The prize for the most pointless argument of the week surely goes to those who demanded general access to a Maori welfare proposition called Whanau Ora.

Nobody outside the Government knows very much about the proposal yet. Advanced by the Maori Party, it is the subject of a taskforce report presented to ministers last week and still under wraps.

Tariana Turia has called it "Maori solutions to Maori problems".

She also said that if non-Maori wanted Whanau Ora they could develop their own version. That comment caused questions to be asked of the Prime Minister, who said the programme, whatever it may be, would be available to all New Zealanders in need.

Mrs Turia agreed there was no reason the plan she had in mind could not be used by non-Maori too.

Doubtless it could be, if non-Maori can show a need for the state to strengthen their extended family.

That is what seems to be envisaged for Maori. Mrs Turia, Minister for the Community Sector, set up the taskforce to "develop a new method of Government interaction with Maori service providers to meet the social service needs of whanau".

Its first task would be to take stock of all public services that have a bearing on the cohesion of whanau and then suggest ways that they could provide more comprehensive and integrated services to whanau.

Receiving its report last week, Mrs Turia said, "We know what we want: we want whanau to live comfortably today and in the years ahead, to be strengthened by a heritage based around their ancestral connections, their distinctive histories, marae and their customary resources, as well as by access to the institutions and opportunities of both home and abroad."

It remains to be seen how state services such as health, education, employment assistance and income support could strengthen kinship communities. But it seems fairly clear this is not a project with much application to Pakeha, though it might be useful also to Pacific Island groups in New Zealand, as Mrs Turia observed before the fuss over its wider application this week.

Extended family connections are more important to some cultures than others. The majority in this country, no matter how much they value their relatives, do not need or want the state to strengthen their kinship bonds by setting up recognised family authorities and encouraging activities and joint family enterprises. Nor do immigrant minorities need the state to strengthen their family ties.

But many Maori have long been convinced the social problems of their people have much to do with the loss of whanau identity and support after they migrated to cities last century.

It is hard to see how those family connections can be revived or imitated in the cities now, but if the taskforce led by Professor Mason Durie has practical suggestions they should be welcomed.

If it is suggested that benefit payments for individuals could be channelled through whanau agencies, the Government will need to proceed with care. It is doubtful that many Maori, no matter how close their connection, would surrender individual entitlements.

Those who most need whanau supervision might be the last to permit it.

These are the interesting and important questions facing Whanau Ora; the right of non-Maori to benefit from the programme is a non-issue. If traditional Maori social connections can repair someof our social statistics, particularly for child abuseand domestic violence, the whole country would share the benefit.