Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Whips out at Te Rapa for Waitangi trialists

The Waitangi Tribunal hearing on a claim by Aotearoa Institute into Te Wānanga o Aotearoa starts November 30 at Te Rapa Racecourse.

The tribunal says the inquiry "will concentrate on issues concerning the revised charter, student profile, and future direction of TWOA. Key questions will include the role of the Crown and the claimants in determining the future direction of TWOA; the Treaty responsibilities that the Crown has to the claimants; and the question of what a wananga is."

Back in March then education minister Trevor Mallard told the wananga he wanted the charter rewritten. He had already used used student profile - the fact the wananga was attracting a lot of non-Maori students - as a pretext to hold back $20 million the government had earlier agreed to loan the wananga under the terms of a previous Waitangi Tribunal claim settlement. This precipitated a cash flow crisis, giving Mallard an excuse to insert two hit men: former Te Puni Kokiri head Wira Gardiner, who went on the council's board; and Brian Roche from accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers, who went in as Crown observer and then became Crown manager, with complete control over finances.

Since July, when Gardiner got most of the wananga's council to "step aside" as the only way to prevent Mallard from installing a commissioner, the Crown's agents have been running the show, slashing courses and riding roughshod over what the wananga's founders would consider their rangatiratanga.

The tribunal has already discussed rangatiratanga in its Wananga Capital Establishment Report:

Rangatiratanga involves, at the very least, a concept of Maori self-management. … The wananga that have been recognised as tertiary education institutions have all developed out of the efforts of Maori iwi groups to provide tertiary education to, in the first instance, their own people; in the second instance, Maori students; and, in the third instance, anyone who wishes to embrace this particular form of education. As such, the efforts of these tribal groups to create and sustain tertiary education institutions are a vital exercise of rangatiratanga. The establishment of wananga as tertiary education institutions recognised by the State represents an attempt to engage actively with the Crown in the exercise of rangatiratanga in the management of new forms of tribal and Maori education. The Crown's Treaty obligation is to foster, support, and assist these efforts. In doing so, the Crown needs to ensure that wananga are able to remain accountable to, and involved in, the communities that created them.

With those kind of statements behind it, the Government looks on course for a hiding on this claim.

The new tertiary education minister, Michael Cullen, is well aware of the mess Mallard and Gardiner left him.

In a letter to wananga chairman Craig Coxhead earlier this month, Cullen said the current governance by the purged council "may not be lawful".

"While I appreciate that the council took decisions on 19 July 20005 to reduce the council to a group of five with the objective of improving the governance of the organization, I am concerned that that course of action may be of questionable legal validity and, as a result, that the governance of the wananga may be increasingly problematic," Cullen said.

If the wananga does not have a legal governance structure, it may have problems securing funding for 2006. Tertiary institutions must submit a profile of courses and likely student numbers to the Tertiary Education Commission, which doles out the dollars.

Gardiner, Coxhead and Roche have made plans to dramatically slash the size of the wananga, dumping some courses because they are not paying their way, others because Mallard didn't like them, such as the one which trained people in the theory and practice surrounding traditional canoes. Trade training and business courses are also off the menu. While it can be argued other tertiary institutions provide such courses, the wananga's success has come in large part from its ability to attract to education people who other tertiary institutions have been unable to reach.

The Crown management has not solved the wananga's financial crisis, although the government is now providing loans. Cullen said the wananga is expected to lose $12 million this year (up from the $4 million originally projected).

Most of that loss is due to a reduction in EFTS (Equivalent Full Time Students) to about 26,500. The Tertiary Education Commission funded for 28,000 EFTS, so the wananga may have to pay back $10 million.

While some of the shortfall is due to low unemployment (let us not forget the continued strong economy, driven by high prices for dairy products, might have faltered if the wananga had not provided tens of thousands of work-ready people, especially in the provinces), attacks by government and opposition politicians have also tarnished the wananga's brand. Unsubstantiated allegations about low quality courses, and fears courses may be axed or interrupted, may have artificially lowered student numbers.

The longer the Crown continues to control the wananga, the more its problems become the government's rather than the wananga's.

Cullen's solution is to pretend the "resignations" never happened and get Coxhead to reconvene the council with all members whose terms have not expired. That includes Crown appointees Coxhead, Gardiner, Tania Hodges and Bruce Martin, current member Richard Batley, as well as Mana Forbes, Carol Nin and Napi Waaka. There was also a question over whether wananga founder Rongo Wetere was lawfully suspended as Tumuaki, and therefore whether he can sit on council.

Without waiting for elections for staff and student representatives which would bring it up to full strength, Cullen wanted the reconvened to ratify all actions taken by the unlawful rump, and maybe to then to delegate its powers back to a subcommittee.

Rather than try this option (which would probably meet resistance from wananga supporters), Gardiner and co are still trying to sack Wetere.

The parties hoped matters would be clarified by a High Court case taken by the council members who were pushed aside. However, in a messy and confusing judgment, Justice Frater refused to determine two critical issues: whether the current five-member council is valid; and whether the plaintiffs can continue in office after their terms expire.

"I hope that there is still the possibility that, with appropriate advice, the parties might be able to work through these and the other issues of concern to them to reach a common accord," chirped the beak. The judgment has been appealed.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Trust battle smells fishy at Waipareira

What have they got to hide out west?

John Tamihere wants to be back on the Waipareira Trust, now his career as a member of parliament is over.

