'That's the game': Māori Party MPs warned attacks will come over donations scandal

A former Cabinet minister has warned the Māori Party's two MPs to brace for attacks in the House this week despite having done nothing wrong.

Police are investigating after the party admitted failing to disclose $320,000 in donations - $158,000 from former Māori Party co-leader John Tamihere, $120,000 from company Aotearoa Te Kahu and $49,000 from the National Urban Māori Authority - within the legal 10-day timeframe. 

Māori Party president Che Wilson said as soon as he discovered the "rookie" error, he went to the Electoral Commission. 

Tau Henare, who was a Cabinet minister in the 1990s as a New Zealand First MP and later an MP for National, said it was a "storm in a teacup".

"They're not the first to muck up their returns," he told The Hui on Monday night. 

"As we've seen with National, is what they tried to do is dodge a $30,000 donation and cut it up into thirds to try and get out of it."

National failed to declare over $35,000 in donations from property mogul Garth Barfoot, but is yet to be referred to the police. 

"The reality is we have a law that's designed to obfuscate, designed to... hide things," said Henare.

"The law needs to be looked at, the law needs to be revamped so everybody is clear about their accountabilities. In terms of the Māori Party, I think it's a bit of a rookie mistake. The president rightly so has copped it on the chin and it's his fault, basically. He's the one that signs it off."

Henare said the party's two MPs, Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, should brace for attacks this week.

"If I was in the Opposition, if I was in another party, I'd definitely be using it - they will. All the [Labour] Māori caucus will be as well, because that's the game. 

"But the reality is it actually had nothing to do with the MPs. It's got a lot to do with one, shoddy bookkeeping basically. This is why I think it's a bit of a rookie mistake - to try and hide $300,000 is near nigh impossible, unless you're really good at the game, as National and Labour are." 

Henare and te Pou on The Hui.
Henare and te Pou on The Hui. Photo credit: The Hui

Political commentator Shane te Pou, a former Labour candidate and union official, agreed the MPs had nothing to do with it. 

"This is a party matter, this is not about the electoral spending, the electoral donations. If we were, we could be facing a byelection in Waiariki. This is not about them."

Waititi's victory in Waiariki is what got the Māori Party back into Parliament. 

Te Pou said it was still a "bad look" for the Māori Party, which has a "lot of explaining to do". 

"I think it's very important the police investigate. If Whanau Ora money has been used - and I use that word 'if' - I don't think that's a good thing at all. At the end of the day it's taxpayer money. 

"If I was the minister of Whanau Ora, the first thing in the morning I would write to the Auditor-General and I would ask him to investigate."

The National Urban Māori Authority is involved in the Whanau Ora programme, which delivers social services through non-governmental organisations, but is taxpayer-funded. 

Minister for Whanau Ora Peeni Henare declined to be interviewed by The Hui, referring the show back to the Māori Party. 

Te Pou said that wasn't good enough. 

"It's his watch and he ought to do the responsible thing tomorrow and he ought to frontfoot it, because I think the other parties will call in the Auditor-General." 

Henare said his cousin had been "very busy". 

"Where did the money come from? That's another issue," he said. "We should be careful not to mix them all up so that there's this big conspiracy theory."