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Analysis by Dr Bryce Edwards.

Political Roundup: Te Pāti Māori and vested interests

Political scientist, Dr Bryce Edwards.

Controversial Māori politician and president of Te Pāti Māori, John Tamihere, is in hot water over large financial donations relating to his 2019 Auckland Mayoral campaign and Te Pāti Māori’s 2020 election campaign. For him and his supporters, the allegations are “inherently racist”. For others, they illustrate that there are a lot of vested interests and wealth in te ao Māori, and this influence has the potential to have a strong impact on government decisions.

Is Te Pāti Māori a vehicle for vested interests?

Contrary to the myth that Te Pāti Māori only pursue the interests of working class or poor Māori, the party has historically often represented the interests of Māori middle class and business. In fact, this was why MP Hone Harawira split so spectacularly from the party in 2011 to set up his more working class orientated Mana Party. He complained that Te Pāti Māori had become dominated by the elite forces of te ao Māori. The two parties have now reunited, but the underlying tension that caused the split remains.

Similarly, there is a myth that, unlike other political parties, Te Pāti Māori doesn’t have access to wealthy backers. But records show that for many years the party, and its current president John Tamihere, have received large donations from wealthy individuals and organisations to use for campaigning.

Some of these large donations have been in the spotlight recently, and questions raised about their legitimacy. The latest is an investigation by Herald journalist Matt Nippert into donations given to Te Pāti Māori and Tamihere by two charitable organisations that Tamihere himself controls.

The Herald’s allegations about Tamihere’s charities

Matt Nippert’s story, published on the front page of the Herald this week, highlighted that charitable organisations are given tax-free status which saves them huge amounts of money, but this privilege is given on the basis that they do not side with political parties or give donations to election campaigns. In the case of Tamihere’s organisations, this rule appears to have been broken.

Here’s the opening paragraph from Nippert’s report: “Charities connected to Te Pāti Māori president John Tamihere are under investigation after financial reports showed nearly $500,000 in charitable funds had been used to bankroll his mayoral and general election campaigns.”

Tamihere was advanced $82,695 from the National Urban Māori Authority (NUMA) and $385,307 from Te Whānau o Waipareira Trust Group. Tamihere is the chief executive of both organisations, which endorsed his campaigns for office in 2019 and 2020.

Nippert’s article quotes Natasha Weight, the general manager of Charities Services, the agency that regulates tax-free charities, saying the rules are very clear: “a charity must not support or oppose a political party or candidate. This includes making a donation to a political party or a candidate’s election campaign, endorsing a party or candidate, or allowing a party or candidate to use a charity’s resources”.

As political finance researcher Max Rashbrooke wrote this week, “this looks terrible for Tamihere and the Trust. How can a registered charity be lending (and in effect donating, since it’s interest-free) their money to a political candidate? That’s not a ‘charitable’ purpose!”

The University of Auckland’s Peter Davis, a long-time Labour Party activist, also commented this week on Tamihere and Te Whānau o Waipareira: “He has always run the trust as a bit of a personal fiefdom and this has not been transparent until now. It was possible to forgive the early likely and anecdotal transgressions because the Trust was doing necessary work, but this crosses a line that no longer earns such sympathy.”

According to Nippert, Charities Services has issued a formal warning to Te Whānau o Waipareira, and is now engaged in negotiations over how to proceed with the alleged breach of the law. Te Whānau o Waipareira could be de-registered and Nippert says it could lose its lucrative tax-free status, which he calculates could cost it $16m.

Tamihere’s charities – which are clearly partisan – also contract to the Government to provide Whānau Ora services. When the donations first came to light last year, political commentator Shane Te Pou called for the minister of Whānau Ora to bring in the Auditor-General to investigate.

Nippert has also raised a discrepancy in the amounts that have been provided to Tamihere and Te Pāti Māori: “Tamihere declined to explain the difference between the sum recorded in accounts as being advanced by the charities for his political campaigns ($468,002), and the figure recorded as donations from them and him for the mayoral and general elections ($387,604).”

