John Armstrong: Any Labour celebrations over Maori Party's exit from Parliament will be muted

Talk about guilt-tripping someone something awful.

Tamati Coffey does not deserve to be tagged as the politician who "killed" the Maori Party.

Sure, the former broadcaster was the Labour candidate who by defeating Te Ururoa Flavell in the latter's Waiariki wrenched the Maori Party's hands off the sole Maori seat remaining in its grasp.

In doing so, Coffey removed the minor party's last lifeline to Parliament, thus bringing the Maori Party's 13-year stint in the corridors of power to an end.

And isn't Labour grateful for that. Any celebrations will be muted, however. And not solely because the major Opposition party is now focused on little else but ensuring it is not going to be the major Opposition party for yet another three years.

Given the dignified and humble manner that Flavell displayed in announcing his retirement from politics following Saturday's election, dancing a jig on the Maori Party's coffin would be grotesque, however tempting.

As the Maori Party co-leader arrived to give his speech, supporters broke out in a haka. Source: 1 NEWS

Moreover, while the Maori Party has spent the past nine years camped alongside National, there is considerable respect for Flavell and company on the left of the political spectrum. 

Many voters who leaned Labour's way last Saturday would have preferred that the Maori Party had survived as a force in Parliament even though the force that a party with just one or two MPs can exert on a ruling party with close to 60 MPs is minimal to say the least.

Flavell's loss of his seat surprised many. It should not have done so. There were indications the Maori Party's co-leader was in danger of defeat long before Jacinda Ardern's elevation to the leadership of Labour which saw a red tide sweep all before it.

The leaked findings of a poll conducted by Labour shortly before that game-changer had Flavell on 31.6 per cent with Coffey breathing down his neck on 30.1 per cent.

Labour MP Tamati Coffey faces the media on his first day at Parliament after being elected in the Waiariki electorate. Source: 1 NEWS

Things became very confused, however, after a Maori Television poll taken in the seat just two weeks prior to Election Day suggested there might be a good deal of strategic voting in Waiariki with Flavell cruising to a very easy victory in the electorate race, while Labour would enjoy a healthy boost in its share of the party vote.

It was not to be. Coffey picked up around 53 per cent of the electorate vote, leaving Flavell trailing on 45 per cent.

Suddenly, it was Groundhog Day. The Maori Party had joined a long list of other "independent Maori voices" - MANA, Mana Motuhake, Mauri Pacific and New Zealand First's "tight five" - swept aside by Maori voters rushing back to Labour.

Smarting from her ejection from Parliament, Marama Fox, the Maori Party's other co-leader, likened the return en masse to the Labour "mothership" as akin to that of "a beaten wife to the abuser who has abused our people over and over again".

Her outburst failed to answer the two big questions arising from Flavell's defeat: why did the Maori Party end up joining the above list, and, why does history keep repeating itself?

The story of MMP politics in New Zealand is a story of the massacre of minor parties. In the five general elections fought by the Maori Party, its share of the party vote has never got close to even a measly 3 per cent. On its debut in 2005, the party captured four of the Maori seats. That number had fallen to just one seat after the 2014 election. 

The obvious crisis did not result in any change in the party's strategy which was built on the notion that you can only achieve things by being party to government even if that flouts the principles upon which your party is constructed.

That is arguable. What cannot be questioned is that the Maori Party suffered major collateral damage in the last parliamentary term from National's slow and half-hearted response to skyrocketing poverty numbers and the public's perception of an ever widening chasm between rich and poor.

It goes without saying that Maori dominate the rough end of statistics measuring the levels of social deprivation and homelessness. Contrary to Fox's assertion, the flood of votes back to Labour was the height of rationality.

Something else was also very different. The Maori Party had enjoyed the good fortune of fighting four of the aforesaid five elections when its enemy was in a shambolic condition.

That was not going to last forever. From the instant Ardern took control, the heavyweight Labour machine started fighting its foes rather than itself.  

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said voting for Maori Labour candidates was a pointless exercise because they’ll now likely be in opposition. Source: Q+A

Flavell was history. Even an electoral pact with Hone Harawira which saw the latter's MANA party not stand a candidate in Waiariki in order to avoid splitting the anti-Labour vote proved to be hopelessly ineffective in blocking Coffey's march to victory.

There may be other, less obvious reasons why Maori voters deserted to Labour in such high numbers.

That is partly down to their being little in the way of alternatives. National does not stand candidates in the Maori seats. New Zealand First's wish to abolish them is hardly an incentive to vote for that party.

Or is it? Labour's near monopoly on the Maori seats over the past seven decades or so has had the effect of limiting Maori political power.

Or so argued the royal commission which recommended the change in the electoral system to MMP.

It wanted the Maori seats to be axed. It saw them as a political ghetto fenced off from the rest of the political system. 

In return for their removal, the 5 per cent threshold would have been waived for parties "primarily" representing Maori interests. 

