A powerhouse of government advisors is teaming up to start a new consultancy firm. Political editor Jo Moir looks at the hole it will leave.

Two long-time Beehive staffers and the chief of staff for the Green Party are teaming up with the Chair of the National Māori Authority to set up a new consultancy firm.

Deborah Mahuta-Coyle, Nevada Halbert and Tory Whanau have all announced their departure from Parliament to launch a new business venture, alongside Matthew Tukaki.

Mahuta-Coyle worked for former Prime Minister Helen Clark and finishes up this week in the office of Children’s Minister Kelvin Davis, while Halbert has spent years advising Nanaia Mahuta, the Foreign Affairs Minister.

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Whanau has been working for the Green Party since 2015 and has been their chief of staff for the last four years.

She was thrust into the senior role when Deborah Morris-Travers, a former New Zealand First MP, moved on.

On August 2 the team is set to soft launch their new business, which will include Tukaki, who was recently pushed out of the chief executive role for the New Zealand Māori Council.

The Māori Development Ministry, Te Puni Kōkiri, has intervened in the spat between Tukaki and a group who have held elections and forced him out of the role.

Tukaki is also chair of the Oranga Tamariki Ministerial Advisory Board that reports to Minister Kelvin Davis.

Whanau told Newsroom the Māori-led consultancy group will specialise in government relations, strategic communications, campaigns and policy development.

Speculation has also been rife that Whanau is considering a run at the Wellington mayoralty next year.

She told Newsroom her immediate focus was on the consultancy firm, but wasn’t ruling anything out.

The idea for the business came about when the three Parliament staffers got chatting about all leaving their jobs to pursue contract work.

The idea of working alone seemed off-putting because all of them are used to working as part of a team.

Each has their own skill sets and while some will focus specifically on helping Māori organisations engage with Labour’s work programme, others will specialise more in strategy, campaigns and policy work.

The exit of Halbert and Mahuta-Coyle leave a gaping hole in the specialist Māori advisors within Beehive offices.

The pair have been influential in helping progress kaupapa for the Labour Māori caucus, including the $1 billion Budget win for Māori in May, and play a significant role in the organising of events including Waitangi and Rātana commemorations.

The exit creates even more problems for the Labour Government, which has already been struggling to get press secretaries with strong Te Reo and tikanga knowledge, for its Māori ministers.

A press secretary vacancy remains for Green Party co-leader and Minister Marama Davidson and Māori Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis.

The role in Mahuta’s office has only been filled in recent weeks.

Getting Māori political advisors and press secretaries has been a long-standing problem at Parliament.

Newsroom understands the brunt of the problem being that Parliament operates in a way that is seen as quite alien to the Māori world.

Working in a Māori MP or minister’s office often means being across politics in general, but also Māori politics – which brings a whole different set of complexities.

Taking on the job and having to compromise between two worlds can be challenging.

Within the Labour staffing team, the Māori advisors and press secretaries all work together as a team to support each other, in the same way the Māori ministers collaborate to get funding and work programmes across the line.

Halbert and Mahuta-Coyle take with them a lot of the Māori institutional knowledge that currently exists within the Labour Party.

A more formal launch for the business and its new premises will take place in November but in the meantime the group already has about 10 contracts in the pipeline.

“With word starting to get out, there is certainly interest from a number of agencies, which is really exciting,’’ Whanau said.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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