23 Jan 2020

Māori leaders agree to meet Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern over Whānau Ora funding

7:21 pm on 23 January 2020

The leaders seeking an urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing over the handling of Whānau Ora money have agreed to meet with the prime minister to discuss solutions.

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Dame Tariana Turia. Photo: Supplied

Dame Tariana Turia, Dame Naida Glavish, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, Lady Tureiti Moxon and Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi filed the claim earlier this week over the handling of Whānau Ora funding.

They said the government had breached the Treaty of Waitangi by refusing to adequately and transparently fund Whānau Ora.

The claim also states that funding is being withdrawn from the initiative, with the money being picked up by government agencies instead.

Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare denied this and said the three commissioning agencies would receive a further $42m and the rest had been earmarked for new Whānau Ora initiatives.

Today, the leaders confirmed in a statement that they had accepted an invitation from the prime minister to meet.

"It was regretful that we as Māori leaders had to make public our concerns over the destruction of Whānau Ora as well as holding the prime minister to account however we will take the meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Labour Māori caucus with open minds to try to resolve differences and look for solutions."

Henare said the issues raised in the claim could have always been talked and worked through without having to go to the Waitangi Tribunal and said his door had always been open.

Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare and Commissioning Chair Merepeka Raukawa-Tait in the Checkpoint studio.

Peeni Henare and Merepeka Raukawa-Tait. Photo: RNZ

The group wrote to the PM in November 2019, expressing their concerns, but they had no response. Henare acknowledged his part in not replying to that letter sooner but that he still wanted to meet with them.

"The timeliness wasn't up to the standard that was expected of us and I will own it for my part in that."

Earlier today, he announced that $20m which was earmarked by the minister to explore new localised Whānau Ora commissioning, $3 million of that will now be redirected back into the commissioning agencies this year.

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said she was thankful for the extra funding - but said it was not enough.

"With the work that we have to do, the scaling up we have to do, his [Peeni Henare's] own report suggested that 18 months ago we are successful that we need to do more, but more money should come our way so I would have expected significantly more than that."

Raukawa-Tait believes the announcement is a direct result of filing the claim and shows that the minister is feeling pressure to deliver.

"He must be really feeling it because of the reaction from around the country, particularly from Whānau Ora providers and the support from the Māori community has been absolutely overwhelming, that we are saying to the minister what he needs to hear, not what he wants to hear," she said.

Henare said although it seemed coincidental, the funding boost was always going to be redirected to the commissioning agencies at this time and was not a direct response to the claim filed this week.

"Very soon all the papers will be out to show that we understood the projects we were working on towards the end of last year, those costs became clearer to us which also told us that there was residual money. It might seem coincidental but that is definitely not the case."

In response to whether the week's events will hurt him in election year - he didn't believe it would.

"I have received a lot of feedback - most of it positive on what we are trying to do.

"It's interesting how people can make a claim without any evidence. I am confident I am more than happy for the Waitangi Tribunal to consider this because I don't believe we have done anything wrong and the evidence will prove that."

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