Interview with Jacqueline Paul, co-author of Understanding Accountability for Māori

We talk to Jacqueline Paul about why this paper was written, what opportunities it presents for housing accountability, her hopes for how people engage with it and more. 

Image of Jacqueline Paul, co-author of Understanding Accountability for Māori

What opportunities does this research present for accountability in the housing space?  

It's interesting because there is little research that talks about accountability in the housing space. It's incredibly novel so it was exciting to have the time and space to write for this discussion and give space for others to think about it.  

Hopefully, it’s a positive contribution toward improving and strengthening accountability in the housing space. I also hope it will spark an understanding for communities that accountability is something we can leverage and think about what we don’t have access to, but should.  

It’s such a privilege to write about this structural and systemic stuff that our communities don’t have the time and luxury to do. This is just one part of the broader conversations we need to improve accountability. 


Tell us why this research was done and why it is important. 

This research is part of the Human Rights Commission's housing inquiry. It is aimed at contributing to the ongoing discussion of housing and the challenges people face in this area. In 2021 the housing inquiry released a report about strengthening accountability and participation. We then considered how the report approached it as a Western concept that doesn't necessarily align with Mātauranga Māori (Māori Indigenous knowledge), or Māori understandings of accountability.  

The housing inquiry team decided to commission a new paper exploring this idea of what accountability means for Māori. Dr Diane Menzies, who I’ve worked with previously in Māori housing research, and I worked on it together. This research was done at a desktop level, and sought to understand what is out there, what accountability means in different contexts within te ao Māori, and then how that understanding can inform the provision of the right to a decent home. 

We’re mindful that we are only two Māori scholars, and we don’t represent everybody, so it is our interpretation of what te ao Māori accountability means. We wanted to create a space to allow our people to think about these things and contribute to a conversation. Because I'm sure it's not the conversation you have at your dinner table with your family. But how can we bring some of these structural and systemic things to light.    


What does this research tell us?  

The research discusses the importance of Māori values and concepts when understanding this concept of accountability. We also talk about accountability in terms of our responsibilities – our responsibility to whānau, to iwi, to marae, to hapū, which I think is probably the difference between how it plays out in a more mainstream context.  

The research explores how the right to a decent home can be advanced specifically for Māori through an independent Māori authority. Whether it is a kāhui or another form needs more discussion. As Māori we need to think about this in the tino rangatiratanga context, and the way in which we move to be more interdependent amongst ourselves and retain our tino rangatiratanga for our whānau, iwi and hapū. This is again anchored in te Tiriti but also speaks to this idea of responsibilities to manaaki and look after our people. We shouldn’t have to always be reliant on other parties, so how can we build that capacity and capability, and be able to hold the Government to account for the gaps and breaches of te Tiriti.  

The research explores the idea of mutual responsibility and accountability between tino rangatiratanga and kāwanatanga. In this current political climate that might be tricky, and not everyone might be on board at this stage, but we need to think about it – it's about sharing both power and responsibility.  

The paper covers quite a lot of ground. We need more feedback and discussion within our communities to shape what this looks like. I think that it is not our responsibility as scholars, but as a community and a collective to have this discussion together.  


How would you like people to engage with this research?   

Some of the things I would love people to think about are, what does the right to a decent home mean for you and your whānau? Then we should ask what does accountability mean to you? and then, following that, a bigger and broader question: if you could redesign the system, what would it look like?  

If we can allow our communities to think big, and visually present ideas they can think about, then that is probably how I would like them to engage. Just to think about it, maybe draw some pictures to flesh out these ideas, and having conversations with friends and whānau at the dinner table! That might take a while, but we can have big dreams.


How does this paper reflect the provisions of te Tiriti o Waitangi? 

We draw a lot from Matike Mai to show how the system could potentially be set up, or rearranged, in a way in which is more te Tiriti compliant and with accountability. The framing is there. In this paper we have discussions across topics mainly of the first three articles of te Tirti o Waitangi. We talk about the tino rangatiratanga sphere and the need to think about mechanisms for accountability, whether it is an independent Māori authority or a kāhui appointed by the sector and various Māori communities.  That positionality is important to making sure the work is reflective and underpinned by te Tiriti o Waitangi.  

