Member log in

NZ POLITICS DAILY: The Kohanga Reo ‘whitewash’ and Hekia Parata

It’s been labeled a ‘whitewash’ or a ‘brownwash’ by opposition politicians and many commentators. Whatever the truth, the Government-initiated report released last week about the Kohanga Reo National Trust has certainly not satisfied critics and killed off the scandal. Instead it has fueled the fire of ‘corruption’ allegations, calling into question – yet again – the competence of the Minister of Education, and raising further concerns about the National Government’s management of ‘political sleaze’.

Parata’s role – cover-up or incompetence?

The Minister of Education is being accused of being either incompetent or dishonest in her handling of the Kohanga Reo scandal. She could, of course, be guilty of both – but the question of whether she has been trying to cover-up the scandal or just hasn’t understood or handled it well, is the most interesting in the whole affair. For a discussion of this question and a strongly critical account of the whole saga, see Colin Espiner’s Parata should be sacked. The key part of Espiner’s must-read column is this: ‘At best she bungled the entire issue from start to finish. At worst she appears complicit with the trust in its bid to sweep the whole mess under the carpet’.

Espiner is in no doubt that Parata needs to go, saying ‘Her performance over this issue is tantamount to a dereliction of her duty to ensure the wise and proper expenditure of public funds in her portfolio.  First, she allowed herself to be hoodwinked by the trust into accepting she had no right to inquire into TPO. Second, she set up an inquiry deliberately designed to fail, at further considerable cost to the taxpayer. And third, she attempted to claim the report's findings as a victory for the trust, even while it sank deeper into a mire of allegations’.

The main reason that a ‘cover-up’ is being alleged is the National Government set up the official investigation with terms of reference that were written to exclude the actual allegations being examined. Tim Watkin ponders why this might be the case: ‘So Parata and Sharples appear to have been trying to hide the truth in the terms of reference they created, and then Parata has been shown to have been simply wrong in her assertions about the Trust and whether TPO receives public money. That's either inept or dishonest.  Whether or not the Trust has behaved properly (and it seems to have not), Parata & Sharples both need to be held to account for wasting $90,000 on a report that looked in the wrong place. They failed in their duty and now it's their turn to be held to account’ – see: Parata & Sharples detective agency: 'I lost my money at home' – 'Let's look in the car'.

As a further indication of what Watkin thinks is the answer to the ‘cover-up or incompetence’ question, he says ‘the investigation they ordered was a most unsubtle charade; Parata somehow thinking she could say 'look over here', when everyone knew the problem was over there’. And Watkin also points to the interview with John Key and Te Ururoa Flavell on his TV3 programme The Nation, in which they ‘both stayed on message’ pushing the Parata line that the Government can’t investigate the use of ‘private money’ in a ‘private organisation’.

According to the Southland Times the idea that there has been an attempt at a cover-up is undermined by the fact that Parata has a history of incompetence: ‘Much as the initial allegations remain unsubstantiated, the pitch of public suspicion is now greater than ever.  The best the Government can hope for now is that people regard the setup of the investigation as a matter of screaming incompetence rather than sinister deception.  Perhaps, in that respect, Ms Parata's reputation for haplessness might assist.  The defence can be that clearly the investigation wasn't a whitewash because, come on, it was never going to wash’ – see: A kohanga reo tale of woe.

But interestingly, even National-aligned blogger David Farrar strongly hints – albeit with humour – at a cover-up: ‘The first is having an inquiry that did not have the ability to actually investigate the allegations around the subsidiary. It reminds me of the quote from Yes Minister: “Minister, two basic rules of government: Never look into anything you don’t have to. And never set up an enquiry unless you know in advance what its findings will be”.  Ernst & Young have no powers to investigate Te Pataka Ohanga, but the Auditor-General has extensive powers and I believe it would have been far better for the Auditor-General to be asked to investigate’ – see: The Kohanga Reo debacle.

