Media focus on Davis’ advice against looking through a “vanilla lens” while Chhour’s questions go unanswered

It is tempting to liken the political hacks of the mainstream news media to piranha, rather than ever-vigilant watchdogs of the Fourth Estate.

With the exception of the NZ Herald, they have lamentably ill-served the voting public by failing to muster a whimper, let alone a snarl or a warning bark, about issues raised by the awarding of contracts to family members of Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

The hacks were aroused from their indifference to those contracts only when another watchdog – the Public Service Commission – announced it is looking into government departments’ management of the contracting process.   

On the other hand, the imagery of piranha seems apt when they engage in a feeding frenzy of the sort that followed the hapless Kelvin Davis’ derogatory – and racist – remarks about ACTs Karen Chhour.

Davis told Chhour (a Māori) she must look at things from a Māori perspective, not a Pakeha one.

“It’s no good looking at the world from a vanilla lens.”

Davis  did eventually apologise (providing more fodder for the media), but not before doubling down on his disparagement when reporters questioned him about what he had said.

Davis, however, stood by his comments.

“She whakapapas to Māori but she was raised in a Pākehā world, she needs to cross the bridge that is Te Tiriti o Waitangi so she gets to understand her Māori world better,” he told reporters.

“I’m saying their attitude towards anything that’s Māori is actually nasty,” he said.

“Their” brought all ACT MPs into the embrace of his invective:

“They struggle to engage on kaupapa Māori … they say that the Māori Party for example is racist, I think they need to look at themselves.”

Mention of the Māori Party should be noted because its president is John Tamihere and charities with which he is connected are being investigated by the Charities Service.

He regards the investigation as racist:

John Tamihere is calling an investigation into his charities’ political donations racist.

The Charities Services is investigating Tamihere in relation to two donations made by National Urban Māori Authority and Te Whānau o Waipareira, of which Tamihere is also chief executive.

Tamihere said they disclosed everything in audited financial statements and that there was no cover up or attempt to be dishonest.

“It is a sad day for democracy in Aotearoa when Māori get demonised for being honest in publicly ensuring that every cent spent to advance the Te Pāti Māori, or Māori causes by Māori people is somehow deemed illegal or unworthy.”

The Waipareira Trust, headed by Tamihere, and Oranga Tamariki, the ministry for which Davis is responsible as Minister for Children, have signed an agreement, described as a new strategic partnership. It is one of a series of agreements between the Ministry and Māori providers, aiming to ensure decision-making around vulnerable children sits with tangata whenua.

At Question Time in Parliament this week, Karen Choour asked Davis about the ministry and its relationship with the Waipareira Trust.

Davis’ inflammatory response to one question and the political repercussions triggered the media’s focus on accusations of nastiness and race-based attacks and on the distress which Chhour said had been caused by Davis taking away her mana.

The questions which seem to have affronted the Minister have gone unanswered.

Too bad.  They were good questions.

Here’s how Hansard recorded the exchange:

Karen Chhour: For how much money was the contract recently signed between OT and John Tamihere’s charity, and is the Minister reconsidering this contract in light of today’s revelation that his charities are under investigation for bankrolling John Tamihere and the Māori Party’s political campaigns for nearly half a million dollars?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I reject the premise of that question, but let me say that on Friday I was pleased to witness the signing of a partnership agreement between Oranga Tamariki and Waipareira Trust.

This agreement supports wraparound, holistic services for whānau under a by Māori, for Māori approach. This agreement recognises the Treaty-based relationship between the trust and Oranga Tamariki under section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act, an equity-focused section of the legislation I’m sure the member is familiar with. I’d also just like to thank her for allowing me to raise the issue of how much funding Oranga Tamariki has received since 2017.

By the way, the relationship has been in place since 2008, so through the previous National-ACT Government as well. But Oranga Tamariki have received, since 2017, a measly $2.8 million when other providers have received tens of millions of dollars a year.

Hmm. Davis has avoided providing the information sought about the new contract.

Karen Chhour: 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?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: What the member needs to do is cross the bridge that is Te Tiriti o Waitangi from her pākehā world into the Māori world and understand exactly how the Māori world operates. It’s no good looking at the world from a vanilla lens.

ACT leader David Seymour raised a point of order to note that Chhour had wanted to find out how the Government would respond if the contract was brought into question.

“Now, unless, somehow, it’s addressing the question to attack the member and her world view, then the question has not been addressed at all.”

Labour’s Chris Hipkins countered that the question contained several parts, including some assertions.

“The member has addressed the question; he does not have to answer to the satisfaction of the member.”

The Speaker ruled that the question was hypothetical, and it did contain an assertion.

If members ask such questions, he tended to allow them

“ … on the basis that members know full well the type of answer that they might get.”

In this case, it was an answer that told us lots about Kelvin Davis but nothing about what might happen to the contract.

One thought on “Media focus on Davis’ advice against looking through a “vanilla lens” while Chhour’s questions go unanswered

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