All voters would have been on one single roll thus forcing all parties to compete for the Maori vote and develop policies accordingly.

Such thinking would be anathema to the likes of Dame Tariana Turia who argues that mainstream parties do nothing for Maori and that Maori need to be in control of their destiny.

When the means to that end can barely muster 1 per cent of the vote and is slaughtered in every one of the seven seats which it has some expectations of winning, it is time to pause for some very serious thought about finding an escape route from that predicament.

First time candidate Tamati Coffey has won the electorate of Waiariki for Labour, beating out Te Ururoa Flavell. Source: 1 NEWS

MP Meka Whaitiri dumped as Customs Minister after investigation into alleged misconduct

Customs Minister Meka Whaitiri has been dumped as Customs Minister after an investigation by ministerial services into an incident with a staffer during an event in Gisborne in late August.

Ms Whaitiri, the MP for Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, was alleged to have assaulted a staff member at the event, 1 NEWS reported last month.

Asked about the incident on her return to Parliament a few days later, Ms Whaitiri told media: "I'm cooperating fully with the investigation. I've got no further comment," she told media. "I am here as the MP for Ikaroa-Rāwhiti."

It comes after the MP was accused of assaulting a staff member in Gisborne. Source: 1 NEWS

But today, after ministerial services returned their findings to Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister dropped the axe.

"Based on the context and conclusions of the report I no longer have confidence in Meka Whaitiri as minister at this time," Ms Ardern said this afternoon.

She said the decision was based solely on the Gisborne incident, which Ms Whaitiri was disputing. 

"I'm not getting into any details around the incident. I've asked DIA (Department of Internal Affairs) to prepare a version of the report that can be released in order to address some outstanding questions."

When pushed on whether this was a pattern of behaviour often exhibited by Ms Whaitiri, Ms Ardern refused to say whether she'd learned of other incidents involving Ms Whaitiri.

"The minister has not had any other grievances raised against her. I've made a decision based on this incident and this report.

"Kris Faafoi will retain the role of Minister of Customs and Meka Whaitiri's associate minister responsibilities will sit with the lead portfolio ministers.

"There are no plans to undertake a cabinet reshuffle," Ms Ardern said.

Ms Ardern said Ms Whaitiri continued to defend herself but had accepted her decision and was keen to stay on as the MP for Ikaroa-Rāwhiti.

"I spoke to Meka Whaitiri this morning.

"I have been advised by colleagues in her caucus that they wish to still support her in that role [speaking of Māori Caucus co-chairwoman role].

"I have confidence in her continuing as a member of Parliament and in those roles as member of Parliament."

She said Ms Whaitiri was likely to return to Parliament next week.

"I have a view that the member works incredibly hard across Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, that she will continue to be able to fulfil those roles, however based on what I have seen, I do not have confidence in her retaining her role as minister," Ms Ardern reiterated.

The Prime Minister says she took action after an investigation deemed an incident did happen. Source: 1 NEWS



East Coast forestry company's illegal logging history revealed

The Malaysian owner of a forestry company blamed for tonnes of debris washing up in Tolaga Bay has been fined twice for illegal logging overseas, but it took the Overseas Investment Office nine years to realise.

The penalty could have affected Samling Group's Hikurangi Forest Farm's good character status, but the OIO decided it was too late to take any action.

Separately, a Malaysian billionaire who owns another Tolaga Bay forestry company was granted 24 consents to buy sensitive land between 2005 and 2017, even though another of his companies has faced accusations of environmental and human rights abuses overseas since 2004.

The admission of OIO's tardy response to the Samling's illegal logging fine has prompted calls for the OIO to beef up its monitoring of foreign investors and for changes to the way the good character test is applied.

Hikurangi Forest Farms, owned by Malaysia's Samling Group, was granted consent to buy 22ha of land in Gisborne in May 2007.

Five months later one of Samling's subsidiaries, Barama Company, was fined for illegal logging in Guyana. In January 2008 it was fined again.

The Norwegian Pension Fund quit all its Samling investments in 2010 because of ethical concerns about its operations in Guyana and Malaysia and Samling's palm oil operations in Myanmar were last year accused of illegal deforestation indigenous land grabs and environmental abuses by civil rights groups in that country.

The OIO said it was aware of online reports of the company's practices in Myanmar but it had not been able to verify them.

It only became aware of the illegal logging fines in 2017.

"After considering various matters, including limitation issues and the age of the fine, and how long ago Samling got OIO consent, we considered the fine was too long ago for us to act on this information alone," Land Information New Zealand's Overseas Investment Office manager Vanessa Horne said.

That action could have included forcing the sale of assets owned by Samling.

Meanwhile, a second Malaysian-owned company also implicated in the Tolaga Bay flooding, has continued to buy sensitive land in New Zealand despite its owners facing allegations of human rights and environmental abuses abroad.

