Marama Davidson - Social Assistance (Residency Qualification) Legislation Bill - First Reading

Kia orana, Madam Speaker. I am very proud to stand and support the Social Assistance (Residency Qualification) Legislation Bill on behalf of the Green Party. 


I want to congratulate Minister Sepuloni for bringing this bill to the House— really important way that we can show better support, better connection, and better responsibility for our Pacific cousins, our tuākana, as tangata whenua will often refer to our Pacific Island relations and whanaunga.

I did want to start also as many have done, because the tangata whenua connection with our Pacific Island whanaunga is a particular one and is a unique one, and so I too from tangata whenua perspective would like to acknowledge the Cook Island Prime Minister, Hon Henry Puna, the high commissioner, representatives, and staff from the Cook Island country in relation to the proud migration and waka journey travels and stories and settlements that Pacific people and tangata whenua to Aotearoa share collectively in terms of our whole collective migration and visiting and exchanging and learning throughout the different Pacific countries as we came down through the Pacific, and also culminating in our settlement here as tangata whenua in Aotearoa.

We have a unique historical whanaungatanga, unique historical relationship to our tuākana, to our Pacific cousins. It is not just historical. We, of course, also share the similar colonial and imperial impacts on our homelands and what that has done for our people, our language, our land, our culture—our relationships to each other as well. I want to acknowledge, for example, the commonalities in the language revival work that both tangata whenua are consistently working on and reviving and also the language revival work that is happening here in Aotearoa for our Pacific communities.

And of course, acknowledging that the Cook Island, Niue, and Tokelau countries are our citizen brothers, sisters, our citizen siblings, and it's really wonderful to have our Cook Island, Niue, and Tokelau MPs in this House with us, as well. We're all very proud of that in this House.

So this bill is going to make it easier for people from the Cook Island, Niue, and Tokelau to be eligible for our New Zealand superannuation and/or veteran pensions—our pension payments. And as Minister Sepuloni has already stated, the Governments of the Cook Island, Niue, and Tokelau were concerned—and I pick this up keenly—were concerned about the way that the current eligibility criteria for New Zealand pensions was preventing or deterring people from returning home and contributing to their countries at an earlier age. And at this point, I just want to pick up on some of the media reports—which I am grateful for—which shared some of the stories where, for example, many people on the current criteria standards - trying to meet the current standards – many people moved to New Zealand from those three nations to meet those criteria for the New Zealand superannuation payments by spending at least 10 consecutive years in New Zealand after the age of 20, and then they would move back to the Cook Islands, for example, where perhaps anxiety had set in in their fifties and they realised that they wanted to return to their ancestral lands. But then had to move back to New Zealand again to be able to meet those stringent requirements, the five after 50 rule, spending at least five years here after the age of 50.

And so that sort of, having to move back and forth, or having to stay put and not go home at all, to be able to meet that five years after 50 rule—we're getting rid of that. Or, actually, we're not getting rid of it; we are making sure that Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau are included in the net for the eligibility for the residency eligibility, and this makes me happy.

This makes me happy because, as tangata whenua—and my tungāne and colleague, the Hon Peeni Henare picked up on it today as well, where he talked about the similar sorts of stories we share of the exodus of tangata whenua from our tupuna, our ancestor lands, to the cities and what that has meant today, actually, is - and something I've taken for granted - is so many of our young people—well, not just young people - many of our people—more and more of our people—don't even know what marae they are from, what iwi they're from, what hapū they're from. By the way, that doesn't mean anything to us. Even if you don't know your marae, you still belong to it, and we'll still claim you, even if you don't know you're from it. So it's not just the economic and social disconnection; it's a spiritual and cultural disconnection that, hopefully, this bill is going to go some way to trying to assist in that reconnection work. So I am pretty stoked to be able to stand up and support the bill from that common experience of what it means.

And yes, we're very lucky to be able to call several places our home. Even here in Aotearoa—I live, by the way, in Manurewa in Manukau, and Manukau City is, I think, the largest Pacific city in the Pacific. I live there and that is my home, and has been for two decades, but my ancestor homes are also in the Far North and on the East Coast and they are all equally my home, but it is also important to me that I am able to feel connected to my ancestral homes, as well. So I'm glad that I'm able to stand here and support this bill, because, often, we're torn between those many homes and torn between choosing where we want to be and where we are able to be.

So, just to go into the actual - a little bit of the detail of this bill, for the Green Party representation, is currently, to be eligible for New Zealand pension payments, one has to have been residing in - present in New Zealand for 10 years since the age of 20, and then the five years, which must be from the age of 50—that's that five years after 50 rule that I was referring to previously—and—

Matt Doocey: Life begins at 50.

MARAMA DAVIDSON: Sorry, sorry, Mr Doocey? Five years after 50? I think that's a simple way for me to be able to understand what's going on here.

The reason why this is for Niue, the Cook Islands, and Tokelau is because New Zealand has constitutional responsibility for our citizen siblings and cousins in those countries, and we're wanting to reflect that relationship. So I did want to pick up—oh, I've sort of talked about it a little bit more, but the specific concern that drove those country Governments to advocate and lead on this call – to lead this call for this amendment was also around the problems of depopulation. You know, we're still facing that here, so we know a bit about that and the social, economic, and cultural consequences, and the instability, also, of not being able to settle for as long as you would like in one place or having to go back and forth, or not being able to return when you would like to because of these stringent rules.

I've got a little bit of time, I did just want to acknowledge that in 2015, some attempt was made to improve the portability of pension payments for people of Cook Island, Niue, and Tokelau descent, but, basically, that didn't quite work, and it didn't have the take-up that we would have hoped for. I do acknowledge Mr Ron Mark took us through the politics of that—I acknowledge that—and so here we are today, allowing for that change, for apparently the change that New Zealand First proudly pushed for. And so here we are today, allowing for that five after 50 rule, to include residency in Cook Island, Niue, and Tokelau to contribute to your residency and eligibility.

So I just wanted to finish by saying again, acknowledging the calls and the leadership from the Governments of Cook Island, Niue, and Tokelau, who saw fit to work with us and who will continue to work with us, and who saw fit to call for this. I think we should keep reviewing and keep checking—and I know our Minister will—to see how, y’know, how we - what sort of improvements or what sort of teething problems. I know that we will keep checking on that so that it's set up to do what it's supposed to do. I am just very proud here, as tangata whenua and MP, to support this bill. Meitaki.