Racism allegations and defence

Tamihere and Te Whānau O Waipareira have reacted strongly to the Herald news story, accusing the newspaper of racism. Tamihere called it an example of the media demonising Māori, labelling it “a hit on the Māori”.

Talking about Nippert’s story, Tamihere says “This is a pogrom”, and likens the experience to that of the Jews facing persecution. And he says that Te Pāti Māori will no longer work with or write for the Herald, which raises important issues for media freedom and holding politicians to account.

In announcing the boycott, Tamihere states: “I will never write another word to try and educate ignorant pakeha about Māori matters for the New Zealand Herald. Nor will any Māori Party member ever be either interviewed or write anything for the New Zealand Herald or ZB radio – let’s leave it for what it is – ‘white man’s radio’, ‘racist radio’, and a racist rag… We will just go on our own platforms. We will talk on iwi radio, because we no longer need white men to define us”.

Tamihere also appealed to pakeha to intervene to curtail the questions being asked, saying Nippert’s story was fake news and a smear: “good Pākehā friends need to know what some of their kinfolk get up to and they just have to stop it and stop them. It’s not for Māori to correct things all the time and defend themselves all the time from malicious framing of us always in a negative way.”

The charity is also now crowdsourcing material from supporters in an attempt to prove that the journalist is racially motivated, using the social media hashtag #dobinaracistlikeMattNippert

The ethnicity element is centrally important to this issue, and is likely to have continued reverberations. For instance, in Parliament it caused one of the biggest political scuffles of the week, with Whanau Ora minister Kelvin Davis reacting to questions about the scandal by accusing Act MP Karen Chhour of having a “vanilla lens” and needing to get acquainted with the Māori world.

Davis’ comments were made in response to the following question in Parliament: “So does the Minister agree with John Tamihere when he says his charity and Oranga Tamariki are in a partnership and not a contract, and if Te Whānau o Waipareira is struck off the Charities Register, will the Minister guarantee that this partnership will end?”

Past issues with the Te Pāti Māori and vested interests

Matt Nippert’s revelations of the donations aren’t entirely new. His story is important because they highlight the investigations of Charities Services into the partisan activities of the two trusts.

Last year the Electoral Commission announced it was concerned about a breach of electoral law by Te Pāti Māori because they failed to declare the donations from the two charities during the election – as well as another $120,000 donation from the mysterious Aotearoa Te Kahu Limited Partnership.

The Electoral Commission made a complaint to the Police, and then the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigated. This week we learned that the SFO have closed their investigation and decided not to prosecute. The agency won’t provide further details of what they learned about the breach and why they’ve made their decision, simply stating: “The SFO has closed this matter and will not be taking any further steps”.

What is unknown is whether knowledge of the donations would have changed voters’ opinions of the party at the 2020 election. Te Pāti Māori kept the details secret, and then got back into Parliament when Rawiri Waititi captured the Waiariki electorate, beating Labour incumbent Tāmati Coffey by 836 votes.

Vested interests operate amongst all ethnicities

Te Pāti Māori and John Tamihere have been entirely dismissive of any questions about their financial backers and whether they are following the rules meant to make politics more transparent. This suggests they don’t take issues of corruption and vested interests seriously.

Although the party has only two MPs, there is a strong chance that Te Pāti Māori will hold the balance of power at the next election. Some in the Labour Party clearly see Te Pāti Māori as the Ardern Government’s lifeline to power at the next election should the National Party and Act win more votes than Labour and the Greens combined. Tamihere and his colleagues could have huge leverage over the next government.

When political figures are powerful they need to be held to account, regardless of race. Allegations of racism are extremely powerful, precisely because of the history of appalling discrimination towards Māori in this country. But such allegations should not be used to shield those in power from scrutiny. Te Pāti Māori is a product of our democratic political system and, as such, has to be held to account in the same way as other political parties, especially on an issue so important and fundamental as the funding of political campaigns.  Double standards can’t be accepted by anyone wanting clean and fair politics – especially those of us worried about vested interests looking for ways to leverage their political donations.

