Growing Investigations into John Tamihere and Te Pāti Māori Spark Calls for Comprehensive Inquiry

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Jun 05, 2024 |

By Dr Bryce Edwards

Political Analyst in Residence, Director of the Democracy Project, School of Government, Victoria University of Wellington. Article first published at  Democracy Project (

Investigations and public scrutiny of Te Pati Māori and John Tamihere’s various electoral campaigns and state contracts are finally starting to happen. Inquiries at varying levels now involve the Electoral Commission, the Police, Statistics New Zealand, and Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora. The Ministry of Social Development, Charity Services, and the Privacy Commissioner have also been involved.

However, there are growing calls for a more thorough, interconnected investigation of the myriad allegations. A King’s Council for the Government could possibly do this, but other agencies like the Auditor-General’s Office or the Serious Fraud Office could also carry out appropriate investigations.

The current investigations relate to several entities run from the South Auckland base of former Labour Cabinet Minister John Tamihere. He’s now the President of Te Pati Māori, the Chief Executive of the Waipareira Trust (a Māori urban authority providing social services), and Chief Executive of the Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency (a company that runs the Manurewa Marae and distributes government funding).

Numerous critics suggest that these various organisations, along with the associated National Urban Māori Authority, Manukau Urban Māori Authority, and Waatea News media, are something of a “fiefdom” that Tamihere controls for his personal advancement.

The Allegations against Tamihere and Te Pati Māori

On Sunday, I covered some of the allegations against Tamihere and his various entities, especially in terms of the alleged misuse of census gathering operations to help Tamihere’s political party win the Tamaki Makaurau electorate, but also other alleged breaches of the Electoral Act and his previous donations and loans not properly disclosed or appropriate under charity law – see my column, Te Pati Māori’s integrity under scrutiny

Much of this related to Sunday’s breaking investigative story by Andrea Vance, which detailed how the Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency had a contract to gather census data, which, according to former staff, involved photocopying the private data of citizens so that it could be used for the successful election campaign of Takutai Tarsh Kemp, who was also the chief executive of the Marae being used – see: Stats NZ investigating potential misuse of Māori census data

Yesterday, Statistics New Zealand announced that an independent and external investigator was brought in to determine what occurred regarding census data. Chief executive Mark Sowden explained the concern his organisation has for the integrity of Census information, and in responding to Vance’s story, he said, “We are taking these allegations very seriously” – see: Investigation into allegations of misuse of 2023 Census data

Sowden also pleaded for further information from the public: “We would encourage anyone with concerns of this nature to contact me via [email protected].nz. Alternatively, they can contact the Police or the Office of the Privacy Commissioner”.

Te Pati Māori and Tamihere are denying all the allegations. They put out a press release yesterday: “We unequivocally refute these allegations and welcome news of an independent investigation into the alleged misuse of data. The allegations are baseless and simply untrue. We have asked the journalist to provide evidence to support these claims – there has been no response” – see: Te Pāti Māori Statement On Serious Allegations

Also, according to Andrea Vance, “Tamihere won’t permit Kemp to be interviewed” on the matter.

Is a broader inquiry required?

Over the last day, several voices have started calling for a wider, more comprehensive investigation, including Labour leader Chris Hipkins, who argued yesterday that the allegations warranted a “rigourous and very credible” review – see the Herald’s Labour leader Chris Hipkins says Te Pāti Māori allegations very serious

An independent wide-ranging inquiry is also being demanded by the employment lawyer, Allan Halse, who is representing the former Manurewa Marae staff who claim they were bullied and dismissed unfairly. Halse said yesterday that a wide-ranging inquiry into all the relevant government agencies is required “from beginning to end” – see RNZ’s Claims of Census data misuse by Manurewa Marae probed by Stats NZ

Halse is quoted by RNZ saying, “All of it could have been avoided… If the authorities, when they learned what was taking place, had acted, they could’ve prevented this from continuing… It warrants an independent review to establish both what has happened, and whether agencies have responded with appropriate urgency.”

Lobby group the Taxpayers Union has also advocated a more comprehensive “Public inquiry”, saying yesterday that the various government agencies shouldn’t be reviewing themselves: “Public inquiries have the power to require the production of evidence, to compel witnesses, and to take evidence on oath. Given the seriousness of the allegations reported by the Sunday Star Times over the weekend, that looks to be justified, and necessary to ensure continued public confidence.”

