-sector commercial enterprises”. In other words, quite a bit of the “Maori” economy may actually be an indistinguishable part of the general economy.

The 5.9 per cent is likely to grow as Treaty of Waitangi settlements put more assets in hands of iwi which, after some early mistakes, now by and large manage them effectively. Iwi have become commercial heavyweights in some cities and regions and will be so in others.

But that is not the whole story. The employer and self-employed parts of the Maori economy — that is, the parts no different from the rest of business except that Maori are known to run them — have also been growing.

Te Puni Kokiri is arguing for better alignment of science and innovation with Maori businesses, to boost productivity and incomes. It is also arguing for more Maori participation in capital markets and a Maori innovation fund similar to the government’s Venture Investment Fund but with a 150-year focus.

There are two dimensions to this.

One is business that is specific to Maori, either because it is related directly to Maori culture (as in tourism or the creative arts) or because it involves collectively-owned iwi, hapu or runanga assets.

The other is participation by individual Maori as equals in an open, internationally competitive economy, in technology, design, production and marketing. That at base was the promise of the Treaty in 1840.

It’s an uphill climb. The statistics that get media attention and scandalise politicians are negative. But there is a positive story, too. The rugby world cup could be used to make something of some of that and widen the economic brand it is selling.