Democracy, the Treaty and the coup that is embedding tribal rule into our regulatory and legislative framework

By Muriel Newman

Finally, the mainstream media is reporting that a coup is under way in New Zealand – by the Māori tribal elite.

Admittedly that observation was penned by former Labour Minister and ACT Party leader Richard Prebble in an opinion piece for the Herald – but the newspaper published it and Radio NZ reported it.

The on-line Herald headline read “Three Waters is a coup — an attack on democracy”.

That bold and compelling headline, however, didn’t last. It was changed to remove the words “a coup” and now reads: “Three Waters is an attack on democracy”.

The obvious question is why?

A clue comes from an article written last year by political journalist Andrea Vance, about Jacinda Ardern’s PR machine:

The Government’s iron grip on the control of information has tightened. At every level, the Government manipulates the flow of information.”

She then explained,

“And the prime minister’s office makes sure its audience is captured, starting the week and cementing the agenda with a conference call with political editors.”

So, did a member of the Prime Minister’s Office contact the Herald and ask them to change the headline? Continue reading “Democracy, the Treaty and the coup that is embedding tribal rule into our regulatory and legislative framework”

Improved local government legislation? Not when Mahuta wants to make it mandatory to consider more Māori wards

When Nanaia Mahuta talks about improving local government processes, alarm bells should ring.

In a statement earlier this week, the Minister of Local Government said improvements to processes for electing councils at the next local government elections in 2025 have been introduced to Parliament in a measure called the Local Government Electoral Legislation Bill.

The legislation covers decisions about Māori wards, the number of councillors at Auckland Council, more consistent rules for a coin toss if an election result is tied, and filing nominations electronically, amongst other issues.

“The overall objective for the changes is to improve the processes for individuals and communities to participate and be represented in local elections,” said Nanaia Mahuta.

“The Local Government Electoral Legislation Bill brings together a range of diverse issues for improvements as an omnibus piece of legislation. It picks up recommendations that followed inquiries into the local elections in 2016 and 2019.”

Mahuta had a bit more to say about Māori wards. Continue reading “Improved local government legislation? Not when Mahuta wants to make it mandatory to consider more Māori wards”

Ardern dodges questions on Mahuta’s conflicts in Three Waters and is slippery on the role for minister’s sister

By Graham Adams

As meagre information about the appointment of Nanaia Mahuta’s younger sister, Tipa, to a pivotal role in Three Waters is gradually prised out of the government, it is becoming clear the Prime Minister has no intention of letting the public know exactly how that shell game played out.

What we do know is that Tipa’s elder sister transferred her power of appointment as Minister of Local Government to her Cabinet colleague, Kelvin Davis, in February 2021. He appointed Tipa to the chair of Te Puna – the Māori Advisory Group, which advises the new water regulator, Taumata Arowai, in May.

That ministerial power was returned to Nanaia Mahuta in June.

It is a matter of record that Ardern approved the transfer of power before the appointment was made — which is recommended by the Cabinet Manual as one way the Prime Minister can handle conflicts of interest.

However, Ardern is unwilling to say anything more about the transaction.

Describing the response to an Official Information Act (OIA) request seeking further information, Sean Plunket wrote on The Platform: Continue reading “Ardern dodges questions on Mahuta’s conflicts in Three Waters and is slippery on the role for minister’s sister”

Bryce Edwards: Government appointments under scrutiny

THE READERS of state-subsidised Stuff and listeners of state-owned RNZ are being kept in the dark about matters highlighted in a column posted this week by Dr Bryce Edwards, director of the Democracy Project. 

The editors of those and other state-supported media have ignored the information disclosed by a “Thomas Cranmer”, who has been regularly tweeting his analysis of Mahuta family appointments on his account @kehetauhauaga since May 2 and raising important questions about conflicts of interest and perceptions of conflicts of interest. 

They have ignored the Parliamentary question put by ACT leader David Seymour and the answer he was given by Acting Prime Minister Grant Robertson (here). This related to the appointments of Mahuta family members to influential and lucrative government contracts and advisory positions dealing directly with her portfolios. 

They have ignored the press statements in which David Seymour (here) and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters (here) raised further questions about the appointments.  

