OPOTIKI turned out in force for a special meeting yesterday to explain the newly released Wellbeing Budget.
Labour MPs Kiri Allan and Tamati Coffey were in town to explain what last Thursday’s budget means to the community and answer any questions.
Beginning at noon, and hosted by the Whakatohea Maori Trust Board, the presentation lasted until mid-afternoon with substantial community engagement on various topics.
Similar presentations were held in Kawerau and Whakatane yesterday, with another presentation in Gisborne today.
“There are a lot of really good things in the budget for Opotiki,” Ms Allan said.
“This kind of work is the reason a lot of us got into politics; to change the lives of people who have been neglected for too long.”
Mr Coffey explained that the budget was moving to measure the success of New Zealand not by money, but by the health and wellbeing of its residents.
“It’s about who we are as people, as communities,” Ms Allan said.
With mental health receiving a big financial boost, she described the current situation as “absolutely heartbreaking”.
A total of $1.9 billion has been allocated to this issue, with some of that funding going to mental wellbeing and addiction centres across the country.
For Opotiki addicts, the only rehabilitation options available now are in Rotorua, Auckland and Hawkes Bay.
Ms Allan clarified that the locations of new rehabilitation and assistance centres would be based on need, and not population.
Improving child welfare was also a topic of discussion, with a large injection of funds going towards preventing domestic violence.
Mr Coffey said Rotorua police received 60 callouts a week related to domestic violence.
A Whakatohea staff member revealed the organisation dealt with at least 20 cases per week in Opotiki.
The budget has also provided lower decile schools with additional funds, stopping their need to ask parents for donations.
NCEA fees are also on the way out, providing for a truly free education service in New Zealand, according to Mr Coffey.
“Education should be free, not about how much you have in your pocket but how hard you study,” he said.
Further boosts were revealed to be coming for Maori and Pasifika aspirations, including injections to preserve the languages and increase employment.
“Our Pasifika whanau want to keep their culture alive as well,” he said.
Also included in the budget is $300 million for start-up businesses and $200 million for apprenticeships and trade training.
Large injections of funding will be made into scientific research to make the horticulture and agriculture industries more environmentally friendly in keeping with plans for a zero-carbon New Zealand.
These issues and others were discussed, with members of the public generally satisfied with what was being done.
Many questions were asked regarding aspects of the budget, which Mr Coffey and Ms Allan were able to answer and explain.
One area which received a lot of interest was elder care for those who were healthy, and how they could stay healthy, as opposed to caring for them once they were sick.
Mr Coffey said, in closing, that these meetings provided an opportunity for MPs to gather responses and hear concerns from communities. These could then be reported to central government.