Ernslaw One, owned by Malaysia's Tiong family, is one of the three companies whose activities are being investigated by the Gisborne District Council after the June floods.

Its founder Tan Sri Tiong Hiew King made his fortune in forestry and palm oil plantations and his assets here included New Zealand King Salmon, Winstone Pulp and Neil Group.

One of his logging companies Rimbunan Hijau faces accusations of illegal operations and human rights and environmental abuses in Papua New Guinea and Malaysia, first documented by Greenpeace in 2004, and more recently this month by the Oakland Institute.

But it hasn't affected his business in New Zealand with 24 consents to buy sensitive land being granted since 2005.

The Tiong family has been investing in New Zealand for more than 20 years, with more than 90 approved consents to the companies controlled by the family, OIO's Vanessa Horne said.

"For the OIO to take enforcement action after consent has been granted for any breach of a good character condition, it would need to prove that a person is not fit to hold an asset.

"We need to consider the nature of the allegation, the evidence of the allegation and the public interest in taking action, such as the impact on New Zealanders from taking action. The commission of an offence by a person may provide evidence as to whether they are fit to hold an asset. But this is not the only matter the OIO would need to consider," she said.

Both Samling and the Tiong family's Rimbunan Hijau were yesterday named as irresponsible palm oil producers in a report published by Greenpeace.

Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) said the OIO's good character test was not rigorous enough.

"To prove companies are of good character representative of the company usually a New Zealand lawyer has to sign a bit of paper certifying they're of good character - that's it," CAFCA spokesperson Murray Horton said.

Council of Trade Unions policy director Bill Rosenberg said the test also only applied to individuals, not the company itself. But he would like to see that changed.

"If you have companies with a consistent poor record of ignoring good environmental practice, no action can be taken under the current law."

East Coast environmental and indigenous rights advocate Tina Ngata said she was "appalled" to learn of the actions that Hikurangi Forest Farms and Ernslaw One's parent companies were accused of in other countries.

It was up to the OIO to monitor foreign investors more stringently and take action if necessary, she said.

"The OIO need to be taking a better role in monitoring the behaviour of these companies if they allow them into our economy so they don't make these kinds of impacts on our landscape."

It was especially important where public money was used to clean up environments impacted by companies failing to follow good practices, she said.

The OIO had nine permanent staff, up from just two in 2015, so it had more capacity to monitor and enforce consent conditions, including good character requirements, Vanessa Horne said.

Oregon Group declined to comment, and several attempts to contact its Malaysian owner were unsuccessful. Hikurangi Forest Farms and its owner Samling could also not be reached for comment.

By Anusha Bradley

Slash debris after flooding in Tolaga Bay. (Emma Hatton) Source:


Hamilton shooting which left man in hospital was 'targeted attack'

Police say the shooting of a man in Hamilton last night was a "targeted attack".

The incident occurred on Derby Street at approximately 10:25pm yesterday, leaving a 35-year-old man in Waikato Hospital with moderate but not life-threatening injuries.

The man is in a stable condition in a high dependency unit.

Hamilton City Area Commander Inspector Freda Grace said a group was involved in the attack.

"Investigations so far have established a group of offenders arrived at Derby Street and approached a house they believed belonged to the target of their attack and knocked on the door," she said.

"A man who lived at the address opened the door and an altercation occurred. He was uninjured but understandably shaken by the event.

"Following this, the group of offenders went to the house next door. A number of shots were fired and the 35-year-old man they were targeting was hit inside his address.

"The group have then fled the scene in vehicles."

Police are continuing a scene investigation today but it is not yet known whether the incident involves members of organised crime groups.

Inspector Grace says there is nothing to suggest the shooting is connected to a number of serious incidents involving people being harmed across Waikato in recent months.

Police are keen to talk to anyone who was in the area around 10:25pm yesterday who may have witnessed anything suspicious or have information of interest to the investigation.

People can contact Hamilton Police on 07 858 6200 or call Crimestoppers anonymously via 0800 555 111.

The incident took place in Nawton at 10.25pm yesterday – the offender fled the scene by car. Source: Breakfast

Pet food company fined $90k over employee's ill-treatment of bobby calves

The owner of a pet food plant has been sentenced for allowing one of his employees to ill-treat bobby calves.

Alan Cleaver from Te Kauwhata has been sentenced in the Hamilton District Court to six months community detention and 180 hours community work.

His company, Down Cow Limited was fined $90,000 dollars.

Mr Cleaver has also been banned for five years from having anything to do with the ownership or care of farm animals.

Charges were laid against Mr Cleaver, the company and an employee following secret video taken by the animal rights group, Farmwatch in 2015.

The employee, Noel Erickson was originally sentenced in 2016 to home detention but this was reduced on appeal by two years in prison.

Noel Erickson's actions were exposed by TVNZ's Sunday programme and caused widespread anger and disgust. Source: 1 NEWS

Calf. Source: 1 NEWS