If the Government really cared, it would keep Treasury’s cold eye off the things that make life richer.

Last year, two notable New Zealand economists warned of dire consequences if our regional economies were allowed to run down from "benign neglect".

The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research's Shamubeel Equaab, and Business and Economic Research Limited's Ganesh Nana said the country risked developing "zombie towns" if depopulation, declining infrastructure and general governmental disinterest in our non-urban centres kept accelerating.

This is a warning to everyone, but a particularly pertinent one for Maori. With Waitangi Day almost upon us, this could be an issue that a Government genuinely concerned and proactive about doing the right thing by tangata whenua might offer some words of wisdom on.

I am sure at Waitangi Day commemorations this year we will hear again about how our fantastic economy offers a way out of deprivation and despair; how Treaty of Waitangi settlements amount to positive action; and what a valuable partner the Maori Party has become to National. How well Maori are actually doing, in short, if only we all looked a bit harder.

Advertisement

Ministers will sigh in exasperation at the heckles and protests, because, "look, the Maori Party are at the table, we let them in the main whare. What more can the rabble rousers possibly want?"

Then the issue can be parked for another year, interrupted only briefly when people like Gareth Morgan brave the firestorm to suggest a different way in which to construct the relationship between Maori and the Crown. Not all his ideas may be palatable, but at least he is someone taking the time to put them forward.

But in my opinion, the Government doesn't have to tackle issues as grand as a constitution, revamping the Treaty claims process or even making te reo Maori compulsory in school, as worthy as those ideas might be, to make a difference in the lives of many Maori for the better.

It just needs to stop making small but significant cuts to services that people, specifically Maori people in the regions, benefit from. It needs to stop letting Treasury run its cold eye over, and immediately run a red pen through, everything that makes life richer and more filled with possibility.

A prime example of an imbecilic decision that will cost big down the road to save a few pennies now is cuts to the National Library service. To save not even $400,000, students and teachers up and down the country will no longer have access to specialist non-fiction books.

From Term Three, schools will be directed to use "curated online services" instead of accessing actual books. It's the way of the future for sure, but it's also a long way from the present for schools in remote areas, many of whom don't have proper internet access.

Ultimately this is going to hit rural and regional Maori students particularly hard. Between 6 and 7 per cent of Maori living in rural and independent urban areas (like Taupo, Tokoroa and Paihia) have no access to even basic telecommunications, according to the Health of Rural Maori study of 2012. Which rather begs the question: how are these students going to be able to continue their learning at home? The 20 per cent of rural Maori who live in overcrowded homes may well find it even harder.

In the next 10 years, the population of young rural Maori is set to increase. Already they are disadvantaged by the digital divide and a general lack of infrastructure; cuts like that to the National Library service compound the problem. All at a time when regional economies, often driven by Maori management of natural assets, need all the educated workers they can get.

Advertisement

But more than the money and the economic argument is the human argument. The need to hook children into reading actual books (rather than computer screens) to promote literacy and learning is well acknowledged, leading to a lifetime of pleasure.

Library services should never be cut, whatever form they take. As the great journalist Walter Cronkite once said: "Whatever the cost of our libraries, the cost is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation." The cost of ignorant governance, no doubt, is greater still.