Bryce Edwards

I am Political Analyst in Residence at Victoria University of Wellington, where I run the Democracy Project, and am a full-time researcher in the School of Government

The Te Pati Maori scandal is becoming much fiercer and more serious. Ever since the allegations emerged on Sunday, the party has uncharacteristically gone very silent. The MP in question, Takutai Tarsh Kemp, has gone to ground, and no other Te Pati Maori MPs are commenting.

Party President John Tamihere is also implicated in the scandal, as he’s also the Chief Executive of the Waipareira Trust (which provides social services for the government) and Chief Executive of the Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency (a company that runs the Manurewa Marae and distributes government funding). And yesterday, he released a fiery press release, again vehemently denying all the allegations and suggesting that his various organisations are the victim of racism and colonisation – see: ‘Naughty Natives Are At It Again’

Tamihere argues that rather than scrutinising his affairs, the public and media should be investigating other vested interests and issues of integrity – pointing to “rich landlands” (although admitting he’s one of these) and cigarette, tobacco, pharmaceutical and mining barons. Te Pati Maori’s opposition to these interests and the Government is bringing on all the attention according to Tamihere. He says that because Te Pati Maori is the only real opposition to the Government – he dismisses Labour and the Greens as being ineffective – they are being scapegoated.

Tamihere has also taken swipes at his rival in South Auckland, Brian Tamaki of Destiny Church, who he accuses of being related to the scandal. And Tamaki has responded with his own statement and further information about the allegations – see: More Whistleblowers from Manurewa Marae speak up

Labour MP Willie Jackson has defended Tamihere today, pouring scorn on the scandal, saying on the AM Show today that “this is driven by Brian Tamaki and his Destiny crew” – you can watch his animated defence on Newshub: Labour’s Willie Jackson calls for same scrutiny of National as Te Pati Maori in fiery interview

Jackson, who declared that his cousin is the chair of the Manurewa Marae, also said “If JT [John Tamihere] is guilty lock him up, throw the book at him but there’s a process to go through and I hope they go through that process.” He also suggested that Te Pati Maori were being held to a higher standard than parties like National, “have got donors lined up everywhere. These guys have got lobbyists who they are looking after.”

Blogger Martyn Bradbury has also backed Tamihere today, arguing that the scandal just reflects “a schism between Destiny Church and the Maori Party”, and the media’s scrutiny of the allegations amount to “naked garden variety bigotry where Maori are held to higher standards than non-Maori” – see: The double standard crucifixion of Maori Party

Calls for a Serious Fraud Office or Auditor General investigation

In his statement on the scandal, Brian Tamaki makes allegations about “corruption” and says a “scandal is on a scale never seen before in New Zealand’s history”. He calls for the Serious Fraud Office to investigate.

He’s not the only one wanting the Serious Fraud Office or some other significant body to investigate the allegations. Today, political commentator Matthew Hooton says that if the allegations against Tamihere and co turn out to be true, then “people really ought to go to jail”, and he calls for a bigger inquiry “that may include the police and perhaps the Serious Fraud Office with its additional powers to compel witnesses to attend interviews and answer questions” – see his Herald column today, Care needed as Te Pati Maori inquiries follow proper process (paywalled)

Partly related to this, Hooton also has written on his Patreon blog that New Zealanders need to stop believing the myth that the country doesn’t have a serious problem with political corruption, which he partly blames on Transparency International for its cheerleading – see: There is no corruption in New Zealand (paywalled)

Here’s his sarcastic attempt at explaining the logic for people insisting corruption is not a problem here:

1. Each year, Transparency International New Zealand reports that there is no corruption in New Zealand

2. Therefore, if something happens in New Zealand, it can’t be corrupt

3. Therefore, nothing corrupt happens in New Zealand

4. Therefore, there is no corruption in New Zealand

5. Therefore, Transparency International New Zealand can report each year that there is no corruption in New Zealand. So we can all relax.

Broadcaster Jack Tame is also now calling for a full public inquiry. Responding to Prime Minister Christopher Luxon’s statement yesterday that the Government wanted to let the existing government agency inquiries conclude before looking at a full inquiry, Tame says, “I think we need something broader, something with clear terms of reference, something as transparent as possible” – see: We need a broad, transparent inquiry into allegations against Te Pati Maori

Tame says the allegations are “really, really serious”, and “having one Government Department essentially investigating another department’s role risks perceptions when it comes around a lack of independence, at least in the eyes of some voters.”

