28 Jun 2017

Inside the marae at centre of Labour's intern scandal

From Checkpoint, 5:08 pm on 28 June 2017

Labour interns staying at an Auckland marae have rejected claims their accommodation is substandard, saying they have been welcomed and well taken care of during their stay.

Last week, the Politik website, politik.co.nz, broke the story of a Labour Party scheme that had recruited 85 overseas students to campaign for the party, and run into trouble.

The article said: "what was supposed to be a high powered learning programme but which appears to be not much more than political campaign drudge work."

But Awataha marae, which earns income by providing cheap and basic accommodation, has rejected those claims.

Speaking to Checkpoint with John Campbell today, marae head Anthony Wilson said he had been forced to defend his mana over the accusations.

"As a people it hurts us, because now we have to feel that we have to defend our mana.

"The pride we take in providing the meals that are here, and the hospitality that we provide to people, I mean that is what marae is all about."

Mr Wilson said sports teams and international groups often stayed at the marae.

"We're not a five star hotel - we've never, ever put ourselves out there [as] being a five-star hotel."

He said groups staying at the marae usually paid $12 per person per night.

"I'm not sure if you can find a better deal than that in Auckland, if you can I'd be suprised."

Mr Wilson was not willing to say if that was how much the Labour Party was paying for its interns' stay, but he said the marae has been very reasonable with them.

"I don't think it would be fair of me to actually say how much we've been paid."

Interns defend marae accommodation

A man claiming to work for the Labour Party told Checkpoint with John Campbell that interns staying at the marae were not able to be interviewed, but several who spoke on the condition of anonymity had only positive things to say about their experiences.

One US intern spoken to by Checkpoint arrived in the country three weeks ago to help Labour and said overall the experience had been pleasant.

"I've enjoyed my stay here, to be perfectly honest.

"There were some people who weren't exactly happy about the accommodations, but I was more than happy about the accommodations."

Another said she had had a "phenomenal experience".

"The staff on the marae could not be more hospitable if they tried.

"We've had a bed, we've had food, we've had delicious meals, we've had showers, so there's nothing really else you can ask for.

"We are privileged students and we're so lucky to have had the opportunity to be in New Zealand."

Having only been in the country a couple of weeks, she said she had got some 'awesome' working experience through her Labour internship.

A third student, a 20-year-old from Harvard University, said she felt welcome from the time she arrived on the marae.