And they have ignored a slew of posts dealing with these matters on various blogs and – on The Platform – in articles by Graham Adams (here and here) and by  Sean Plunket (here and here). 

The explanation perhaps can be found here, in a post on The Platform headed How Government funding is used to muzzle mainstream media.

The column by Dr Bryce Edwards is reproduced here …  


Are our ethical standards in politics dropping? Recently there have been several appointments made by Government and related agencies that have raised questions about conflicts of interest or about whether correct procedures have been followed.

However, not all scrutiny and criticisms are welcomed or embraced. Sometimes those that raise questions about politicians and officials are charged with nit-picking, points-scoring, scandalmongering, or even various forms of prejudice.

And yet, by scrutinising those in power, and taking seriously even the most minor of lapses of ethics or rule-breaking, we are best able to ensure that our system of public life is as honest as possible. So, it’s important to keep an eye on any apparent trends of increasing integrity violations.

The Matthew Tukaki mini-scandal

The most recent government appointment controversy has been about Matthew Tukaki’s role as head of the panel advising on reform of Oranga Tamariki. It turns out that Tukaki’s CV and claimed attributes were less than accurate, and that Government never actually checked these claims before appointing him.

Kelvin Davis, the Minister for Oranga Tamariki, has responded to this revelation by explaining that he already knew the candidate, and

“… we just trusted in what they had done, and I’d heard about the stuff he’d done apparently overseas. He was also the head of the Māori Council”.

In response, the New Zealand Māori Council disputed the claim that Tukaki was ever their head.

Davis has also raised whether racism is behind the criticism of Tukaki:

“He’s being condemned for being highly successful and some people don’t like that. Some people, don’t like the uppity Māori but I can’t fault his work”.

The farcical mini-scandal has continued, with fresh revelations from 1News last on Monday that although Tukaki was being paid $1000 a day for his services to Oranga Tamariki he had also erroneously billed and been paid an extra $60,000. And this week Tukaki was appointed as the Director of the Suicide Prevention Office.

The Nanaia Mahuta allegations

For months now there have been allegations swirling around social media about senior Cabinet minister Nanaia Mahuta and the fact that members of her wider family have obtained various government contracts and appointments. There are no actual allegations of any unlawful activity, but just a general suggestion of nepotism.

The fact that the Ministry of the Environment has recently launched an internal inquiry into some of its appointments and the agency’s processes shows that the allegations probably do merit further public discussion.

One of the allegations relates to the Three Waters reforms that Mahuta is controversially pushing through Parliament at the moment. At the same time, Mahuta’s younger sister, Tipa Mahuta, has been made chair of the Māori Advisory Group that will control the new water regulator, Taumata Arowai. This role is arguably going to be the most powerful in the Three Waters configuration, and she will have an indirect influence on how each individual new water entity operates.

Tipa Mahuta is already a powerful figure in government, local government and in Te Ao Māori – she is co-chair of the new Māori Health Authority, co-chair of the Waikato River Authority, and also a Waikato Regional Councillor.

Other Mahuta family members have also received appointments. Recently the Ministry for the Environment has established a Māori advisory rōpū on waste management, which is researching a mātauranga Māori framework on waste. Of the five members of this, one is Mahuta’s husband Gannin Ormsby, and two are other members of his family, Tamoko Ormsby and Waimirirangi Ormsby.

But there are no allegations that any ministers have been involved in these appointments. And the Environment Ministry went out of its way to ensure that the appointments were made correctly.

Perceptions of conflicts of interest

Nonetheless, some argue that there is a pattern building up of appointments that cause concern. Mahuta’s husband has also been awarded a number of other grants. For example, his consultancy firm has received a $28,300 contract from the Ministry of Māori Development “to deliver a series of workshops, wānanga and excursions for 40 rangatahi” in the Waikato concerned with wellbeing and the environment. Although this occurred while Mahuta was an Associate Minister of Māori Development, accountability for such decisions rested with the main minister, Willie Jackson.

More recently, it has emerged that Ormsby’s firm won a contract of $73,000 for arranging hui and workshops for Kāinga Ora.

