Bitter infighting looks set to escalate within the New Zealand Māori Council even after a mediator was called in, writes political editor Jo Moir.
Two parties within the NZ Māori Council are at war and one of them is refusing to engage with a mediator brought in by Te Puni Kōkiri to try settle the dispute.
The council held its annual general meeting in Wellington last month after then-council executive director, Matthew Tukaki, failed to get a High Court injunction to stop it proceeding.
This came after Tukaki lost his position as chair of the Auckland (Tamaki) branch of the council during a recent election.
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His election loss means he isn’t eligible to be on the national council or retain his executive director role.
However, Tukaki still holds control of the office, website and bank accounts as the infighting continues.
Tukaki told Newsroom there is “conjecture over whether some of the election results are valid’’.
He’s alleging some new and revived branches in Auckland didn’t hold elections under the rules set out by the Council under legislation dating back to the 1960s.
Tukaki says a faction “ran away” and held their own hui to appoint a new national board, which he says doesn’t stand given it’s “questionable if they even had a quorum’’.
The infighting within the council isn’t new, according to Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson.
“It does concern me that this has gone on for so long – it’s been going on for years sadly.
“I can see how strong and united the Māori Council can be, because I was part of it before they started warring,’’ he said.
Jackson has received one report already from Ken Mair, who was brought in by TPK to mediate.
“The report I’ve had is that he’s struggling to talk with all the parties, and there’s some resistance from one side.’’
Jackson said there’s been allegations in terms of the legitimacy of the elections, “but it’s not for me to comment on it’’.
“I have to take a step back because obviously I know all the different parties and I know both sides – I’m a former Māori Councillor myself.’’
George Ngatai, who is claiming to be one of the new co-chairs of the Council following the Wellington hui, says he has no interest in mediation.
“I haven’t been engaging with the mediator. I’d be happy to sit down and meet with the Minister and get a better view as to what he wants as the outcome of this.”
Ngatai says he wants to settle the dispute but would prefer it be dealt with internally.
“There are issues that Matt and his team have addressed to us, but I think we would normally review internally before getting external people in to review something, that in my opinion, isn’t broke.’’
Ngatai said an election process had been gone through and while Tukaki had done a good job as chair, he no longer held that role.
“It’s not about a mediator coming in – there’s no issue between parties. The issue is people have been upset with the outcome and haven’t been elected in.”
Ngatai says he would be open to an internal committee within the council reviewing the legislation and election results.
But Tukaki says there was wide support from councillors across many districts to get Government help in the form of an independent mediator.
“In the meantime, some on the council have given themselves titles – this isn’t how chiefs behave.’’
Tukaki says he isn’t claiming Ngatai and his supporters shouldn’t have been elected, but if elections weren’t “open and transparent’’ then they need to be held again.