Revenge of the Miffed: why Māori leaders are conspiring to end Native Affairs

About sixteen years ago in Wellington my wife and I were breakfasting with my parents and their friends. They had come to visit us and shouted us breakfast at their hotel. We had an inadvisable breakfast conversation about politics, and my Dad laughingly declared that when we grew up, we’d vote National. We were in our early twenties and Greens voters, so that conversation went about as well as you imagine it did.

Knocking on 40, I’m still a Greens, and occasionally Mana, voter and you’d probably need to hold my family hostage before I’d vote for this iteration of National. Yet I recognise the kernel of truth in my Dad’s statement: as you get older, the pull of conservatism becomes exponentially stronger. There’s probably studies about the tendency but my layperson’s view is that having children, a marriage, a house and supporting kaupapa that rely on things being essentially the same for a long time means that I am drawn to stability and peace. Whereas I was once a proud supporter of the revolution, I suspect I am now a guilty reformer.

The journey from firebrand to conservative is well-trodden.You can probably think of any number of examples, but the controversy over Mihingarangi Forbes leaving Native Affairs has given me pause to think of the main players in Whānau Ora, Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust and the Māori Education Trust. The editorial interference of management into Native Affairs is linked to the power wielded by these Māori organisations and programmes and the level of discomfort they are feeling:

  • Dame Iritana Tāwhiwhirangi’s rage at Māori children’s educational and social failure in colonising Pākehā education institutions was a driving force for the development of an independent, kaupapa Māori education system in kōhanga reo. Now she’s a trustee buried in financial and governance scandal in Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust and, until recently, the Māori Education Trust.
  • Tina Olsen-Ratana was part of the founding of Kōkiri Marae in Seaview, Petone. Kōkiri Marae is an important urban marae that has seen generations of whānau and their children learn te reo Māori, learn about their culture and roots; it is one the best demonstrations of what is possible in an urban setting. Yet Tina is central to the scandal surrounding the kōhanga reo trustees and a vocal critic of Māori media.
  • Sir Pita Sharples was instrumental in building Hoani Waititi and founding the first kura kaupapa Māori. He has been a tireless advocate for kapa haka and development of what is now Te Matatini. He was front and centre at the Takutai Moana protests and the foundation of the Māori Party. Yet he sat the at table with John Key for many years maintaing it was better to be at the table than to exit on your principles and he also spoke out against holding Māori leadership publicly to account in kōhanga reo.
  • Dame Tariana Turia, when I started working in health, was a strong local advocate for whānau and for proper funding of Māori health providers. She was part of transforming the Māori health scene through her advocacy and vision. As a Labour politician, she left the party because of the Takutai Moana scandal, and with Pita developed the Māori Party. Yet she has been very uncomfortable about any criticism of Whānau Ora.
  • Te Ururoa Flavell, my MP and our current Minister of Māori Development, is an inspiring educator who spent many years as a teacher and school management and is a tireless advocate for te reo Māori. In addition, he is a responsive and interested local MP, no mean feat with ministerial responsibilities. Yet I am sad to say he seems to be a central figure in the interference by Paora Maxwell in Native Affairs because of potential criticism of Whānau Ora.

These people and the others on the above boards and trusts are role models in our Māori communities because they were change-makers for Māori communities. Yet somehow they got hooked into an unaccountable leadership class as they ascended a career ladder and are now complicit in defending power more often than defending what is right. Let me be clear, I do not believe they have all put active pressure of Māori Television and Māori journalists; but they have all been part of Māori organisations, projects or programmes who have struck out at the messenger to avoid accountability.

The latest attack has again been on Native Affairs and its staff. In late May, Native Affairs had organised a debate with Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum about Whānau Ora (my guess is that this was to be run on 1 June, because that evening was a re-run of previous stories). This debate was to include, amongst others, Winston Peters who has been consistently critical of Whānau Ora and has gleefully questioned the Māori Party about it in Parliament on a number of occasions.

Te Ururoa met with Māori Television’s CEO Paora Maxwell prior to the debate. I have conflicting reports of what was happening around this time: it was reported to me that Te Ururoa’s press secretary was putting pressure on Native Affairs to drop Winston Peters from the line up, though she herself has vigorously denied this. I have no reason to doubt either person, so all I can conclude is that Native Affairs staff were feeling under pressure and felt that the Minister’s office had been a part of that.