Condemnation of Parata

It’s not the degree of condemnation of Parata’s handling of the scandal that is surprising, but where the criticisms are coming from. Naturally the opposition parties are going strong against her, but the newspaper editorials and rightwing commentators are also critical. For strongly-word editorials, see the Dominion Post’s Blame at Hekia's feet, The Press’ One calamity too many, and the Herald’s Fraud office probe crucial in kohanga reo case – all of which make good points. 

Today Matthew Hooton called for Parata to be sacked, and he’s joined by other National-aligned commentators, such as Liam Hehir who says, Time for a change for Parata.

So, will Parata get the axe? That’s the question asked by Tracy Watkins in Will Key forgive this breathtaking disaster? See also, Radio NZ’s Parata accused of mishandling review

Government devolution and the private sector

The major complication and complexity of the Kohanga Reo scandal is the argument made by both Parata and the National Trust that the spending allegations concern not the Trust itself but an independent commercial subsidiary, Te Pataka Ohanga (TPO). Essentially the legal establishment of a separate private business has meant that the alleged dubious spending is safe from scrutiny. 

This arrangement has outraged most commentators. For instance, Colin Espiner calls this a ‘farce’ because ‘in the case of TPO, its "private" status is a farce: the company's directors are all members of the Kohanga Reo Trust, it shares the same office space, uses the same staff - and is 100 per cent owned by the trust’ – see: Parata should be sacked.

Kohanga Reo spokesperson Derek Fox has continued to compare the alleged misspending to that of any spending of public-derived money in the private sector. Tim Watkin outlines his argument: ‘Fox repeatedly used the example of a school buying books from Whitcoulls. If a school uses taxpayers' money to buy a book at Whitcoulls and Whitcoulls managers spend that money on a wedding dress or unreceipted koha, is that the public's business? No. Whitcoulls' money is its own’. Watkin reponds by saying ‘In short, trying to draw a line between the Trust and TPO is spin of the most irrational kind. It's nonsense. If you apply the relevant facts to Fox's analogy then you need to imagine Whitcoulls as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Education Ministry or this book-buying school. Then it might work’ – see: Parata & Sharples detective agency: 'I lost my money at home' – 'Let's look in the car'. Similarly, see Dave Armstrong’s Handbagging has just begun.

For the most interesting discussion of the ramifications of this arrangement for National’s devolution plans, see Tracy Watkins’s very good column Leap of faith to believe Parata. Here’s the key part: ‘But for Parata to hold such a view should disturb her colleagues as much as it disturbs the public, given her seniority in a government for which devolving hundreds of millions, ultimately perhaps even billions, of dollars to third-party providers is central to its ideology.  The debacle surrounding Parata’s oversight of an inquiry into spending by TPO could – and should – ring bells about the Government’s oversight of spending in a raft of areas, including Whanau Ora, Parata’s flagship charter school roll-out, and the massive divestment of social housing to third party providers to name a few’. 

Watkins shows how the Kohanga Reo arrangement calls into question the wider integrity, accountability, and transparency of what National is doing in the public sector. Unfortunately for National, this makes the party even more vulnerable to Labour’s attempt to show the Government is mismanaging ‘political sleaze’. 

The scandal also raises questions about the National Government’s orientation to Maori. Rachel Smalley comments: ‘It reveals the Government was never committed nor interested in this issue. So what does that say about its commitment to Maori and crucially to Maori children in the Kohanga Reo programme?’ – see: Kohanga Reo allegations reveal a lot about Govt's commitment to Maori

The Bigger picture for Maoridom

There will inevitably be some that see the Kohanga Reo scandal as yet another trivial distraction from ‘real politics’. And of course there are indeed elements of the sensational about such sagas. Nonetheless, the story raises many issues about shifting alliances and conflicts within Maoridom. Some of this can be seen in Audrey Young’s Act now, leaders tell Kohanga

There are also some important issues and partial-defences raised in columns such as Tahu Potiki’s Is Kohanga Reo row a media beat-up? and Dion Tuuta’s Kohanga movement needs to survive scandal

But much more important questions are raised in Morgan Godfery’s Wrong questions, wrong answers: the rot in the Kohanga Reo. He argues that ‘There’s a rot in Maori governance. From poor governance at Maori TV to the Kohanga Reo board, Maori aren’t being served’. He also raises questions about political alliances between the National and Maori parties and the Kohanga Reo elite: ‘Lastly, what’s Parata and Sharples connection to board members? It could be their personal relationships that lead them to protect the board. If you pick apart the fabric of Maori society you'll find important seams that connect and overlap’.

