Working to change.
Kereru is up for doing anything.
The 20-year-old says as soon as she can get her baby into a kōhanga, she’ll go hard trying to find a job.
“I’d love to work in a coffee shop or in admin,” she says. She’s drug-free, she proudly adds.
What Kereru would love to do most of all is social work: “I want to help out the youth around here. I’ve been there and done that, so I can talk to them ... hard out, that would be awesome.”
Kereru lives in Kawerau, a small industrial town close in Bay of Plenty. The area has low wages, high unemployment and at last count, about one-in-five working age people are beneficiaries.
A few decades ago, Kawerau thrived as a mill town. Over time, the jobs dried up.
This is the kind of place the Government’s forthcoming work scheme could, and should, benefit.
Regional Development Minister Shane Jones has been touring the media the past few days, touting projects that involve forcing young unemployed people to work.
“I am not going to remain silent any longer while my young ne'er-do-well nephews in Kaikohe and other places fall victims to the gangs,” he told TVNZ's Q + A programme on Sunday.
“I don't want people on the unemployment benefit ... they'll have to receive a minimum wage, but there'll be no more sitting on the couch.”
He’s described the scheme as “work-for-the-dole”, but the Prime Minister has already poured cold water on the expression, saying young people would be paid at least the minimum wage.
Jones, who oversees a $1 billion regional development fund, says a proper announcement will be made before Christmas.
Kereru, who is on a benefit, says Kawerau just needs some sort of help: “Too many of the young ones don’t have something to do so they get up to no good.”
“At the moment things seem pretty terrible. Everyone’s getting pregnant, there are youth suicides happening, it’s not good.”
Mere, 19, has a different outlook on Kawerau.
“It’s actually quite nice. I really like it. A lot of people think it’s a real bad area but I’ve been living here most of my life and it’s the best place I could have been brought up. We all know each other,” she says.
“Everyone knows the gangs are here and I know people who are involved in all that, but there are no problems. I don’t get targeted because I keep to myself and don’t cause any trouble.”
She agrees there isn’t much going in the town: “There are hardly any jobs … we can apply to New World, but they’re quite picky.”
She knows many young people on some benefit. “Well, almost everyone, really,” she adds.
Mere also responds positively when told of Shane Jones’ plan.
“I think it’s a really good idea to get people out of their comfort zones,” she says.
“I know a lot of young people who are trying to look for jobs, even just seasonal work or picking berries, but there isn’t much going, and even that depends on the weather.”
Mere plans on studying next year and hopes to work at a kōhanga.
“If that doesn’t work out, I’ll look at doing tourism because I like that kind of thing. Travelling sounds really appealing.”
Warwick Godfery knows everyone in Kawerau.
The former gang member works for Manna Support Services and is a district councillor. He has helped guide the lives of countless rangatahi.
His son, Morgan, recently wrote a powerful essay about Kawerau that was published on The Spinoff.
Warwick is wary about Jones’ bombast until something concrete is revealed.
“Shane Jones is taking the opportunity to sound tough talking, but it is actually a win for unemployed,” he says.
“The challenge will be finding work that does not deprive someone of a job or help private sector employers of cheap labour.”
He wants the Government to provide social and health support for any rangatahi who are suddenly thrust into employment.
“Only a minute number of kids around here do not want to work,” he says.
“When one young fella starts work and his mates see him with money buying stuff, they start to think, ‘geez, this work thing ain’t a bad gig’.”
Warwick says poverty can be cyclical.
“Many of these youth have grown up never seeing their parents work, so they don’t always understand the bonuses that work can bring,” he says.
“A few paydays and they catch on pretty quick.”