After the meeting, the Whānau Ora debate was cancelled. Maramena Roderick has refuted that the debate was pulled because of this meeting, claiming it was more to do with ratings and timings around the Queen’s Birthday weekend. I understand that Te Ururoa and Paora have stated that news and current affairs, and the Whānau Ora panel in particular, were not discussed at this hui. I have also asked Te Ururoa directly on Twitter about all this but have yet to have a reply. I am not in any way suggesting the lack of reply is an admission of guilt (nor do I expect a reply); but I am suggesting that all of the above add up to something a little unpalatable. For at the same time that this was unfolding, another important investigative story at Native Affairs was being delayed; and delayed; and delayed.

Native Affairs has been in the crosshairs since it investigated fraudulent practices in the Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust and its offshoot Te Ōhanga Pātaka in 2013. The combined might of the Māori elite was brought to bear on Māori Television and Native Affairs: in came Paora Maxwell to neuter the beast; and out went Julian Wilcox for daring to challenge the establishment. But Native Affairs have continued to worry away at this bone, despite the implied threats, the appeasing words and offered distractions. Native Affairs have another Te Kōhanga Reo story, a continuation of their investigation; interviewing none other than Toni Waho, an ex-Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust trustee.

It seems that we are going to see this story next Monday 15 June on Native Affairs. But this story has been ready to go considerably longer than this week. The official word is that the legalities of the story have taken time to check; but apparently legal cleared this story before the last episode of Native Affairs and probably could have done it earlier if the Native Affairs team weren’t obviously having to bat against their own management. Editorial interference is clearly central to Mihingarangi Forbes leaving. She’s being followed by Semiramis Holland, another outstanding reporter who is now Whakatane’s gain and our loss.

It’s beginning to feel like some significant Māori leaders are not keen on being accountable. In addition to the Te Kōhanga Reo and the Whānau Ora stories, Native Affairs has also recently put the acid on the Māori Education Trust for their fundamental mismanagement of Ouruwhero and Mapuna Atea and Te Tumu Paeroa/Māori Trustee for their blinkered approach to buying the land blocks. Once again the response seems to be the same: deny, attack and undermine.

We cannot run Māori organisations well by placing mana and whanaungatanga above tika and pono. Accountability has to be part of our tikanga; not because it’s Crown funds, but because the results for our whānau are more important than people who have done great things in the past retaining their positions of privilege. A lot of boards, not just the three highlighted here, clearly need to be stripped of board members who are too comfortable and unquestioning. The current approach of stripping out Native Affairs so they stop asking pesky questions serves no-one except a small Māori elite.

I want kōhanga reo to prosper and grow.

I want scholarships for Māori students to go into tertiary education.

I want whānau to be in charge of their health outcomes.

I’m not willing to support poor governance, largesse, fraud or deception as the price for these outcomes.


[Header image is courtesy of iQoncept]

11 thoughts on “Revenge of the Miffed: why Māori leaders are conspiring to end Native Affairs

  1. Kia Ora Te rangatira well articulated sad to see this happening to us. Can’t help but think about the
    Huge contribution these people make but like to think it’s the systems fault. Whatever the reasons if there is wrong doing please explain and take responsibility. Hard lesson for
    Children to learn harder when you are past your prime. Always enjoy your blog very thought provoking and spot on

    1. Kia ora Mere, I’m very aware of the gigantic contribution of all of these leaders and tried to provide some acknowledgement of that in the blog. However, I believe that continued accountability goes hand in hand with the mana they have deservedly earned. There is certainly a systems aspect; but people prop up the systems.

  2. Tena Koutou/Koe,
    It is them who make it hard for us who work and help our whanau and mokopuna.
    They are the very reasons we struggle to get whats right for our mokopuna and they all make me sick.
    Our mokopuna have been abused by adults and they need my help but I cannot help them because adults are corrupt and dishonest at school, CYFs and police.
    The stupid and dumb maori let tauiwi twist it to save their jobs and promote themselves at one price of our tamariki and mokopuna.
    The other night I got a phone call from one of my sisters telling me one of my sons was taken to jail and so we are stressed about where our mokopuna are because their mother is an alcoholic.
    Whatever happened to tatou tatou and awhi, tautoko te iwi maori..
    I help my one sister as the rest are paid to hurt us

    1. Kia ora Mary, thanks for your comment. I think there is corruption and dishonesty in all the areas you speak about, but I wanted to just note that I think most of our leaders in different areas have stepped into those roles out of a genuine desire to make change. However, often people find there is a whole way of doing things in those areas that are extremely difficult to overcome, and they tend to settle into the role accepting very minor change. Ka aroha ki a koutou ko tō whānau at this challenging time with your whanaunga.