Further allegations today of Te Pati Māori misuse of Covid data

Te Pati Māori and the Waipareira Trust are facing further allegations today about the misuse of state contracts and suggesting that they have used more private data for campaigning purposes – this time involving Covid vaccinations. The front page story of The Post today is by Andrea Vance, who reports that the Labour Party has laid a complaint with the Electoral Commission about text messages that were allegedly sent out by the Waipareira Trust, possibly using Ministry of Health lists of mobile phone numbers, to encourage a vote for Te Pati Māori – see: Complaint alleged Te Pāti Māori misused info collected for Covid vaccination drive (paywalled)

The Waipareira Trust, run by Tamihere, had been given a contract by the Ministry of Health to immunise people in South Auckland with the Covid vaccine. The operation involved the mass texting of phones of health clients in South Auckland, provided to them by the Ministry of Health.

Then, during the election campaign, according to the Labour Party, the Waipareira Trust sent out mass text messages from the same account urging the recipient to vote for Te Pāti Māori. Labour complained that this breached several laws. The Commission responded by referring the issue to the Police because the texts did not contain a promoter authorisation statement identifying who the election ad was from.

Labour’s submission to the Electoral Commission also included this complaint: “People’s rights under the Privacy Act may also have been breached in this campaign, as their personal information obtained by the Waipareira Trust for one purpose (delivering information about government services) appears to have been used for another purpose (promoting a political party).”

However, the Commission declined to refer this particular matter to the Police, saying the evidence didn’t meet the high threshold needed for prosecution. And yesterday, they refused to comment on the issue, given that the other matter of the lack of authorisation was before the Police.

Vance also reports that the Electoral Commission “did not notify either the Ministry of Health, the Ministry for Social Development nor the Office of the Privacy Commissioner about an alleged breach of privacy or misuse of personal information.”

Background on the Tamihere “fiefdom”

It doesn’t take much investigation into the various companies and trusts that John Tamihere is involved in before you realise that there is a huge web of influential entities with access to significant funding. It’s a lot to unravel.

There’s no doubt that Tamihere himself has more control over these entities than anyone else. For this reason, the University of Auckland’s Peter Davis, a long-time Labour Party activist, once said this about the former Labour Cabinet Minister: “He has always run the trust as a bit of a personal fiefdom, and this has not been transparent until now.”

Newstalk ZB’s investigative writer Philip Crump has been delving into some of these entities and posting about what he’s uncovered. Below is a selection of some of what Crump has uncovered and posted on X under his handle @CranmerWrites:

  • “The 2021 annual accounts for the Manurewa Marae were only filed in April 2024, with the 2022 and 2023 accounts still outstanding. Revenue for the 2021 financial year was $6,518,008 from DHB grants and contract revenue. TPM MP Natasha Kemp was CEO of the Manurewa Marae until she entered Parliament in the 2023 General Election.”
  • “The Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency (WOCA) is actually the trading name for Te Pou Matakana Ltd. WOCA distributes government/Whanau Ora funding to various charities including the Waipareira Trust. But the Trust and WOCA are related parties. The Waipareira Trust is a minority shareholder in WOCA and shares the same CEO – John Tamihere. JT’s wife, Awerangi Tamihere is also the chief operating officer of both the Waiperira Trust and WOCA. Last year, as well as being the CEO of Manurewa Marae, Takutai Moana Natasha Kemp was also a director of WOCA – only resigning from the board on 31 December 2023.”
  • “The latest financial accounts for the Waipareira Trust show that WOCA provided Waipareira Trust with $16.8M of government commissioning funding for the financial year ending 30 June 2022 and that Waipareira Trust is charging an annual $6M management fee payable by WOCA. An eye-watering fee usually only seen in private equity businesses.”
  • “John Tamihere’s Waipareira Trust is taking $6M in annual management fees as part of his deal to provide Whanau Ora services. Tamihere and his wife are the Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officers of Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency (WOCA) and Waipareira Trust respectively. WOCA is actually the trading name of Te Pou Matakana Limited which is owned by the Waipareira Trust and other Māori trusts.”
  • “WOCA patrons include JT’s father-in-law, Sir Mason Durie and current TPM political candidate Merepeka Raukawa-Tait. WOCA receives government funding and then distributes it to different organisations around the North Island, including to the Waipareira Trust.”
  • “Questions have been asked about why Charities Services isn’t taking a tougher position against Waipareira and Tamihere. Interestingly, its three person Registration Board, which looks at its most difficult cases, is chaired by Gwendoline Keel, a lawyer who is also the general counsel for Waikato-Tainui and current Labour Party candidate for Port Waikato! Is every public service role in New Zealand now politicised?”