The report discusses recognizing the role of the state, the Māori housing sector, and various communities in delivering and exercising our determination that is by for and with Māori communities. This should be reflected through the accountability mechanism.  

We also point out some of the opportunities for independent audits of te Tiriti o Waitangi, done outside the Government, to show how the Government is performing. There are some opportunities there to strengthen policy and design more broadly – beyond accountability. We talk about Ōritetanga and thinking about equity and equality and the need to address those, which strongly aligns with the right to a decent home and ensuring that communities – particularly Māori communities, can address these ethnic disparities that have been generational.  

We allude to these components of te Tiriti throughout the report. The one we talk about less but recognise as a major gap is around wairuatanga. And I think that is quite common more broadly across te Tiriti studies and jurisprudence, but I think it is important in understanding the spiritual essence which reaffirms the importance of the need to have a home, and the connection for whānau. I think that’s one of the bigger gaps here that would be such a great opportunity for it to be brought back to our conversations around te Tiriti and the right to a decent home. 


What difference can stronger and culturally appropriate/adequate accountability make for tangata whenua experiences of housing?  

This idea of cultural adequacy of housing is hard to define and has not been well measured by anyone yet. But we can talk about culturally appropriate or responsive housing that meets the needs of whānau. Māori tend to have bigger and growing whānau, so might need bigger homes or have the flexibility to retrofit your home and expand to cater to your growing whānau. Or ensuring that basic tapū or noa principles are respected, or if you have elders in your home that they have access to bedrooms on the bottom floor. This is what it can mean when talking about culturally appropriate housing for whānau Māori.  

It is challenging to think about what that means for accountability, given the high proportion of Māori living in homelessness and public housing which tends to provide smaller sized homes. So, holding people to account can be challenging – where do you go? Who do you talk to? How do you advocate for your cultural needs to be considered?  

If we can have an independent body of experts who are familiar with these things, they can be part of  creating a housing system which meets cultural adequacy. Otherwise, it is left to whānau to lobby for themselves, which can be much trickier, tiring and involve unnecessary emotional labour. That’s the difference culturally appropriate accountability can have for whānau and improving their housing experiences.  


What would you like the public to know or take away from this research?   

If you asked me when I first finished the report, I hoped people would understand that this is a discussion paper posing ideas, to spark conversations which can then shape models that we collectively build to strengthen accountability.  

Now, I want people to think about constitutional transformation in this context and how do we get there, what little steps we can take to advance that. Because the current system does not work, if we can start taking steps to improve them and shape them then I think together we can get there. But again, we are only two Māori scholars contributing to the conversation and it cannot work like that, we need more people to talk about these things. 


What would you like the Kāwangatanga sphere to know or take away from this research?   

Someone once said to me, “If we were to talk about te Tiriti in context of the housing system then essentially we would say te Tiriti is breached every single day” so that’s what I would say to the kāwanatanga sphere. But also, how are we going to work together to address these inequities for both Māori and non-Māori? To create a future where our communities can prosper, thrive, and live in abundance. So that is where I would start. Let’s recognise the issue, and then let’s work together. 


What was one of your favourite things that you learnt from doing this research? 

One thing is the importance of things we already know. It really reaffirmed for me that the values we have in te ao Māori, the principles that underpin how we work and live with each other, can be applied to inform systems and structures, and provide solutions. Collaborating with Di on this was also an awesome experience. 


What is something you would like the tino rangatiratanga sphere to take away from this paper? 

For Māori to think about the tino rangatiratanga sphere, what tino rangatiratanga means and how we are living that, how we are honouring that kaupapa to ourselves. How are our organisations being accountable to our communities, how as individuals are we being accountable and responsible for our own whānau, in our everyday lives. It isn’t just applicable to the systems and structures, how we do that in our everyday life - that is a seed I want to sow.