The BulletinJune 10, 2024

Questions swirling after allegations against three political parties


A look at the claims, and how they’ve been responded to, in this extract from The Bulletin by Stewart Sowman-Lund. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Multiple agencies called in to discuss Te Pāti Māori claims

We’ve talked a bit already in The Bulletin about the serious allegations regarding misuse of census data being made against Te Pāti Māori, and how the party has responded. If you need a quick explainer (and some analysis), the Herald’s Claire Trevett wrote about the situation before the weekend. On Friday, the Public Service Commission called in 11 agencies – including the Ministry of Health, Oranga Tamariki and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet – to discuss the allegations and how to respond. Andrea Vance at The Post broke the initial story and has been doggedly following it in the days since. According to her latest report, while a full scale inquiry has yet to be announced, acting public service commissioner Heather Baggott described the claims as going to “the core of trust and confidence in our public institutions and our democratic processes”. Both Stats NZ and the police have launched initial investigations of their own, but some, like Newstalk ZB’s Heather du Plessis-Allan, have argued for a more substantive inquiry.

How the party has responded so far

Te Pāti Māori itself called for a police investigation, reported the Herald, effectively saying it will show there was no wrongdoing. The party has maintained its innocence, calling the allegations “baseless and simply untrue”. Te Pāti Māori president John Taimhere, himself in the spotlight due to his role with the Waipareira Trust named in the allegations, called for “the journalist [Vance] to front with the evidence on behalf of those making the allegations” and said an investigation into the party would “highlight the bias in media”. Appearing on Newshub’s AM last week, Labour MP Willie Jackson agreed the claims against Te Pāti Māori had to be looked into, but also appeared to question the media interest in the story. “A lot of Māori media particularly have been talking to me, they’re saying where is the same level of scrutiny of the National Party and Act Party who’ve got donors lining up at the door.”

National MP referred to police over undeclared donations

Talk about timing, because Jackson’s comments came just hours before it was confirmed National MP David MacLeod would be referred to police over his undeclared donations. It’s of little surprise, given the amount of money that the rookie New Plymouth MP failed to disclose – over $170,000. Newstalk ZB’s political correspondent Barry Soper said there are “a lot of questions to be answered”, especially given the donors involved, noting a statement from Greenpeace’s Russel Norman linking MacLeod’s former role on the select committee scrutinising the fast track bill and an undeclared donation from a major shareholder in a seabed mining company. Meanwhile, thousands marched against the fast track bill over the weekend, as 1News reported. We’ve previously talked about the controversy over the law, but I recommend this useful explainer on why people took to the streets by The Spinoff’s Shanti Mathias.

Act’s culture in the spotlight

The Act Party is facing controversy as well, though it spent much of yesterday pretending it wasn’t. The party held a sold out rally in central Auckland, with leader David Seymour revealing his election goal for 2026: 15% of the party vote (a bit less than double its 2023 result). RNZ’s Giles Dexter summarised the event, which included speeches from several of the party’s MPs along with broadcaster turned gin mogul Paul Henry. But while unmentioned on stage, the party is facing questions over an alleged culture problem. Stuff’s Tova O’Brien broke the story on Friday, following it up on Saturday with reports the party may have asked volunteers to put up election billboards before they were legally allowed to. Asked to comment yesterday, Seymour told reporters his party’s election campaign was “positive”, though admitted “there were some people who thought there were parts of the culture they didn’t enjoy”. O’Brien’s written more on this today, looking at Seymour’s pledge to improve the party’s culture. An internal Act report (likely to stay private) included 36 recommendations to how to run a better campaign. “I suspect we’ll adopt almost all of them,” said Seymour.

Keep going!