Some defenders of Mahuta and her family have raised the question of whether racism is involved in the allegations against her. Certainly, John Tamihere has been quick to raise ethnicity as a factor. When the Herald ran a story about Mahuta’s appointments, he directed his response to the newspaper

“It’s got to fix its game up and it’s got to get more integrity and credibility and start calling out its own white folk for conflicts of interest and corruption rather than focusing on just Māori because there’s no evidence Nanaia had any connectivity to any of those decisions. It was just a dirty little allegation.”

Others have also defended Mahuta. Newstalk ZB’s Jason Walls has downplayed the allegations, saying:

“The reality is New Zealand is small. Conflicts like this happen pretty regularly.”

Similarly, in reporting on the allegations, Newshub’s Isobel Ewing concluded in Mahuta’s defence that such contracts are just inevitable because

“… New Zealand is a small place [and] Te Ao Māori is even smaller.”

She also defended Mahuta by suggesting that critics might have bad motivations in raising the appointments:

“As long as any conflicts are dealt with by the book [there is] no issue. Just an opportunity for attempted political point-scoring.”

Mahuta herself has responded to allegations of nepotism by saying:

“I’ve got a talented whanau. Conflicts have been declared, managed appropriately, and in accordance with the Cabinet Manual.”

The problem is that the Cabinet Manual also makes it clear that just following the rules isn’t enough, and that ministers need to ensure that there are no perceptions of conflicts of interests, which it notes can be just as bad as actual conflicts of interest.

This means that although it might be understandable that Mahuta takes her husband on various ministerial trips, that he engages with various government officials working with his wife, and that he engages in some of her ministerial roles, in the end, this can create rather blurry lines.

It’s definitely the role of the media and the parliamentary opposition to put forward the difficult questions about these lines. Hence, when Judith Collins’ links to her husband’s Oravida company were revealed, the now Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson raised the perception of a conflict of interest and correctly claimed that…

“Ministers have to be up front… Perception matters”.

Finally, when National was in power in 2012, the Ministry of Education gave a very senior role to Apryll Parata, the sister of the Minister of Education, Hekia Parata. Concern was expressed by the then Labour Education spokesperson, who warned:

“There is a perceived conflict of interest. People will draw all sorts of conclusions given the proximity of the appointment.”

And that spokesperson was Nanaia Mahuta.

  • Dr Bryce Edwards is Political Analyst in Residence at Victoria University of Wellington. He is the director of the Democracy Project.

Continue reading “Bryce Edwards: Government appointments under scrutiny”

Labour MP may be overwhelmed with correspondence – or perhaps he wasn’t advised of the PM’s transparency pledge

On taking office back in 2017, Jacinda Ardern promised her government would be the most open and transparent New Zealand has seen.

In her first formal speech to Parliament she pledged:

“This government will foster a more open and democratic society. It will strengthen transparency around official information.”

Three years later she laid down a gauntlet for National, saying she wanted to avoid “negative fake news style” campaigns and signing up her party to Facebook’s voluntary political ad transparency tool.

But the transparency message perhaps did not did not get passed down to her back-benchers, as Point of Order’s recent experience suggests.

A question we emailed to a National MP was promptly answered.

A question we mailed to a Labour MP  late in May remains unanswered. Continue reading “Labour MP may be overwhelmed with correspondence – or perhaps he wasn’t advised of the PM’s transparency pledge”

Abortion regulation – in New Zealand and the USA – belongs in their democratically elected legislatures 


Guest column by Nicholas Kerr 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s comments about the US Supreme Court’s recent ruling on abortion inadvertently help explain why the court was right to overturn Roe v. Wade and return the issue to the states.  She noted that New Zealand “recently legislated to decriminalise abortion and treat it as a health rather than criminal issue.”

The passage of that legislation was only the latest in a long and incremental series of policy changes on the subject that have taken place over the past century. 

While many policy issues in New Zealand have divided the country, the divisions have tended to be short-lived as each side had their voices heard and the debates concluded.

As I think back to my days growing up in New Zealand during the 1980s and ‘90s, I recall many controversial public policy debates, but abortion isn’t one of them. Continue reading “Abortion regulation – in New Zealand and the USA – belongs in their democratically elected legislatures “

Chris Trotter: Nanaia Mahuta’s super-narrative and the blind eye of our mainstream news media

 The Ardern Government risks the emergence of what political commentator CHRIS TROTTER calls a “super-narrative” in which all the negatives of co-governance, media capture, and Neo-Tribal Capitalism are rolled into one big story about the deliberate corruption of New Zealand democracy. The guilty parties would be an unholy alliance of Pakeha and Māori elites determined to keep public money flowing upwards into protected private hands. Here’s what he posted on  his Bowalley Road blog ….  