I have also been calling for a larger and independent inquiry – first in my column on Sunday (Te Pati Maori’s integrity under scrutiny), and then in my interview on Wednesday with Heather Du Plessis-Allan – see: “More holistic” approach needed for the Te Pati Maori investigation

More revelations about the scandal

I covered the latest revelations on Wednesday in the column, The Investigations into Te Pati Maori and John Tamihere’s “fiefdom”. But more was revealed yesterday by employment lawyer Alan Halse, who is representing seven former staff who worked at the Manurewa Marae. Halse gave a nine-minute interview on Newstalk ZB, which is well worth listening to here: Te Pati Maori case has “more tentacles than an octopus” – employment advocate. But I’ve also transcribed some of his broadcast statements below.

Halse says that Police are currently investigating criminal allegations: “Police will look at the criminal, and some of what we are looking at are breaches of the Public Records Act 2005 and the Privacy Act 2020, and then there’s also the Treating, which is a breach of section 217 of the Electoral Act 1993.”

Of the seven former employees involved, six were employed by the Marae (via Whanau Ora) and one by the Ministry of Social Development. Halse explained the MSD worker’s case: “I see the villains here as the public service – MSD. I can tell you that our whistleblower who worked at MSD – she used the Protected Disclosure Act. She declared her concerns at every single stage. She would phone up her manager and say ‘This is happening at the Marae, and this is happening at the Marae’. She did that continuously, until a complaint went from the Marae to MSD, and she was removed from the site, with no explanation, no investigation, and has basically been vilified. And because she can’t trust then, she hasn’t returned to work. Our client and I have tried to meet with the Chief Executive of MSD. They won’t meet.”

Halse has some disturbing claims about MSD resources being used in electioneering: “My real concern is MSD funded activities, they basically funded the election campaign run by the former Chief Executive of the Marae. So Marae staff – there’s over 50 of them – basically campaigned for the Chief Executive the entire time she ran for election. Once she decided, they were working on her campaign. MSD funded that, and a lot of the money intended for people on benefits never got there because it was used in this way. So that’s the first thing. I see MSD as needing to be investigated.”

He’s also particularly critical of the inquiry that Statistics New Zealand launched this week: “already Stats New Zealand have done what the public service do – and I deal with case of public service, I probably have 20 cases at the moment, bullying cases – the first thing that they do is appoint a tame investigator and they set terms of reference and a scope that doesn’t allow the majority of evidence to be heard. Stats New Zealand haven’t contacted me or any of my clients. I could tell them the scope, I could tell them the extent of what’s going on. So at some point they are going to come out with something that will maybe look at a quarter of what has happened.”

The fact that separate inquiries and checks are being made in individual government agencies seems wholly inadequate. Halse calls for something more independent and over-arching: “Now, what we’re not happy with is these investigations taking place in silos. So there needs to be a Police investigation, so we’re really happy with how that’s working out… The other thing that needs to happen – there has to be an investigation into the role of the public service. So that includes MSD, Stats New Zealand, and the Electoral Commission. It’s our belief that investigation needs to be conducted by somebody that doesn’t owe allegiance to the public service.”

Halse is also particularly critical of Statistics NZ and the Electoral Commission, who he says failed to act when they received complaints early on. And he points out he has a good understanding of those agencies and their operations, having “twice been a District Census Supervisor, and five times a Returning Officer for general elections. So I understand how they are meant to be done.”

In terms of the Electoral Commission, Halse claims: “The first day that voting took place at Manurewa Marae, there were complaints that went to the Electoral Commission.”

This is backed up today by Newstalk ZB’s Philip Crump, who has tweeted a copy of an Official Information Act response from the Commission that says they received seven complaints of “treating” at the Manurewa Marae during the voting period and seventeen complaints relating to unlawful election advertising by Te Pati Maori. The Commission explains that they didn’t refer the treating allegations to the Police because they didn’t believe the evidence met the high threshold to show that there was “a corrupt intention on the part of the person treating to influence the votes of the persons treated”.

Hulse has also been interviewed by Newshub, telling them further details about the alleged misuse at the Marae of census data that Whanau Ora was being paid to collect: “We know upwards of 1400 census forms were photocopied and then that data was put, as I said, into the database that we believe was owned by Waipareira Trust” and “The second stage involved staff assisting people to transfer from the general to the Maori roll and they believe that information was obtained from the census form.” – see: Amelia Wade’s Mounting investigations into Te Pati Maori’s use of census data as Privacy Commissioner confirms probe

Newshub also has the text of the messages that were allegedly sent out to mobile phone numbers collected by the government: “Kia ora whanau. Support your whakapapa and support a better Aotearoa. Two Ticks Te Pati Maori” and “Keep your whanau fed with an extra EIGHT weeks of kai when we remove GST off food. Two ticks Te Pati Maori to make the difference.”

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