Some will also ask whether there are elements of racism involved in the reporting and analysis of the whole scandal. This gets a partial hearing in Danyl McLauchlan’s blog post, Big trouble in little nest. He says: ‘I’ve always sort-of wondered if there’s an element of bigotry in all of the criticism directed at Hekia Parata. Is she incompetent? Or does she just attract scrutiny and criticism because she’s a successful Maori woman? Well her handling of the Kohanga Reo trust issue has cleared that up nicely: she is totally incompetent. A political naif hiding behind incomprehensible jargon, just like Fox hides behind the principles of Kaupapa Maori that he’s doing so much damage to’.

And for a reminder of the seriousness and details of what has been going on, see the following important reports: David Fisher’s Trust money lent to senior staff, board, Kathryn King’s Kohanga reo boss drained finances, and Felix Marwick and Frances Cook’s Trust's tax-free koha payment revealed.

Finally, for humour and insight, see my blog post Top tweets and cartoons about Hekia Parata and the Kohanga Reo scandal  and Steve Braunias’ The secret diary of Hekia Parata.

Today’s links

Kohanga Reo Trust

Steve Braunias (Stuff): The secret diary of Hekia Parata

Colin Espiner (Stuff): Parata should be sacked

Josh Fagan (Stuff): Parata says she's not the problem

Peter Wilson (Newswire): Parata was wrong – Trust board

Tim Watkin (Pundit): Parata & Sharples detective agency: 'I lost my money at home' - 'Let's look in the car'

Kathryn King (Stuff): Kohanga reo boss drained finances

Audrey Young (Herald): Act now, leaders tell Kohanga

Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Leap of faith to believe Parata

Rachel Smalley (Newstalk ZB): Kohanga Reo allegations reveal a lot about Govt's commitment to Maori

Tahu Potiki (Stuff): Is Kohanga Reo row a media beat-up?

Dion Tuuta (Stuff): Kohanga movement needs to survive scandal

The Press: One calamity too many

Radio NZ: Kohanga trust to release statement


Internet Party

Jonathan Milne (Herald): Dotcom claims first MP

Jonathan Milne (Herald): Politicians of all stripes welcome at Kim's place

Herald: Herald on Sunday editorial: Openness, not shock and awe

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): The Dotcom Mana alliance

Keeping Stock: The HoS on Dotcom

Greg Presland (The Standard): Which MP is Kim Dotcom talking to?

Radio NZ: Mana looking at links with Dotcom party

Vernon Small (Stuff): Mana waits to see Internet Party ideas

Ellipsister: Opposites attract?

Pete George (Your NZ): Establishing the Internet Party

Pete George (Your NZ): Mischievous tweet by NZ First MP spoof

Pete George (Your NZ): Concerns at Mana links with Dotcom

Pete George (Your NZ): Curran rules out Internet party

Bryce Edwards (Liberation): Top tweets about the Dotcom Internet Party’s alliances


Problem Gambling Foundation 

Steve Kilgallon (Stuff): Gambling body warned for politics

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Gambling funding reasons rejected

Sophia Duckor-Jones (Newstalk ZB): The Sallies didn't even tender, say Greens

Emma Jolliff (TV3): Funding ends for gambling foundation

Newswire: Salvation Army takes over from foundation

Russell Brown (Public Address): Taking a very big gamble

No Right Turn: Defunded

Pete George (Your NZ): Problem for Problem Gambling Foundation

Waikato Times: Dependants can't be critics

Herald: Editorial: Suspicions as anti-gambling voice silenced

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Desperate lies

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Problem Gambling Foundation loses Govt funding

Isaac Davison (Herald): Problem gambling contract surprises

Rob Salmond (Polity): National cuts charity funding because charity criticises National

