Whanau Ora trough grows bigger each year


The three agencies that run New Zealand’s Whanau Ora welfare had their agreements extended for another three years on May 31, 2017, even though both the purpose and the results of the programme remain a mystery.

The Government had committed $73.5 million for the 2016-2017 year to those three agencies -- Te Pou Matakana covering the North Island, Te Putahitanga o Te Waipounamu for the South Island and Pasifika Futures for Pasifika people – and the agencies said they had supported 10,500 families.

A brief look back shows the scheme has never had a coherent goal, which is a reason for its stumbling lack of accomplishment.

The programme may be traced to November 2002, when the Ministry of Health published a strategy for Maori health by encouraging what they termed “whanau development”. The term “whanau ora” means “healthy families”.

The 2008 election brought a quid pro quo confidence-and-supply deal that former Prime Minister John Key struck with the Maori Party, and part of this deal was Whanau Ora.

In June 2009, the Government set up a taskforce to look at Maori social service provision. This taskforce produced a report full of waffle and psychobabble in January 2010 called Whānau Ora: Report of the Taskforce on Whānau-Centred Initiatives.[1]

Maori Party co-leader Dame Tariana Turia launched Whanau Ora on April 8, 2010. [2] The scheme was intended to:

  • Devolve and redeploy funding from the health, social welfare and Maori affairs ministries into community organisations.
  • Pay for contracts to community social welfare providers, to fix truancy, crime and ill-health.
  • Make families more responsible.

Touted as a one-stop welfare shop to guide dysfunctional families through the daunting New Zealand welfare system, the scheme provided “navigators” to connect families to appropriate welfare providers and funding. Turia said this would end the nonsense of having five welfare cars up a driveway to help a single whanau.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters found evidence to back his criticism that the scheme was a “bro-ocracy. He said Otaki’s Rahui Rugby and Sports Club received $60,000 in 2011 to “undertake whanau development research” on resilience, “whanau connectedness” and community leadership”.[3] 

The Dominion Post newspaper revealed a $5000 contract between Te Puni Kokiri and an unnamed Hawke’s Bay whanau of 20 members for a hui to finalise “spiritual balance” and “family development”.

In that contact, $500 went to each of two facilitators, $400 paid for a venue, $1000 funded a hangi, $600 paid a chef, there was a $500 administration fee, $300 for travel, and $1200 for resources. The agreement was signed on January 12, 2012, with $4000 paid up front in April. The final $1000 would be paid when the whanau plans were completed at the end of June. [4]

Intercepted phone calls showed that gangs regarded Whanau Ora as a model to access funding. One Dunedin person was jailed for four years for dishonestly converting $20,000 of trust money, conspiring to sell cannabis and possessing cannabis for supply.[5]

Criticism of the scheme sparked an investigation. Auditor General Lyn Provost reported in Whanau Ora: The First Four Years in 2015 that it was difficult to work out what the scheme had achieved while noting that in the first four years $40-million was swallowed up in administration.[6]

The Maori Development Ministry Te Puni Kokiri responded with Understanding whanau-centres approaches: Analysis of phase 1 (2010-2015), which amounted to a 110-page defence of the scheme.

That report argued that phase 1 was all about “strengthening provider capability” (hence the big expenditure on administration). However, gains were minimal and vaguely stated. Based on 895 whanau surveys, the report said:

  • Almost two-thirds who were engaged received support from navigators and developed whanau plans.
  • Some gains were in improved service access, motivation, as well as unspecified increased income, and improved employment.
  • Over 70 percent experienced advances in happiness, relationships and leadership.
  • 76 percent and 61 percent made advances in safety and education/training.
  • Other gains included knowledge of genealogy and reduced rates of smoking.

That limited benefit has cost $380-million since 2010, with the 2017 appropriation more than double the amount earmarked in the first year:

Budget 2010 - $29m

Budget 2011 – $43m

Budget 2012 – $49m

Budget 2013 – $53m

Budget 2014 – $52m

Budget 2015 – $54m

Budget 2016 – $73m

Budget 2017 -- $76m

The Te Puni Kokiri press release dated May 30, 2017, claimed that Whanau Ora commissioning agents said they had supported 10,500 families “this year”. There was no indication of what “support” meant and no evidence was provided of that support. Te Puni Kokiri’s 2015 report for the first five years only provided data from 895 interviews.

If Whanau Ora was blindingly successful, it could be rolled out to benefit everyone and not be limited to Maori and Pasifika.

However, the gains claimed are so small and the expense is so large that a prudent administrator would probably get rid of this unfocussed, politically driven, race-based programme that should never have got off the ground in the first place.


[1] Whānau Ora: Report of the Taskforce on Whānau-Centred Initiatives, http://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/planning-strategy/whanau-ora/


[2] English gives cautious blessing to Whanau Ora launch, Stuff, April 9, 2010. http://i.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/politics/3563393/English-gives-cautious-blessing-to-Whanau-Ora-launch

[3] Peters keeps up attack on Whanau Ora payouts, The Dominion Post, May 31, 2012.

[4] Thousands spent of whanau gatherings, The Dominion Post, April 9, 2012.

[5] Whanau Ora money used by gang, Stuff, November 15, 2012. http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/7954204/Whanau-Ora-money-used-by-gang

[6] Whanau Ora: The first four years, May 1, 2015. http://www.oag.govt.nz/2015/whanau-ora