WHETHER NANAIA MAHUTA followed the conflict-of-interest rules set out in The Cabinet Manual hardly matters. A dangerous political narrative is forming around the appointment of, and awarding of contracts to, Mahuta’s whanau in circumstances that, at the very least, raise serious questions about this Government’s political judgement. Enlarging this narrative is the growing public perception that the mainstream news media is refusing to cover a story that would, in other circumstances, have attracted intense journalistic interest. The conflation of these two, highly damaging narratives with a third – the even more negative narrative of “co-governance” – has left the Labour Government in an extremely exposed and vulnerable position.

The Government’s failure to adequately prepare the New Zealand public for what Labour clearly regards as the inevitability of co-governance hasn’t helped. The party did not campaign on the issue, and kept He Puapua, the controversial “road-map” to full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – i.e. co-governance – by 2040, under wraps. Similarly unheralded was the Government’s determination to establish a separate Māori Health Authority. And the application of co-governance principles to Mahuta’s deeply unpopular “Three Waters” project has done nothing to allay public fears that the country is being changed, in fundamental ways, without the electorate’s consent.

The apparent failure of the mainstream news media to follow up on the story is being attributed to the extraordinary conditions attached to the Public Interest Journalism Fund administered by New Zealand On Air. In essence, these conditions require media outlets in receipt of the Fund’s largesse to subscribe in advance to a highly contentious series of propositions concerning the Treaty of Waitangi – most particularly to the Waitangi Tribunal’s claim the Māori never ceded sovereignty to the British Crown, and that this “fact” requires the Fund’s recipients to accept and support the “partnership” model of Crown-Māori relations. The fear expressed by independent journalists is that the net effect of these conditions will be unquestioning mainstream media support for co-governance.

Since the widespread assumption among Pakeha New Zealanders is that co-governance and representative democracy are fundamentally incompatible, Labour’s willingness to be presented as co-governance’s friend runs the risk of being cast as democracy’s enemy.

Of even greater concern is the inevitability of this anti-democratic characterisation being extended to an ever-increasing fraction of the Māori population. Statements from Māori leaders appearing to discount the importance of, or even disparage, the principles of democracy have done little to slow this process. Neither have the intemperate statements of the former National Party Minister for Treaty Settlements, Chris Finlayson. His comment to the online magazine E-Tangata, describing those opposed to co-governance as “the KKK brigade”, merely reinforces the widespread public perception that the slightest public opposition to the proposed changes will bring down accusations of racism upon the opponent’s head.

The problem with this willingness to indulge in ad hominem attacks on people holding genuine reservations about the Government’s proposals is that more and more of them will decide that they might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, and embrace the very racism of which they stand accused. In this context, the revelations that some members of a Māori Minister of the Crown’s whanau have been the recipients of Government funds, and appointed to roles not unrelated to the furtherance of the Minister’s policies, will be taken as confirmation that all is not as it should be in Aotearoa-New Zealand.

What began as an anti-co-governance narrative, and then merged with an anti-mainstream news media narrative, risks joining with a much older and more deeply entrenched narrative concerning the entire Treaty settlement process. This is the narrative that identifies the primary beneficiaries of Treaty settlements as a collection of Crown-assembled tribal elites, along with their legal and commercial advisers. Over the past thirty years these “Neo-Tribal Capitalists” have been accused of investing hundreds-of-millions of taxpayer dollars in what amount to private tribal corporations, over which the intended recipients of these funds – hapu and whanau – exercise only the most indirect authority and receive only the most meagre of rewards.

The result could very easily be the emergence of what might be called a “super-narrative” in which all the negatives of co-governance, media capture, and Neo-Tribal Capitalism are rolled into one big story about the deliberate corruption of New Zealand democracy. The guilty parties would be an unholy alliance of Pakeha and Māori elites determined to keep public money flowing upwards into protected private hands. In this super-narrative, the structures set forth in He Puapua to secure tino rangatiratanga, will actually ensure the exclusion of the vast majority of New Zealanders from the key locations of power. The only positive consequence of which will be a common struggle for political and economic equality in which non-elite Māori and Pakeha will have every incentive to involve themselves.