Pete George (Your NZ): False allegations

Eric Crampton (Offsetting Behaviour): Service provision, service advocacy

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): PGF loses contract to Salvation Army


NZ-China relations

Jacqui Stanford (Newstalk ZB): Norman expects 'better leadership' after Key's apology

Claire Trevett (Herald): Key cracks jokes after China trip

The Press: Editorial: New Zealanders need to work hard in China's market

Taranaki Daily News: Editorial: China visit marks genuine coup for Key

Herald: Editorial: Woe betide any mishap in AB's China trip

Fran O'Sullivan (Herald): Key's visit a triumph for New Zealand Inc

TV3: Key: Close with Chinese Premier after Tibetan flag incident

TVNZ:  Key in China: NZ shouldn't have 'all eggs in one basket'

Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Key's China trip appears flawless

Stephanie Flores (NBR): Making sense of trade announcements from China

Ahlee Tulloch (TV3): Key criticised for not addressing cyber-security in China

Julie Moffett (Newstalk ZB): Another dairy contamination scare would be disastrous – Key

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Rutherford on Key in China

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Fran on China

NBR Staff (NBR): NZ not too dependent on China – Key

TVNZ: Another food scare would be 'disastrous' for trade – PM

Herald: Chinese rolled out red carpet – Key


Latest polls

Newswire: NZ election too close to call - poll

Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): New poll has Labour/Greens tied with National

Pete George (Your NZ): Roy Morgan – National = Labour+Greens

David Kennedy (Local Bodies): National Slumps in Polls As Ministers Struggle

Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): No more polling pundit


Labour Party

Vernon Small (Stuff): Rallying Labour's lost loves

Audrey Young (Herald): Labour announces five new candidates

John Armstrong (Herald): Cunliffe's gloves off for economic battle

Fundamentally Useless: Workers vs. Progressives: the elephant hidden in Labour’s room

Josie Pagani: How the left could still win

Jamie Whyte (NBR): Cunliffe's policies of forced consumption

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Another one bites the dust?


National Party

Rodney Hide (Herald): Keep smiling and carry on

Daily Blog: GUEST BLOG: Iain Lees-Galloway – Cowardly National Don’t Front For The Tough Stuff

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Another National candidate who has achieved stuff in the private sector


NZ First

Bevan Hurley (Herald): 'Bully' MP drives women out

Newstalk ZB Staff (Newstalk ZB): Williams dismisses claims of bullying women out of their jobs



Newswire: NZ imposes travel sanctions over Ukraine

Vernon Small (Stuff): NZ joins in 'personal sanctions' over Crimea

Audrey Young (Herald): NZ announces 'modest' sanctions over Crimea seizure

Radio NZ: NZ announces Crimea travel sanctions

NBR Staff (NBR): NZ won't recognise Crimea referendum outcome, imposes travel sanctions

Andrea Vance (Stuff): Time for action on nuclear security

TVNZ: John Key to attend Nuclear Security Summit

Audrey Young (Herald): Sanctions against Russia symbolic, McCully admits


Shane Jones

Adam Bennett (Herald): Jones scotches speculation

Dan Satherley (TV3): Jones denies plotting waka jump to NZ First

Pete George (Your NZ): Jones rubbishes NZ First speculation



Lauren Hayes (Stuff): New glitches spark call to ditch Novopay system

Jo Moir (Stuff): Teacher sees value in online connection

Nicholas Jones (Herald): Charter school 3 teachers down

Newswire: Digital portal for schools launched

RadioLIVE/TV3: Vulnerable students 'let down' by charter schools - NZ First

Paul Little (Herald): Funding model doesn't add up


Inequality and poverty

Bernard Hickey (Herald): Baby Busters pay the price

Eileen Goodwin (ODT): Benefit cuts here to stay, author tells forum

Selwyn Manning (Daily Blog): Spin And Myth Are Powerful Bedfellows

The Standard: And now for the real news…

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Behind the headline

Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): Is welfare part of the problem?

Radio NZ: Govt minimising power rises – Greens

CPAG: Youth Forum Invite



Jamie Morton (Herald): NZ needs to review its direction - economic report

Martyn Bradbury (Herald): PM selling NZ out for three beans

Wayne Brown (NBR): Why can’t we be more like Singapore?

