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'Nepotism' or 'racism'? Politicians give their take on Mahuta's family member appointments

Newshub logo Newshub 23/06/2022 Isobel Ewing
Watch: The Ministry for the Environment is reviewing its internal process in the wake of allegations of conflicts of interest involving Minister Nanaia Mahuta. © Image - Newshub, Getty Images; Video - Newshub. Watch: The Ministry for the Environment is reviewing its internal process in the wake of allegations of conflicts of interest involving Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

The Ministry for the Environment is reviewing its internal process in the wake of allegations of conflicts of interest involving Minister Nanaia Mahuta and her family members being given public service jobs.

Opposition parties have accused Mahuta of a lack of transparency, but one former National Minister said his old party has a history of giving family members of ministers public sector jobs - so why the double standard?

'Nepotism' or 'racism'? Politicians give their take on Mahuta's family member appointments
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Mahuta's whanau is big, influential and dedicated to Māoridom, which means a lot of declaring conflicts of interest as a Government minister.

"It's very hard in the Māori world because everybody's connected, related, friends. It's a small world, so we have to be extra careful," said Minister for Māori Development Willie Jackson.

There are some who contend Mahuta hasn't been careful enough.

"The Ministry for the Environment has launched an internal inquiry into the appointment of three of Mahuta's family onto a five-member waste working group," National MP Simeon Brown said.

The Ministry said Mahuta's husband Gannin Ormsby, his nephew Tamoko and wife Waimirirangi were selected for their expertise, and ministers aren't involved in the selection process.

"Are we really saying the Mahuta family are the only people with those skills? Or is this just sheer, old-fashioned nepotism," ACT leader David Seymour said.

ACT's also challenging Mahuta's presence as minister on a nine-person panel that selected Waimirirangi Ormsby to a different working group.

Mahuta's office said that was flagged and managed appropriately.

"What is happening to this Māori whanau? I think it's racism and it's double standards," political commentator Shane te Pou said

Te Pou said the same processes have been followed as were in similar circumstances under former Prime Minister John Key.

"Does the National Party have one standard for itself and one for Nanaia Mahuta when it comes to family members in public sector roles? No," National's deputy leader Nicola Willis said.

In 2013, then Minister Paula Bennett appointed Amy Adams' sister Belinda Milnes as Families Commissioner.

In 2015, when Bill English was Finance Minister, his brother Conor was appointed an advisor to the Reserve Bank.

And National MP Mark Mitchell recently gave his sister a job in his electorate office.

"I'm not aware of that," Willis said.

Former National Minister Chris Finlayson was more forthcoming - he appointed the late Wira Gardiner as chair of Te Papa.

"His wife Hekia Parata was one of my colleagues, first in caucus and then in Cabinet, and so these sorts of appointments are not unknown," Finlayson said. 

The Ministry for the Environment is now reviewing its process of appointing experts, but that's got nothing to do with Minister Mahuta.

New Zealand is a small place - Te Ao Māori is smaller. These conflicts come up and as long as they're dealt with by the book - which seems that way for Mahuta - no issue. 

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