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Q&A: Tariana Turia

This article was published 11 years ago. Content may no longer be relevant.

Māori Party co-leader Tariana Turia has mounted a personal crusade against smoking and has been a staunch advocate for Māori health and wellbeing. Matters of Substance sat down with Mrs Turia to talk about the fight with big tobacco, alcohol reform and drugs.

What’s next in the fight against tobacco?

Basically we’ve got a suite of initiatives that we think are really important. The one that’s worked probably the strongest has been the taxation that’s had the biggest impact on smokers. But we think that if we want to go through to 2025 and make the biggest difference, we need to put up the price of cigarettes by probably 30 per cent a year over the next five years, because we know that that will actually have a huge impact. The problem is the perception is that we’re just trying to grab taxes but in reality that isn’t true. We’ve found that the biggest drop that we had in smoking was in the … uptake, in the 15 years olds, 14/15 year olds. So we know that price is critical, but we also know that we need to continue to look forward and look at smoking in cars, smoking in parks, smoking in public places. We need to think about the duty-free cigarettes. That’s a biggie that we need to get onto. And I think that we probably need to have a look at, I don’t know what you call them, these … electronic cigarettes. There’s been a bit of a push for us to consider them. The difficulty is that there’s so many different types of electronic cigarettes and we’re not quite sure whether the Government would want to subsidise those at the level because they’re varying prices as well. But probably the hardest issue I believe is that the Government needs to start attacking the tobacco companies. They should be looking at the level of nicotine and other substances like sugar … that are in cigarettes that alter the taste, [such as] menthol, and begin to address that.

Moving along to plain packaging for cigarettes. How do you think the tobacco producing countries are going to respond to that?

Well no one’s going to like it but then we don’t expect them to. They make millions of dollars out of this harmful substance. We have 13 people die a day and so we should attack it at every level that we can.

Defending plain packaging in the World Trade Organisation courts for instance is costing millions of dollars. It’s worth it?

I think whatever it takes and the fact is that [with] our international trade agreements, we don’t believe that we’re going to be in any trouble with the tobacco producing countries taking us to court. We have sufficient legislative things that we’ve had with our trade agreements so that we’re protected because we’ve put into those that the health risks that are associated with things. We feel pretty comfortable that even if they take us to court we will win.

I was interested to get your thoughts on the British American Tobacco Agree/Disagree ad campaign. Does that campaign show a level of desperation from tobacco companies?

Oh, absolutely. They spent a lot of money.

On the campaign?

Yes, they spent a lot of money on the campaign.

Do you know how much?

I don’t know, but I was told that it was a fairly expensive campaign when you looked at the number of adverts that they had and the times the adverts were shown. Those are very expensive times to have advertising. What they were really showing was how amoral they were because they’re prepared to peddle a substance that they know kills 5000 people a year here.

Do you expect people to make the right choice around using tobacco?

I think more and more people are making the right choice. And the interesting thing is that everybody said that I would get things thrown at my car and people would abuse me, and all of those things. I have had a couple of emails, very abuse, very rude. But I think I’d like to think I’m made of sterner stuff than that and in the end I’ve only got to go over to my family cemetery to know what drives me on it.

So you’ve had a number of people in your family affected really badly by smoking?

Oh heaps. Heaps of my generation have already died. But that’s not the only reason that drives me. I see the impact that it has on children, the fact that many families that do smoke have insufficient income to provide the necessities of life to their families. But the addictive nature of cigarettes makes it difficult for them to … actually stop, even though they know that it’s not good for them.

You mentioned raising tax on tobacco earlier? Is that what would make the biggest difference?

I think that probably the best deterrent is the price. If we were able to raise it as I said 30 per cent [a year for five years], which is what I did put to the Government initially. They were not keen to do that. In 2010 we put it up 10 per cent. Even right back then my advice to the Government was 30 per cent because that’s the advice that I was given by the anti-smoking lobby groups. I think that people will begin to think about putting their money up the chimney to say the least. I think people will begin to think about it more carefully. To be honest with you I’ve had many, many people come and talk to me who have been big smokers and who tell me now they have given up that they do feel better, you know, that their health has improved.

Where will the Māori Party be pushing to improve outcomes for Māori around alcohol?

