by Ross Himona at the
Launch of CommunityNet Aotearoa
1 December 1998.
Whakataka te hau ki te uru
Whakataka te hau ki te tonga
Kia makinakina ki uta
Kia mataratara ki tai
Kia hi ake aua te atakura
He tio he huka he hauhu
Te iwi e tau nei i tenei ra
Tena koutou tena koutou tena koutou katoa
Kia ora everyone
I've been asked to speak on behalf of the Steering Group that over the last few months has put this website together. The group represented a diverse range of communities and community organisations.
Our members too have a wide diversity of interests and experiences. Which is what NZ is: a diversity of communities; no one exactly like another.
So in designing this website, CommunityNet Aotearoa, we have had to keep in mind this diversity that is NZ. I will return to this theme later.
The website firstly aims to be an online resource to help communities and their organisations by pointing the way to information about how to establish and manage organisations, and to other resources about how to establish an online presence.
As it says on the frontpage of the site, it is "an internet resource to encourage and support the strengthening of communities throughout Aotearoa/New Zealand."
So it is more than just a resource for communities. It is also a community development site. And, it is important to note, it's kaupapa or philosophy is very clear. It is a website that is for community and it is governed by community representatives on behalf of community. So although we are very grateful and acknowledge the Department of Internal Affairs for initiating the project, and for it's ongoing staff and financial support, the website is very definitely not a Government site. It is a site for communities.
What is community development?
Well, like most terms that are used to describe the ways that we think about society, and the ways we think we should organise and govern ourselves, it has as many meanings as there are people who are willing to describe, or prescribe, it.
Let me tell you what I think Community Development is about.
About ten years ago Sir Robert Mahuta wrote, "Government does not control tribal development; it never did and it never will. Tribal development belongs to the people. Government can only facilitate or obstruct it."
That's what I think about Government and community development. Government cannot do it; it can only facilitate or obstruct community development. Community Development belongs to the people.
Te Kohanga Reo started out in 1982 as a bona fide community initiative, fuelled by the vision and passion and energy of Maori communities. Since 1989 it has been colonised by the Ministry of Education, made to fit into an Early Childhood Education box, which definitely does not fit, and has had a whole raft of Government regulations and procedures imposed upon it. So much so that the passion and the fire has almost died, smothered under the weight of Government.
The 1989 Tomorrows Schools and Educational reforms started out as a concept to empower communities to take charge of their own education. The promise has never been fulfilled, as the central Govt agencies have re-written the rules to once again impose their will upon communities, assuming that politicians and public servants in Wellington know best how to define the needs of communities, and also how to meet those needs.
An example is the way Private Training Establishments are treated. PTEs not only contract to deliver educational outcomes, they are forced by NZQA to manage themselves, down to the minutest detail, exactly as prescribed by NZQA, regardless of size and circumstance, regardless of whether or not the NZQA way is appropriate or not, and it usually is not. For small and medium sized PTEs the compliance costs in financial and human resources are an enormous burden.
My last example is the community wage, imposed upon communities by central government without full regard for the needs of the communities it thinks it is helping. This issue has yet to fully unfold, yet already I hear the murmurings of disgruntled communities and community organisations out there, forced once again to compromise their principles and practices to accommodate a political imperative.
These are examples of the ways the Government can obstruct Community Development.
But the health reforms have shown how Maori communities can empower themselves to take control of their own health needs, and to design their own health programmes. In my iwi health initiatives have been an outstanding success, with only the light hand of a supportive govt presence.
And so to this website. We have indeed been fortunate that DIA has taken a hands-off approach and insisted from the very beginning that it would be governed by community. Well done Internal Affairs.
So what are the real needs of NZ communities?
In Aotearoa/New Zealand there is a distinct lack of debate, and information, and knowledge about the needs of NZ communities, and the ways in which those communities can be helped to analyse themselves, to define their own needs, to draw up their own plans for their own development, and to implement those plans themselves.
This website should be used to initiate these and other debates about the place of community in society, the role of govt in relation to community. It should be a forum for community devel, professionals, practitioners, academics.
A commitment to community is more than just membership of community based organisations, or national collectives of community based organisations, it is a commitment to the whole philosophy of community as the building block of society, it is a commitment to the value of the individual within community rather than to the stark and soulless philosophy of the individual alone in society.
It is a commitment to the notion that communities must take charge of their own situations, identify their own problems and solutions, and provide their own participatory leadership to implement their own plans for the future. It is a commitment to the notion that Government's role is to support communities to do their own thing, not to prescribe programmes for communities.
It is both an intellectual and an emotional commitment, and it is ultimately a political commitment.
And as is usual in relation to these and other important constitutional issues in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Maori are leading the way. We call it iwi development, we call it mana Maori motuhake, we call it self-determination, we call it tino rangatiratanga. In the world beyond these isolated and insulated shores it is the philosophy of Community Development, and it is not just an indigenous or tribal issue, it is an issue for all communities.
This is a Community Development website. Community Development is more than the development and support of community organisations. it is a commitment to the whole concept of community, and to the promotion of community as the legitimate social, economic and political building block of society.
This website is not just an online resource or collection of resources. It is an online forum for communities, and for community development professionals, academics and practitioners. And the role of online debating and discussion forum, I believe, is it's more important and enduring role in the development of the core concept of community in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
And so I invite you all to participate in the discussion forums at this website, for only through your participation will its full value be realised.
You may agree or disagree with my concept of Community Development. But say it online in the forums provided by this website. Let's start a debate about Community Development, and let's encourage communities to have their say. That's what the site is for.
Finally Thank you to the Department of Internal Affairs, thank you to the members of the Steering Group, and thank you to those community organisations that have supported this project.