29 Jun 2012

Turia was told of refuge problems, says national group

9:50 pm on 29 June 2012

The National Women's Refuges Collective says Associate Social Development Minister Tariana Turia was informed of serious financial problems at a Palmerston North Maori Women's Refuge.

Mrs Turia has told Radio New Zealand that the first she heard of the full extent of the financial difficulties at the refuge and of a damning report was when the matters were raised in Parliament on Wednesday by New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

Mrs Turia was also critical of the national women's collective for not offering more assistance to the Palmerston North Maori refuge.

National Women's Refuges Collective chief executive Heather Henare says representatives of her organisation met with Mrs Turia in April, and the next day sent her a follow-up letter with a copy of the audit report.

However, it is understood that report was dated August 2011, and contained different information to the December 2011 report tabled in the House.

An audit of the Te Roopu Whakaruruhau o Nga Wahine showed a loss of $109,000 for the year ended June 2011 as well as a number of unauthorised transactions.

The audit found the refuge had a payroll greater than its annual income and identified unauthorised transactions such as the payment of personal costs and staff bonuses.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei says the evidence suggests the minister was told of the situation at the refuge but neglected to take it seriously.

Ms Turei says the minister then blamed departmental officials and others for not making sure she knew, which casts serious doubt over whether Mrs Turia is sufficiently carrying out her ministerial responsibilities.

A spokesperson for the minister says Mrs Turia stands by her comments that she was not made aware of any fraudulent activity.

Key not taking matter further

The prime minister says his office has been briefed on the minister's dealings with the refuge.

John Key says he is not planning on taking the issue any further.

The Green Party says the prime minister should investigate what Mrs Turia knew of the situation at the refuge because her comments contradict those of the National Women's Refuges Collective.

The collective says the minister was informed of the serious issues at the refuge in April.

Mr Key says Mrs Turia has made no secret of the fact she was briefed about the refuge, but not with regards to any allegations of fraud.