Well we’ve been really concerned at the number of outlets that have been put into various communities. We’re very opposed to that. Many of them have been put into poor communities. And the one thing that I’ve been very proud of if you take Porirua as an example where the community did come out against it. And that’s what our communities need to do, they need to stand up and take responsibility themselves and take whatever action they need to take to stop these people from establishing in their communities.

Can you encourage that sort of community action through legislation?

I don’t think you can legislate for people making stands on these issues but I do think we should be encouraging communities to take community action. The issues around alcohol are huge. We know that the majority of families and the majority of men in prison that that’s been the result of alcohol abuse. Family violence is, you know, heavily affected by alcohol abuse and we know that many of the issues that lead men into the Corrections Department have usually happened under the influence of alcohol.

Do the latest alcohol reforms go far enough?

Absolutely not. No, they don’t go far enough. We voted against many of the measures that came in. I mean our view is that alcohol and drugs … are mind-altering substances and we should be considering the impact of those substances on people. We put up supplementary order papers on that particular piece of legislation about the things we wanted to see. We wanted to ensure that alcohol couldn’t be bought between particular hours and sadly to say… when you have to talk about 3am to 10am what’s that telling us? Or 1 to 3am for on-licence retailers. It’s really terrible the way we’ve made alcohol really available. The proximity of schools has to be a consideration when they’re looking at liquor licence. They need to ensure that the local committees have got good representation from the community where these shops are being opened and they must have people of mana whenua descent. They’ve got to have our people who belong to those areas on those committees. We think there should be a limit to the visibility of advertising. [We should] eliminate [alcohol] advertising and sponsorship except inside on-licence premises so there shouldn’t be any anywhere else. There certainly shouldn’t be out on the street. We think there should be a sinking lid policy on off-licence retailers within the territorial authorities and that there shouldn’t be a replacement of existing stores… and we think there should be a minimum price per unit of alcohol and it could be set by the Minister of Health. There’s a similar model in Scotland that does that.

Can you describe how alcohol and drugs are harming Māori?

You’ve only got to look at the Corrections figures – the numbers of our people who are in prison. You’ve only got to look at the poll 400s that the Police produce every month, the numbers of them around family violence. I can probably put my hand on my heart and tell you that a huge percentage of them are alcohol fuelled. The various ministries who provide resources and money for stopping-violence programmes are clearly indicating that at the moment nothing appears to be really working. We’re getting a lot more reporting and we don’t know whether that’s because we’ve had campaigns to encourage people to report and whether that’s why there’s such a huge rise in the numbers of people reporting but alcohol has always had the biggest impact in Māori communities from when I was a child.

It actually I think became worse when our men came back from the [2nd World] war. They came back damaged by the war experience. They couldn’t speak about it. There was no counselling. No support for them. It was a dreadful time for families. In the valley where I come from almost all of my uncles came back from the war very damaged people. They drank considerably. Some of them, not all of them, but some of them were extremely violent under alcohol and my mother’s generation suffered hugely through it. I don’t think we ever made the connection between the war and alcohol abuse and didn’t realise that for many of them drinking became a way for them to try and cope with the things that they’d experienced during the war … and that filtered down. It became a way of living almost for many of the families. But the wonderful thing today is that not many of the generation of today are involved in alcohol abuse and I’m talking about in the valley where I come from – our own kids. I mean I’m not saying that they don’t drink, of course they do, but they don’t drink at the level that any of my uncles and family did. At our own Marae we have … an alcohol management policy and so alcohol can only be consumed between particular hours and it’s policed. It’s focussed on encouraging our young people to understand how you manage alcohol and how you manage yourself.

Does alcohol education need to be targeted differently to Māori than to the general population?

Oh absolutely. I think what we’re discovering is that there has to be a cultural context to the way in which we deliver messages back into our communities. And more and more we’re learning that if you go in really focussed on negative messaging our families don’t want to listen to you. But if you can go in and talk to them about the wellness of a family, the safety of a family, all the things that help that to happen, they’re more likely to buy those messages and actually begin to see that when they’re in a situation where certain things are happening they do begin to look at why that’s happening, how it’s happening and what they need to do about it. That’s sort of putting responsibility back into their hands rather than going in and telling them all the time, because there aren’t too many good messages that we go in with, so [it’s] very important to be positive but also to not be afraid to be challenging when we need to be.