Crump has also written about some of this for Newstalk ZB – see his article yesterday, Peeni Henare considering options following Manurewa marae allegations (paywalled)

One of the interesting elements of his research is the various people involved in Tamihere’s “fiefdom” that were also on Te Pati Māori’s party list: “Kemp was number 6 on the Te Pati Māori candidate list for last year’s election. The chair of WOCA, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait was number 8 and fellow director, Lady Tureiti Moxon was 21 on the list. Tamihere was 28.”

Tureiti Moxon is a director of Te Kōhoa Health, the National Urban Māori Authority (NUMA), and the Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency. She is also becoming more relevant—Moxon was the contact last week for the Toitū Te Tiriti movement of protests on Budget Day, etc.

The Spinoff’s Liam Rātana covered the protests, reporting: “there are no official faces, names or contact details affiliated with Toitū Te Tiriti or listed on its website. The Spinoff first received a media release about the kaupapa earlier in the week, sent by a public relations professional who said to contact managing director of Te Kōhao Health, Lady Tureiti Moxon, who paid for the release to be written and sent out” – see: A turning point for Māori activism

It’s very hard to get a sense of how all the various entities relate together or are delineated. But according to one former Te Pati Māori and the Waipareira Trust staffer, the “vast network of interconnected organisations” are all the same. Haimona Gray worked for Tamihere in 2016-17 and has written this week: “What became increasingly clear during my first week’s working there was that Te Pou Matakana, the Waipareira Trust, Hapai Te Hauora, and all the other ‘brands’ under this umbrella existed only on paper. In practice, they were (and remain) all the same organisation. If you worked for one, you worked for all of them.”

It’s worth reading Gray’s insider account of working for Tamihere and the other organisations, which he says do some vital work – see: The Darkness of the Tamihere Fiefdom

Consequences of the Tamihere-TPM scandals

Any breaches of electoral rules need to be thoroughly investigated, but this becomes even more important in close electoral races. In the case of Te Pati Māori candidate Takutai Tarsh Kemp, taking the electorate of Tamaki Maukaurau off Labour’s Peene Henare, she did so by only 42 votes. Hence, if illegal or corrupt practices were used to help Te Pati Māori at the Manurewa Marae voting station, this could easily have been consequential in determining the winner.

Andrea Vance has looked at the polling data in the electorate and suggests that there was a highly unusual boost for Kemp at that voting booth: “Kemp beat former Minister Henare by around 2.6 to 1 (478 votes to 185), while across the electorate the ratio was 1.004 to 1 (10,068 to 10,026.”

Political commentator David Farrar has also examined the voting booth data, and calculated the margin of difference between Kemp and Henare for the advance and election day votes:

  • Manurewa Marae (advance): +39% in favour of Kemp
  • Manurewa Marae +16%
  • Clendon Community Centre (advance): +6%
  • Pak’nSave Clendon -6%
  • Pak’nSave Clendon (advance): -10%
  • Clendon Community Centre -40%

Farrar says that you might normally expect that voting booths in the same suburb would be quite similar, but in this case, there was a huge advantage to Kemp at the Manurewa Marae – see: Manurewa Marae voting results

Hence, the details of these interconnected scandals could be consequential. And yesterday, Philip Crump reported that “sources close to former Cabinet minister Peeni Henare have confirmed he is considering his options and may complain to the Electoral Commission.”

Regardless of whether Te Pati Māori and John Tamihere are guilty of any of the allegations that are being aired at the moment, and regardless of what any investigations do, there is one enormous consequence from all this – Te Pati Māori’s relationship with the Labour Party is coming under severe strain.

The two parties, along with the Greens, have been positioning themselves as allies and a cohesive left-wing bloc that can eventually replace the current right-wing government. And yet, the bloc’s cohesiveness and unity might turn out to be much less voter-friendly than they are now. Pressure over these allegations and investigations will likely turn the two allies into uncomfortable opponents, making any unified bloc impossible at the next election.

Dr Bryce Edwards

Political Analyst in Residence, Director of the Democracy Project, School of Government, Victoria University of Wellington

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

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