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Location: Auckland, New Zealand

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Doubts over $4.5m ministerial taskforce

Labour's Maori affairs spokesperson Parekura Horomia says a $4.5 million ministerial taskforce on the Maori economy is going over old ground.

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples says the group of seven iwi and business leaders will advise how Maori can avoid the worst impacts of the recession and strengthen the Maori economy in the longer term.

They include embattled Ngai Tahu chair Mark Solomon, Ngahiwi Tomoana from Ngati Kahungunu, Bentham Ohia from Te Wananga o Aotearoa and Daphne Luke from Te Wananga o Raukawa, former Labour MP John Tamihere, banker June McCabe and Business Roundtable head Rob McLeod.

Mr Horomia says the previous Labour Government did a lot of work on Maori economic development through Te Puni Kokiri and the Hui Taumata taskforce, which Ms MCabe and Mr McLeod were members of.

“There's a fair bit of this stuff already happened and what I wopuldn’t like to see is another repeat just of another commission to go round and find what a lot of us already know,” Mr Horomia says.

He says it's highly unusual to run such a taskforce directly out of a minister's office.

HIGH HOPES TO UNBLOCK INITIATIVES

But taskforce member Bentham Ohia has high hopes for the new group.

The chief executive of Te Wananga o Aotearoa says a priority will be exploring further the recommendations which came out of last month's Prime Minister's jobs summit.

He says new thinking is needed to address some long standing problems.

“The opportunity here it to feed back through to the minister directly ideas, potential issues or barriers that may be blocking any new initiatives that we as Maori may be looking to implement,” Mr Ohia says.

He will be concentrating on education, information and communications technology and trade training.

RARE OPENING OF MAHINAARANGI WHARE FOR ANNIVERSARY

King Tuheitia and other Tainui leaders gathered at Turangawaewae yesterday to celebrate the 80th year since the opening of Mahinaarangi.

The meeting house was built by Princess Te Puea as a hospital, but was converted into a welcoming room for distinguished guests of the Kingitanga after it failed to meet health specifications.

Waatea correspondent Mania Clarke says a highlight of the celebration was a rare opportunity to see inside the whare.

The celebrations also include an exhibition until Saturday of photographs taken by Ans Westra at Turangawaewae in the early 1960s.

MINISTER STANDS BY TASKFORCE SELECTIONS

The Minister of Maori Affairs says a tribal leader's political battles had no bearing on his appointment to a new ministerial taskforce.

Mark Solomon from Ngai Tahu is one of seven members on a new taskforce which will advise Dr Sharples on how to implement the recommendations of last month's job summit and set the stage for future Maori economic growth.

Tomorrow Mr Solomon will front up to tribe members at Rehua Marae in Christchurch in an attempt to counter yet another challenge to his leadership by influential elements in the tribe.

Dr Sharples says he will be a valuable member of the team.

“Mark's business acumen is unquestionable in where he’s been able to lead Ngai Tahu at this time and his own private situation was not even a consideration and we’re lucky to have him in the group. In fact people have been handpicked for their acumen or their leadership in particular areas, and that’s why the groups is so strong,” Dr Sharples says.

Other taskforce members include Business Roundtable head Rob McLeod from Ngati Porou, Ngati Kahungunu chair Ngahiwi Tomoana, Bentham Ohia from Te Wananga o Aotearoa, Waipareira trust head John Tamihere, banker June McCabe and Daphne Luke from an Otaki-based Maori Economic Development Agency.

MAORI PARTY CHALLENGES OF LAND SALES TO FOREIGNERS

Hauraki Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta says the Maori Party can't stand by and watch land being sold off to foreigners.

Finance Minister Bill English has announced an overhaul of the Overseas Investment Act to streamline approval processes for foreign investors.

Ms Mahuta says Maori would be concerned if that means what are already minimal protections for whenua are removed.

“It's okay to have foreign investment but foreign ownership, I think we have to be very vigilant about, that we don’t see more of our land going to offshore owners. I would hope the Maori Party tries to exercise some restraint on the Government in this area because I know it’s a really important issue for Maori,” Ms Mahuta says.

DRY HOMES MORE IMPORTANT THAT MORE ROADS

A leading researcher into respiratory disease says dry and healthy homes are more important to Maori families than building roads.

The Government this week announced a $1 billion transport funding stimulus - the same figure the previous Labour Government had targeted for home insulation.

Phillipa Howden Chapman, the programme director of He Kainga Oranga, has been presenting her research on insulation to a Maori asthma conference at Orakei Marae.

She says the higher rate of respiratory illness among Maori is primarily attributable to the number living in uninsulated rental accommodation.

“I would hope that over the next while we really do see some money poured into this area because I think that for whanau, I think this is moiré important than building roads,” Professor Howden Chapman says.

Her research found the health of asthmatic children improves markedly when their homes are insulated.

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