Murray Sherwin (NBR): Opinion: What can be done about regulation

The Standard: Corporates for TPP

Jacqui Stanford (Newstalk ZB): Mining royalties could be shared with local authorities



Duncan Garner (Stuff): Priced out of the Kiwi dream

No Right Turn: The real barrier to fixing the housing crisis


Genesis Energy

Brian Gaynor (Herald): Treasury finally gets it right with Genesis IPO

Tim Hunter (Stuff): Genesis dividends the drawcard


Kim Dotcom

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Supreme Court rules against Kim Dotcom

TV3: Dotcom's injunction: What does he have to hide?

Teuila Fuatai (Herald): Dotcom access to FBI files denied by Supreme Court

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Dotcom loses at Supreme Court

NBR Staff (NBR): Supreme Court denies Dotcom full access to files in extradition proceedings

Guardian: Kim Dotcom loses case to access US extradition evidence

Adam Bennett (Herald): Dotcom show wears thin for Kiwis

Teuila Fuatai and Patrice Dougan (Herald): Dotcom vows to continue fight after court knockback



Herald: Flag change gains international support

TVNZ: New York Times backs Key on flag change

Michael Field (Stuff): 'Ditch the flag' - New York Times


Christchurch rebuild

TVNZ: $2.5m to restore historic Canterbury buildings

Sarah-Jane O’Connor (Stuff): Politicians battle for Christchurch

Steven Cowan (Against the Current): Wealthy property investors need our help!


Maori politics

Radio NZ: Call for agency to only fund Te Reo TV

Radio NZ: Harawira defends treaty claim body

RadioLIVE: Flavell open to coalition possibilities

Matthew Beveridge: MPs on Twitter: Te Ururoa Flavell

James Ihaka (Herald): Maori one of most borrowed languages

John Drinnan (Herald): Maori TV rejects change



John Sargeant (Stuff): Greens may try two bob each way

Salient: Russel Norman

David Kennedy (Local Bodies): Greens Support Innovation and Hi-Tech Wood


Mana Party

Ellipsister: Harawira declares his totalitarian darkside



Michele Hewitson (Herald): Interview: Matthew Hooton

Stuff: Today in Politics: Monday, March 24

Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Labour warns of tech disaster facing Customs

Madeleine Foreman (Salient): Paying Gold to be Green

Susie Nordqvist (TV3): Govt cuts blamed for psychologist shortage

Herald: Press Council to offer membership to blogs

Steve Braunias (Stuff): Coffee solace for indignity

Siobhan Downes (Stuff): Whaling: 'Govt needs to do more'

Martin Hawes (Stuff): Time for a new clearer trusts act

Michael Field (Stuff): Court battle looms over wages

Lynley Bilby (Herald): Chuang denied 2nd term

Matthew Theunissen (Herald): Back-pay bonus for ousted MPs

Radio NZ: Cambodia opposition seeks NZ support

Radio NZ: Anti-racism protest at supremacy rally

Michael Cummings (Manawatu Standard): Justice expedited is justice denied

Newswire: Dunne says he's sticking around

Amanda Parkinson (Stuff): DHB keen to wipe off $1.8m bills

Geoff Cumming (Herald): Helicopter trust flush with cash

Chris Trotter (Daily Blog): The Journalist’s First Obligation: Learning the Difference between Information and Propaganda.

Matthew Backhouse (Herald):  Migration to NZ reaches highest point in decade

Newswire: Voluntary supermarkets code 'a joke' – Opposition

Brian Rudman (Herald): Cave-in to bullying truly alarming

Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): Fonterra's views on fresh water management kept under wraps

Richard Meadows (Stuff): Banks respond to lifting deposit rates

Alex Fensome (Stuff): Kiwis pay extra high mortgages over 'risk'

Comments and questions

I hope IRD will look into the $50000 "koha" payment.

Unlikely - its classed as a 'gift' by IRD. Interesting we have tax laws to accommodate this - can we all be paid via 'gifts'??