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Listen: Hipkins on Te Pāti Māori claims, party 'unequivocally refutes' allegations

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 5 Jun 2024, 9:37am
Labour leader Chris Hipkins speaks to Newstalk ZB Wellington host Nick Mills. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Labour leader Chris Hipkins speaks to Newstalk ZB Wellington host Nick Mills. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Listen: Hipkins on Te Pāti Māori claims, party 'unequivocally refutes' allegations

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 5 Jun 2024, 9:37am

Labour leader Chris Hipkins has called the allegations surrounding Te Pāti Māori “very serious” and says any improper conduct needs to be investigated. 

The party has “unequivocally refuted” claims it misused data from Census records to help its election campaign, or deceptively obtained personal information from the Covid-19 Immunisation Programme for campaigning purposes.

Hipkins told Newstalk ZB’s Nick Mills these were “very serious allegations”.

Te Pāti Māori’s Takutai Moana Natasha Kemp won the Tāmaki Makaurau seat over incumbent MP Peeni Henare by only 42 votes last election.

Hipkins said he was “mindful” they lost the seat by only a small number of votes.

”And so I think if there was any improper behaviour and improper conduct, then it is important that we find out what happened there.”

Hipkins said he did not want marae to stop helping Māori get vaccinated, apply for an electoral roll or fill out census forms, but there needed to be “clear delineations”.

”It’s really important that they make sure they’ve got processes in place to keep clear delineations between those activities so that any information that’s collected through them isn’t used inappropriately,” Hipkins said.

It was first revealed by the Sunday Star-Times that a probe was opened last week into claims Manurewa Marae misused Census data to help Te Pāti Māori’s election campaign.

A spokesperson for the party “unequivocally refuted” the allegations and welcomed an investigation.

“The allegations are baseless and simply untrue. We have asked the journalist to provide evidence to support these claims – there has been no response.”

The Manurewa Marae chief executive at the time was Te Pāti Māori MP Takutai Tarsh Kemp, who has not been stood down and will continue to serve as MP of her electorate.

Takutai Moana Natasha Kemp at Manurewa Marae. Photo / Michael CraigTakutai Moana Natasha Kemp at Manurewa Marae. Photo / Michael Craig 

“She has the full support and confidence of Te Pāti Māori to carry out her duties,” the spokesperson said.

It was alleged private data from Census forms was photocopied and entered into a database, which sources believe was then used to target voters in the Tāmaki Makaurau electorate.

Stats NZ has launched an investigation into the claims. Police also confirmed they received a complaint last week.

Te Pāti Māori president John Tamihere strongly denied the allegations, calling for anyone to produce “hard evidence” and describing “unsubstantiated sources” as unhelpful.

When asked about the new allegations around the misuse of Covid-19 vaccination information, the party had little to add.

“Keeping with last night’s statement, it’s hard to defend yourself on rumour, speculation and allegation. We’re waiting for any hard evidence to prove anything to be true.”

John Tamihere described “unsubstantiated sources” as unhelpful.  Photo / Mike ScottJohn Tamihere described “unsubstantiated sources” as unhelpful. Photo / Mike Scott 

Kemp stepped down from her role as Manurewa Marae chief executive after narrowly winning the Tāmaki Makaurau seat last year.

During the election campaign, the Labour Party complained to the Electoral Commission about text messages urging people to vote for Te Pāti Māori.

The key complaint was that the text messages did not have an authorisation statement setting out who was responsible for it, as required by electoral law.

However, Labour also flagged concerns that the four-digit number used was the same as that used by Waipareira Trust to send out Covid-19 vaccination messages.

One of the text messages referred to the Electoral Commission by the Labour Party.One of the text messages referred to the Electoral Commission by the Labour Party. 

Labour’s complaint stated: 

“The text message comes from a four-digit shortcode (2661) which we understand belongs to the Waipareira Trust, whose Chief executive John Tamihere is also the President of Te Pāti Māori. This is relevant because that shortcode has been previously used to send people government information about Covid vaccinations and other matters. On that basis, we believe that: 

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). This may also involve misuse of public funds given to Waipareira Trust for developing this service.” 

Labour also questioned whether the Trust’s contract with government agencies, which gave them access to personal information such as mobile phone numbers, may also have been breached or whether it was a breach of the contract with a telecommunications provider. 

On November 29, the Electoral Commission announced it had referred Te Pāti Māori to police for text messages which were sent out without any promoter statement. 

Electoral laws require all forms of political advertising to have a statement saying who had authorised it – usually the candidate or party’s general secretary – and an address. 

The Electoral Commission would not comment further today, saying it was now being investigated by police. 

Although the police referral related only to the authorisation statement, a spokesperson for the Commission said that it had passed on “all information held about the complaints and what we have found.” 

The Labour Party did not want to comment, saying it was now for the Electoral Commission, Stats NZ, the police, the Privacy Commissioner and the Ministry of Health to ensure information was not improperly used. 

In a statement, Stats NZ chief executive Mark Sowden said the agency had brought in an external party to investigate after receiving the allegations late last week. 

“We are taking these allegations very seriously,” Sowden said. 

The Ministry of Health said it had not been contacted by the Electoral Commission or any other party regarding the allegations. 

In a statement, it said it would “cooperate with the investigation into these allegations should it be required”. 

Act Party leader David Seymour said the allegations needed to be properly investigated. 

“The allegations are extremely serious and need to be properly investigated, which is happening.” 

Act leader David Seymour. Photo / Michael Craig 

He also took a jab at Te Pāti Māori and the Green Party for their current strife. 

“Whatever the outcome of this investigation, I think parties like Te Pāti Māori and the Greens need to sit back and ask themselves two simple questions: if their ideas are so good, why can’t they persuade more people without constantly breaking the rules and conventions everyone else lives by.” 

“And if their ideas aren’t that good, is it really destroying the society we live in because they are having a hissy fit after not having won an argument?” 

He called the allegations “deeply concerning”. 

“Reliable statistics are critical for New Zealand. Even more important than the census are our democracy and our elections.” 

Seymour said the Act Party had not made any formal complaints regarding the allegations. 

He said there should be a “close look” at the laws to see if Kemp can be stood down while the investigation is underway, as the statute of limitations of contesting the vote is well over. 

He said this development in Te Pāti Māori’s “saga” of “antics” proved “they were not held to the same standard as other parties”. 

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