Other items of interest and importance today

GOVERNMENT AND PARLIAMENT
Matthew Hooton (Herald): UK lessons for National and Labour (paywalled)
Kate MacNamara (Herald): Te Puni Kōkiri now reviewing contract to Nanaia Mahuta’s husband’s firm (paywalled)
Jo Moir (Newsroom): Greens’ co-leader never been surer of party’s chances
Richard Harman: “Taliban” National MP to face selection challenge (paywalled)
Jonathan Mitchell (NBR): Chief Ombudsman ‘exercises moral authority’ to clean up OIAs (paywalled)
No Right Turn: More Labour secrecy
Aaron Dahmen (Herald): Govt’s $21k power bill on evacuated Ministry of Education building
Brent Edwards (NBR): Identity politics, housing, the polls, Winston’s comeback? (paywalled)

JACINDA ARDERN UN SPEECH ON REGULATING THE INTERNET
Tom Norton (Newsweek): Fact Check: Did New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern Call To Censor Free Speech?
Brendan O’Neill (Spiked-online): Jacinda Ardern and the woke war on free speech
Alexander Hall (Fox News): New Zealand prime minister condemned for calling to regulate free speech as a ‘weapon of war’ at UN
David Farrar: Greenwald not a fan
Jacinda Ardern: Full speech: Jacinda Ardern addresses UN General Assembly

KELVIN DAVIS APOLOGISES TO KAREN CHHOUR
Chris Trotter (Daily Blog): Reality bites
Karen Chhour (Herald): Why I’m calling time on a ‘racist’ Oranga Tamariki
Jamie Ensor (Newshub): Kelvin Davis won’t be suspended from Labour after comment on ACT’s Karen Chhour, Jacinda Ardern says deputy ‘too personal’
Lloyd Burr (Today FM): Political double standards are something that makes my eyes roll
Claire Trevett (Herald): PM Jacinda Ardern says Kelvin Davis’ comments on Act’s Karen Chhour were ‘too personal’
Jenna Lynch (Newshub): Kelvin Davis says he ‘grew up with experience’ of having his Māori whakapapa questioned

LOW VOTER TURNOUT IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS
Peter Dunne (Newsroom): How to change public apathy towards local government
Lucy Xia (RNZ): Local elections: Thousands could be missing out on voting after confusion on residents’ eligibility
RNZ: Local body elections: Undelivered voting papers will deter some – official
Stephen Forbes (Local Democracy Reporting): Auckland’s leading mayoral candidates support online voting option to arrest poor turnout
Adam Hollingworth (Newshub): Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta issues ‘please explain’ after voting papers for local election fail to turn up
Cherie Sivignon (Stuff): Nelson-Tasman local body voting down to date on previous years
Glenn McLean (Stuff): Concerning voter turnout for New Plymouth District as election deadline looms

LOCAL GOVERNMENT, THREE WATERS, AND ELECTIONS
Toby Manhire (Spinoff): Campaign word count: What are the candidates banging on about?
Thomas Cranmer: Three Waters and co-governance
Moana Ellis (Stuff): Most mayoral candidates oppose plan for Three Waters
Bernard Orsman (Herald): Government piles new costs on Auckland Council with its Three Waters and housing reforms (paywalled)
Jessica Roden (1News): Big changes ahead as Nelson votes for new mayor and council
David Williams (Newsroom): Mauger denies lobbying mayor over son’s studio plans

ECONOMY, EMPLOYMENT AND INEQUALITY
Rachel Smalley (Today FM): Labour needs to take a bit of a communications chill pill
Ireland Hendry-Tennent (Newshub): Government confirms 25 cents per litre fuel tax to be reintroduced early next year
Susan Edmunds (Stuff): ‘A global recession is ever more likely’: What does the UK meltdown mean for us?
Jayden Holmes (Today FM): Green Party is proposing changes to Working for Families with hope of decreasing child poverty

