A "poverty of benevolence within the corridors of power" was denounced today as crowds marched to raise awareness of child poverty in New Zealand.
Community leaders, politicians, teachers, and the actress Lucy Lawless attended The Child Poverty Action Group's hikoi in Auckland.
Social worker, Flaxmere councillor and 2012 New Zealand Community Hero Henare O'Keefe made the most well-received speech at Aotea Square, where the hikoi terminated.
He relayed his experiences of working with dirt-poor families experiencing degradation. "They come from homes that would make Jake the Muss look like a pussycat."
He appealed to central government politicians to acknowledge their humanity, behave with dignity, and prioritise the fight against poverty.
"There's a poverty of integrity," O'Keefe told the crowd. "I've no doubt the political rhetoric will flow in abundance today.
"It will flow in abundance. But my suggestion to those politicians, and indeed all of us, is we are servants. We are servants of the people, by the people, for the people," he said.
He said although hikoi turnout was heartening, it must be followed up with action.
"It is of no value unless you make this hikoi a living, breathing entity. Take it home with you."
To rapturous applause, he paid homage to two East Coast and Hawkes Bay towns synonymous with poverty. "On this day let heaven and earth record that Flaxmere, and indeed Ruatoria, was in the house."
He said a change in attitude from a political mindset focused on "key performance indicators" was needed.
"Love is the most powerful force on the face of this earth. How do you put that into a KPI?" he said. "There is a poverty of benevolence within the corridors of power."
Former Xena star Lucy Lawless said: "I'm really concerned that the only growth going on in New Zealand is the growth of this underclass of hungry children, who become lacklustre students, who grow up and become disenfranchised, angry grown-ups."
She said middle-class New Zealand had to realise child poverty was an unavoidable problem.
"I don't want my children growing up in a world where they have to run from ivory tower to ivory tower [to avoid] a sea of ugliness and degradation."
Papatoetoe South school principal Mark Barratt said he witnessed the effects of child poverty every day.
Barratt said in his experience with poor children and parents, a low minimum wage was the root of many problems. "If you haven't got enough money, it doesn't matter how well you budget."
He was critical of the government outsourcing responsibility for addressing the issue to private companies like Sanitarium and Fonterra. He believed all political parties needed to work together to address child poverty and related economic issues.
Like Lawless, Barratt said although child poverty could seem an abstract or distant issue to those who'd never experienced it, failure to address social inequality had results detrimental to entire societies.
A teacher with 30 years' experience, Barratt said child poverty was probably getting worse. It upset him to see cold, hungry children who were "not in any state to learn" because of entrenched poverty.
"There's a strong relationship between poverty and underachievement," he added.
Barratt said he knew good, responsible parents who were simply not on incomes sufficient to feed their families. "The kids become the victims in all of this," Barratt said.
Mana candidate John Minto said child poverty was "the defining issue of New Zealand" today.
Mana party leader and Te Tai Tokerau candidate Hone Harawira said his Feed The Kids Bill already outlined ways to tackle child poverty, but lacked support from National and the Act Party. "Our view is simple. You've got to identify what's important in life. There is nothing more important than our children. Nothing."
Harawira added: "We are wealthy beyond our dreams, in terms of resources, talent. It's hard to believe we've got 260,000 children living below the poverty line."
Harawira said he was feeling better after his car accident, which he was lucky to survive. "I must have had my tupuna sitting on my shoulder."
He maintained the crash hadn't knocked his campaign off course and again voiced frustration at how speedy police were to investigate his crash, and how slow they were to find the culprit or culprits who shot at his Kaitaia electorate office.
Antarctic adventurer and Mana supporter Busby Noble was also in attendance. Noble said he was there "to bring about change and to march up the street and show solidarity for those less fortunate than ourselves."
Last year's Auckland mayoral candidate Reverend Uesifili UNasa was among the organisers. Green party co-leader Metiria Turei, Labour Auckland Central candidate Jacinda Ardern, and several Unite and Service and Food Worker's Union members also arrived to support the Child Poverty Action Group.