  3. E hoa, it’s good to have commentary on these issues but it seems to me you are making some generalisations and presenting them as fact. A case in point – Te Ururoa Flavell has publically denied influencing Paora Maxwell and having worked with him in the past, I’d take his word over anyone else’s. I’d also point out that pre-election Hone Harawira was a vocal opponent of Paora’s appointment because he felt the appointment process was unfair and that Paora was unfairly treating members of the currents affairs team at MTS in particular Carol Hirshfeld and Julian Wilcox. Both have since left MTS. Hone was on to something there and perhaps rather than taking aim at the low hanging fruit you might want to look instead at the person who has the most power to influence what goes on at MTS – the CEO of MTS.

    1. Kia ora, thanks for the comment. I agree with your analysis of concerns about MTS and you’ll see in some of my earlier blogs that I have followed this for some time. My only other comment is that my course of events as described in this blog is based on actual evidence rather than speculation. How I link them together in terms of intent and motivation is obviously my analysis. I sincerely believe there is a backlash against any criticism of Māori leadership and I stick by my view that the Minister and his office are a part of that backlash.

  4. Kia ora e Rangatira,

    Some fascinating insight. I don’t know much about what’s going on at Native Affairs or MTS in general. Painful to see what’s happening with NA when NZ public service broadcasting seems to be under so much pressure.

    MTS CEO Paora Maxwell was formerly the head of TVNZ’s Maori and Pasifika unit. He left there having pretty much cleaned the place out (some might say it needed it), perhaps preparing the way for TVNZ to eventually outsource what little Maori content it has on its channels?

    No one can deny there’s been a similar clean out of senior news and current affairs people at MTS since Maxwell began his CEO tenure. For me though the key one occurred before he got the job – Te Anga Nathan. A foundation staffer at MTS, he should have succeeded Jim Mather. Unlike Maxwell, who has minimal experience in making news and current affairs, let alone managing it, Nathan is news and current affairs through and through. He’s solid, and it’s a travesty that he left. I have no idea why – I’m simply saying they should have retained him at all costs.

    Another point is the reason why Maxwell left TVNZ. It’s never been explained fully. His departure was abrupt, with minimal fanfare – some might say completely out of character given the huge powhiri that welcomed him to TVNZ when he started the job in 2008. Combined with the close relationship and long history he has with MTS Board chair Georgina te Heuheu it’s difficult to not arrive at the conclusion that this relationship didn’t play a role in Maxwell’s eventual appointment as MTS CEO.

    And now much of this situation resulting in Mihi Forbes’ resignation appears to revolve around whether or not Te Ururoa Flavell (another whanaunga of Maxwell’s in a powerful position) influenced the decision to withhold broadcast of NA’s latest blockbuster over the Kohanga national trust. Of course, completely unproven and unspoken speculation on my part. But not a big leap to make.

    I guess the point I’m making is Maxwell doesn’t fully understand what it means to make news and current affairs. His career is principally in children’s television. The personal relationships he has means the temptation to at least allow himself to be influenced is considerable. Given that his boss just happens to be a whanaunga means the usual checks and balances may not be, well, “usual”.

    Which in my opinion makes the loss of Te Anga Nathan even more striking. You can absolutely guarantee if he was there Hirschfeld, Wilcox and Forbes would not have disappeared from Maori media. There would certainly be zero contemplation of relocating MTS headquarters to Rotorua. Nathan represents the loss of continuity of management direction from MTS’s very inception. Maxwell represents intrusion. The challenge now for MTS and it’s news and current affairs department is whether they can survive te Heuheu and Maxwell’s reign (of terror?).

    Nga mihi. Noah.

    1. Kia ora Noah for your substantial reflections. In many ways these deserve to be a post in their own right. “Maxwell represents intrusion” is a powerful summary of what’s going on. Thanks again.

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