CLIMATE AND TRANSPORT
Marc Daalder (Newsroom): Cabinet discussed free public transport to help households manage rising costs
Newshub: Greenpeace activists dressed in cow suits protest at Parliament to highlight ‘Government inaction on climate’
Christina Huang (1News): ‘Cows’ painted green on Parliament lawn in climate protest
Newstalk: Climate researcher: Methane emission effects have been overstated by up to four times
Oliver Lewis (BusinessDesk): Congestion charging not a no-go, just stuck in the slow lane (paywalled)
Adrian Macey and Dave Frame (BusinessDesk): Errors and omissions in NZ climate change policy (paywalled)
Pattrick Smellie (BusinessDesk): ‘Once over lightly’ approach to climate policy alternatives (paywalled)
RNZ: ACC adopting low-carbon benchmarks in nearly all listed equities
Greg Hurrell (BusinessDesk): Divestment will not save the planet (paywalled)

MEDIA
Tova O’Brien (Today FM): Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson literally has one job right now – the TVNZ/RNZ mega media
Katie Scotcher (RNZ): Broadcasting minister clears up comments on no trust in NZ television and radio
Herald: Broadcasting minister Willie Jackson backtracks on media comments
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Private sector media bodies sink teeth into TVNZ/RNZ merger
Daniel Dunkley (BusinessDesk): Media execs voice unease over new public media entity (paywalled)
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Stuff follow Spin-off in screaming about their loss of NZ on Air money
Karl du Fresne: When political journalism morphs into crude emotional blackmail

JUSTICE
Chris Trotter: Worse crimes
Amelia Wade (Newshub): No coincidence there’s ram raid spike after Auckland’s long Covid-19 lockdown, Oranga Tamariki says
Chelsea Daniels (Herald): Oranga Tamariki raises concerns over youth gangs
Glenn McConnell (Stuff): Youth justice facilities are full amid ram raid spike, Parliament told
Tess McClure (Guardian): New Zealand man jailed for seven years under discredited ‘three strikes’ law awarded $450,000
Chelsea Daniels (Newstalk): More kids showing up to OT youth residences with patches, full-face tattoos

HEALTH
Herald: Health Promotion Agency Hepatitis C middle-finger campaign ordered off air after complaints
RNZ: Nurses refusing extra shifts may ‘put pressure on an already stretched system’
Rachel Thomas (Stuff): Five years and $116m: the wait is over for Wellington’s new children’s hospital
ODT: Editorial Radiology shemozzle
Ruth Hill (RNZ): NZ puberty blocker medication use rises, expert opinion mixed
Rachel Smalley (NBR): EpiPen, Spinraza funding leaves bitter-sweet heaviness (paywalled)
David Farrar: The immunisation disaster

HOUSING
Miriam Bell (Stuff): Big landlords cashed in on Covid era housing market boom
Nick Stride (Spinoff): Rocketing rents and vanishing homes: When will we stop gaslighting tenants?
Charlotte Muru-Lanning (Spinoff): The absence of rights for renters with pets is just cruel

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Thomas Manch (Stuff): After five months, 32 refugees denied by Australia set to relocate to New Zealand
Thomas Manch (Stuff): United States to recognise NZ-realm countries Cook Islands and Niue as ‘sovereign states’

OTHER
Kurt Bayer (Herald): Pike River shock: Police announce more drilling as search for clues continues
Hanna McCallum (Stuff): Young people not perceived as ‘white’ face more discrimination in Aotearoa
Raphael Franks (Herald): Third of children to identify as Maori in 2040 – Stats NZ
Josie Pagani (Stuff): Western feminists must find a voice to support Iranian women now
Phil Pennington (RNZ): Police admit misuse of number plate-reading technology as surveillance powers increase
Tatjana Buklijas (Newsroom): Citizen assemblies offer hope for democracy and climate change challenges
Alexia Russell (RNZ): Why Chinese Language Week is causing angst
Herald: New Zealanders are voting, playing sports and volunteering more: General Social Survey
Mike Hosking (Newstalk): The education sector issues go back decades

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