The painful irony of this super-narrative scenario is that Labour will have positioned itself as its cause – not its remedy. Rather than repeating in the Twenty-First Century the fruitful political alliance between the Pakeha working-class and the victims/survivors of the deals done between the Crown and the Māori aristocracy in the Nineteenth and Twentieth, Labour will be seen to have facilitated the creation of a Treaty Partnership that not only undermines democracy, but also exacerbates the inequality between Māori and Pakeha, Pakeha and Pakeha, Māori and Māori.

What lies ahead, as the institutions of co-governance take shape, is the coming together of two very privileged birds of a feather: the Pakeha professionals and managers who have taken command of the society and economy created by Neoliberalism, and the Māori professionals and managers created to produce and operate the cultural and economic machinery of Neo-Tribal Capitalism.

This, ultimately, will be the spectre that arises out of the controversy swirling around Nanaia Mahuta. The spectre of the worst of both the Pakeha and the Māori worlds. Worlds in which the powerful trample all over the weak. Where tradition constrains the free exploration of ideas and techniques. And where the petty advantages of separation are elevated above the liberating effects of unity. Where “Aotearoa” creates two peoples out of one.

Oh dear – it’s “a disgrace” to look into posts filled by Mahuta family members (which might explain why ACT questions are ignored)

The public are being served heaps of news items about a fellow called Kamahl Santamaria, who was hired by TVNZ as breakfast host but has departed under a cloud.

In contrast, Point of Order has found just one mainstream media report (in the New Zealand Herald) which raises questions about the management of contracts awarded to Mahuta family members.  

It was headed Government contracts to husband and family of Minister Nanaia Mahuta ‘managed for conflict’.

Fair to say, Waatea News has shown an interest in this issue, too, although it was headed Mahuta attack fails to prove link.

Waatea News’ idea of checking out the truth or otherwise of the Herald’s report was to talk with former MP John Tamihere.  Then it recorded his huffing that

“… a New Zealand Herald story linking Minister Nanaia Mahuta to government appointments of family members was a disgrace to the newspaper.” Continue reading “Oh dear – it’s “a disgrace” to look into posts filled by Mahuta family members (which might explain why ACT questions are ignored)”

Mainstream media may be checking claims about the Mahuta family – or maybe they hope MPs will raise the matter in Parliament

The latest post by my friend and former colleague, Karl du Fresne, draws attention to the paucity of mainstream media coverage of questions raised about an array of posts filled by members of the Mahuta family and payments made to companies with which family members are associated.

The Platform – for example – recently reported:

More questions are raised after two payments come to light from Ministry for the Environment to companies owned by Nanaia Mahuta’s family members for their roles in expert group

In another article, The Platform said:

Co-governance roles filled by family members of Minister Mahuta amount to the whānau wielding extraordinary influence on the restructuring of New Zealand’s governance.

In response to questions put to her by The Platform, Mahuta’s office has denied she had any conflict of interest over the appointments of members of her family to government roles.

But where are the mainstream media headlines and reports on these matters?  Continue reading “Mainstream media may be checking claims about the Mahuta family – or maybe they hope MPs will raise the matter in Parliament”

Democracy in Tauranga down the plug-hole until 2024 – so what can we learn about Mahuta’s intentions for Three Waters?

The Taxpayers’ Union saw the implications for the Three Waters programme.   Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s decision to cancel this year’s elections in Tauranga (spokesman Louis Houlbrooke said) showed she could not be trusted to deliver water services that are accountable to ratepayers.

The Taxpayers’ Union is supporting the Tauranga Ratepayers’ Alliance‘s petition to restore elections at

Among his objections to Mahuta’s decision, Houlbrooke said the Wellington-appointed, co-governed commission (answerable only to the Minister) had pushed through a 17 per cent rates hike.

“Why should we expect her unelected, co-governed water entities to deliver anything better for ratepayers?”

Fair to say, One News  flushed out support for Mahuta: Continue reading “Democracy in Tauranga down the plug-hole until 2024 – so what can we learn about Mahuta’s intentions for Three Waters?”