Are there enough addiction treatment providers in terms of offering tikanga Māori programmes?

Oh, no, no. There’s not enough addiction providers full stop. And then when we get down to those that are able to offer something that’s going to reach into the hearts and minds of these people definitely there isn’t enough of them. In fact I’ve got a relative now who desperately needs support and assistance and there just isn’t anything in the vicinity of home, which is Wanganui, for them to get any help. To go privately for four weeks I think it costs about $22,000 and families simply don’t have that sort of money. I mean Capri are always advertising on television – a private provider up in Auckland – but that’s for the wealthy.

How does Whānau Ora work in terms of helping Māori with alcohol, drug and tobacco issues?

The really great thing about Whānau Ora is that it does focus on encouraging the family to identify what are the significant issues that are impacting on them. And you know, we’ve seen it back at home where we’ve had family members who’ve been in quite strong denial around their alcohol abuse and the violence that’s come out of that. But we have seen them that with the right support and with going in in a non-judgemental way and allowing the family to sit down and talk. Even if the husband won’t talk about it there will be somebody who will talk about it. The moment you enable families to dream a little bit about what sort of future they want for themselves somebody will raise the issue. And once it’s raised it enables the family actually to talk about it and how they believe that it can be addressed. You know I can say that I’m really proud in particular [in] one of our [family members] at home. Long history of alcohol abuse and violence and in 18 months has completely turned his life around. [He had his] children taken off him. He’s got his children back. He’s just so much a better person and that was from being given the opportunity to actually own up to himself instead of somebody going in and saying to him, you know “you’re an alcoholic, you’re a this, you’re a that. You’ve been hitting your wife and you’re no good because your kids have been taken off you”. It’s taking a different approach altogether and focussing on the potential within that family. Given the assistance and the support they can actually draw their own conclusions [about] what they know to be not good practice and to change. And they can and they do.

That is aimed at Māori. Could it work for everybody?

It can work for anybody. The fact is Whānau Ora, while it is a Māori concept, and the reason it was developed through Mason Durie is that for a long, long time they’ve been doing longitudinal studies on Māori families. And the whole system focuses on individuals. So if you have an individual who drinks that’s the focus of any intervention – just the individual who drinks. But that would have had a massive impact on everybody else and that’s never been taken into consideration. So we know that intervening with individuals in family violence, in alcohol use, in any other behaviours that are impacting on everybody else, that unless you’re prepared actually to front up to the whole family to encourage greater engagement between them, you change nothing. It’s the same as if I go to the doctor as a diabetic and then … my family can’t come in with me even though highly likely they’ve got the potential to be diabetic too. The doctor will only have me in the room because you know that’s breaching confidentiality allowing the Whānau to come in. That is changing dramatically, and doctors are beginning to see that it’s really important that if they want to change the behaviours of that individual then they have to do it for the whole lot otherwise that person will go home. Do they really believe that he cooks the kai at home? You know? Do they really believe that the family will change their eating habits simply because that person’s been put on a strict diet? No. And that’s why they fail because nothing changes for all of them. People are starting to really understand that this concept – and it is only a concept, it’s not a programme or anything – they’re starting to see that in actual fact in the long term if we were able to encourage all of the Government agencies and all of our people out there in the health and social sector to review their practice and to stop working with individuals. Look it’s easier working with an individual than it is working with the family. But if they began to rethink their practice and work with the families it will in the end cost taxpayers far less going into the future and that should be the goal. And also, restoring your self respect, your pride and your ability to take care of yourself. Those are very important things to us as a political movement. We’ve taken strong stands which we know are not popular, for instance with the anti-smacking legislation. We voted for it, and that was against a huge tide of being told that our people would be the ones who were criminalised and that hasn’t happened. It’s only been in excessive situations that the families have had to pay the price and to be frank so they should. That’s what it’s for.

How do you feel about Peter Dunne’s bill to regulate party pills and herbal highs? What changes would you make?

