5 Feb 2021

Te Pūkenga under fire for failing to meet Te Tiriti o Waitangi in Unitec restructure

6:18 pm on 5 February 2021

Minister of Education Chris Hipkins has criticised mega-polytech Te Pūkenga for not meeting the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in relation to the restructure at Auckland's Unitec.

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Minister of Education Chris Hipkins Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The former chair of Unitec's Māori advisory group, Te Rūnanga o Te Whare Wānanga o Wairaka, Tui Ah Loo resigned last week, saying Māori staff and students had been left "extremely vulnerable and unsafe".

She said this was a result of the industry-wide restructure, which led to the departure of key Māori leadership at Unitec.

She wrote to the minister calling for a review of the restructure process, which had lead to "the destruction of trust with iwi, Māori staff, students and Māori Urban groups."

In response, Minister of Education Chris Hipkins said Te Pūkenga was required "to demonstrate genuine commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi" and its principles.

"This is more than consultation with Māori. It is partnering effectively with Māori, ensuring Māori are actively engaged and able to participate in decision-making, and interrogating governance and leadership decisions for their ability to transform the status quo and deliver equitable outcomes for Māori," Hipkins wrote.

"Based on your letter, it is evident that both my expectations and your expectations have not been delivered on."

Ah Loo said on receiving the minister's letter, she "felt a deep sense of validation and affirmation that our concerns have finally been upheld".

"I am particularly happy for all our whānau whānui at Unitec and our wider community to know they have been heard and their voices and actions have not been in vain".

She was also pleased the minister had acknowledged the progress made in recent years by previous Unitec leaders to truly demonstrate Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Te Pūkenga chair Murray Strong accepted that the minister's guidelines on how to implement Te Tiriti o Waitangi during the restructure process were not delivered on.

"We accept that as part of that process there wasn't sufficient consultation with the rūnanga or Māori communities in establishing the trajectory and the way that change was going to occur."

He said as chairman, he would be "keeping a very active watch" on how existing Treaty partnerships within Unitec, and the other 15 polytechnics, were recognised and respected as the new operating model was being developed.

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