If I’m being honest with you, I wouldn’t be having party pills at all. I don’t think they do anything to add value to a young person’s life. It’s really interesting. As a society we say to our young people that they need to get their highs in different ways. Look I can judge this by my grandsons because they tell me these stories. I mean, they love me dearly and they probably disclose things to me that they don’t disclose to their parents. But they tell me that these legal highs that you can get have a far greater impact on them than marijuana or other things. In fact one of them that is around is it Chronic? They were saying that that can have the same impact as P. You can get quite out of control with it and it’s very psychotic. And the other thing they tell me is that whenever the Government changes the rules the shop owners just change the labels on the drugs but they still actually sell the same product.

So you’d say just ban them?

I think they should be banned. I can’t see the point in encouraging our kids down that track. And everybody goes “Oh yeah, well they’ll go and do this and that”. Well they will if keep on saying it’s okay.

To what extent are Māori affected by alcohol?

It’s a wairua issue as well. It affects our spirit. When I say it’s a mind-altering substance that’s what I’m talking about that it actually affects our hinengaro or, you know, our mental wellbeing completely. And I think that’s why we get a lot of situations really where we endanger our lives because we can’t cope with things that are happening with us.

Does that harm to wairua explain why Māori are over-represented in substance abuse statistics or is that just a flow on?

I think it is a flow on. But I also think a lot of it is I think to do with trauma. If I think back to my uncles I believe that that excessive drinking was as a result of the trauma of war. A lot of our kids today get involved in these excessive behaviours maybe through trauma they’re suffering as young people. And of course we know that alcohol and tobacco were used as a means to trade for land, so you know it’s had a long, long history in this country.

The National Drug Policy Review is on the horizon. Where do you think it should go? Is there anything specific in there for Māori you’d want to see?

We certainly have asked for more addiction treatment centres. There used to be a really great one up in Hamilton and I was stunned when that treatment centre closed down.

Was it private or public?

It was a publicly funded treatment centre and engaged with families. Doug Sinclair his name was. The centre was named after him. And it was at Kirikiriroa. It was an amazing centre. The Police, everybody, spoke really highly of it. But part of the problem is, you know, we flow in and out of having residential services and because they cost so much the Government always looks to … basically have individuals going and getting counselling but still living at home. But there is a need for these centres. Sometimes, with our Whānau members, they do need to have a period where they’re able to contemplate just what they need to do to get themselves right, and that’s where those treatment centres have been extremely valuable. I don’t agree with great big places like the Hamner one, because that was particularly expensive, but I think smaller units where people can come into and receive really good treatment are good for them.

We also need good treatment programmes in prisons?

Definitely. I think they are beginning to do that. I know that during this term of Government that there has been a greater focus on treatment of alcohol and drug addiction. And we’ve dealt with smoking addiction [in prison] by banning it. And it was really funny because that was the big anti talk from other politicians that there was going to be riots … and that’s never happened.

Smoking has such a social stigma attached to it now. Can this be done with alcohol? It’s still got this image through advertising that it’s great.

Well I think people feel great when they drink, you know. They feel six feet tall. But the trouble is they don’t stop at the point they feel great. They usually drink until their behaviour’s really quite bad and that’s really the issue around people overindulging in alcohol. The problem with politicians is that they think that you’ve got to take responsibility for yourself and that you should know when you’ve had enough and so you should be able to control your drinking. For most people probably they can. But we also know that for many, many others … that they can’t. Sports clubs have got to take some responsibility as well. We need our sporting icons to be able to show the way to our young people.

How is the relationship going with Prime Minister John Key, Revenue Minister Peter Dunne and Health Minister Tony Ryall on these issues?

I think I would be a lot happier if we looked at the outcomes of these substances, the outcomes that are affecting families, rather than focussing on issues … for instance in the tobacco issues, you know, focussing on people saying that their intellectual property is going to be affected. So philosophically if you’re a party that believes in people’s intellectual property, how far do you take it? So intellectual property is about having your brand. What does it really mean? There are times when I’ve been disappointed I think it would be fair to say – that I don’t think we take a hard enough line on these issues. It’s really not until your own families are affected that you begin to look at these things differently.

Is that the difference between you and them do you think?

Oh definitely there’s a difference. We think very differently I have to be very honest. We have a very different point of view. We certainly understand where they’re coming from. We just don’t support it because we see the down side of it all.

An abridged version of this interview featured in the May 2013 Matters of Substance.

Matt Calman is a Porirua-based journalist.



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