He turned up with a big group of supporters to the trust's annual meeting this week and was voted in, along with six other new members.

The trust's chairwoman, Naida Glavish, said before the meeting that Tamihere would not be allowed back, because the trust had changed its rules to exclude as candidates people who have brought the trust into disrepute. It also reduced the number of board members from 15 to 10.

Faced with Tamihere's taua on the night, Glavish couldn't stop the meeting voting down those provisions. Now board treasurer Ricky Houghton says the new rules will stay, and the board has legal advice backing its actions.

It's risky ground for Glavish, Houghton, chief executive Reg Ratahi and their supporters. Tamihere may have damaged Waipareira's reputation when his attempt at remote control while an MP spectacularly blew up in his face, but he also made its reputation as a competent deliverer of social services, economic development and training to the West Auckland Maori community through the 1990s.

He lives in that community and has an interest in the institutions which will affect his family.

Then there is the question of whether Glavish and co have been prudent managers. Waipareira made a loss last year, and Tamihere claims it has been selling off assets to stay afloat.

There is another reason for Tamihere to want to be on Waipareira. While an MP, he and fellow MP Willie Jackson inserted a provision into the Maori Fisheries Settlement Act creating an ongoing role for something called the National Urban Maori Authority.

Since Jackson's mother's Manukau Urban Maori Authority is mostly smoke and mirrors, and the Wellington and Christchurch urban Maori authorities barely struggle along, NUMA would rely on Waipareira to drive it. And realistically, only Tamihere is capable of making anything of what is a pretty tenuous concept to start with.

NUMA has a say in appointing future fisheries commissioners, and in saying what happens with some of the money from the settlement.

So it's not so much count the numbers, but count the NUMA. Don't expect anyone to back down any time soon.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The smell of treason

You would have thought Winston Peters would have learned from the last time. Hubris it's called. Pride goeth before a fall, and all that. In that case, it was Tuku Morgan, brought into Parliament with Peters, who took the fall, brought down by a pride and vanity (two of the seven deadly sins, lest you forgot).

In that Bolger-Peters government, Peters also pushed for an inflated ministerial portfolio that was beyond his competence, but as treasurer Peters was so far out of his depth he stuck to parroting what Treasury put before him, so remained fairly safe.

This time he wanted to strut on the world stage in his built up shoes. But Helen's little helper (as he is known in Labour circles) isn't up too it. Too many late nights in Courtenay Place have dulled his tap dancing prowess.

Now he tells us it's treasonous to criticize him, because he is foreign minister. No Winston, trying to sell out your country is treason.

If you want lessons in treason, no one better to ask than that woman you elbowed in next to at Apec, like like a drunken thug gatecrashing a christening. Condi Rice (or the devil's handmaiden, as the Black Commentator dubbed her) and the family which owns her lied their way into a war which has already killed more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians, not to mention 2000+ Americans and blighted the lives of hundreds of thousands more with injuries from conventional, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Yes Winston, the mushroom cloud your new friend said Saddam would have never existed, but the nuclear fallout from America's arsenal of depleted uranium is being distributed shell by shell, bullet by bullet across the Asian landscape.

You want us to treat every Afghani and Iraqi and Iranian and Muslim as a potential terrorist, Winston? Until your friends started this war, they were valuable trading partners, taking our sheep once we had shorn all the wool off. You will reap what you sow.

This clown will continue to embarrass us, and I suppose we will have to put up with it. Just think, he might have chosen a really dangerous portfolio for himself - minister of revenue, say.

Pic: AP/Bullit Marquez

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Harawira's real maiden

Better than the entry speech. It's on Scoop.

Sharples shifts the paepae

Pita Sharples is turning into a very interesting political performer. While I rate highly his intellect and experience across a number of fields, it may be too early to judge his political acumen.

But his questioning of the exclusion of women from the speaking order in welcoming ceremonies, especially in state sector powhiri, shows he is capable of throwing up useful solutions which balance respect for culture with modern needs, more so than the petty martinets who make powhiri such a fraught and unproductive occasion so often.

While in an earlier post I called Sharples a cultural conservative, that does not mean he is a reactionary. As someone well versed in cultural forms, he is perhaps best placed to point out the places where there can be change and innovation. After all, he has nothing to prove to anyone any more on a cultural level.

"I believe it is time now for women to assume the talking roles as well as men. The reasons for women not speaking may have gone and need not be enforced," said Sharples.

Maybe he should have come out and supported Mira Szaszy when she made the same call 20 years ago, but his reasons now are interesting. He hears too many speeches by men with poor Maori, who don't know their local history or even the significance of the event taking place. He sees Pakeha speaking on the marae in English, while at the same time "I look at elderly women who might have the mana of age and knowledge and I see them with good reo Maori and a good knowledge of the local history and that they are au fait with the event that is taking place. And I think, well, why aren't they speaking as opposed to Pakeha who don't know anything?"

As for women being made to sit "in the back", Sharples suggested the traditional solution, still in use at Hoani Waititi Marae, could be applied more widely - that the "paepae tapu", where the orators sit, is slightly separate from the bulk of the party. This can allow women and other non-speaking dignatories to sit in prominent positions without compromising tikanga.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

John Bevan Ford transcendant

Artist John Bevan Ford, whose paintings marrying traditional Maori forms with landscapes brought international recognition, died of cancer September 16. He was 75.

I learned this from the Guardian, which features an obit written by Dale Idiens, keeper of the Department of History and Applied Art in the National Museums of Scotland, which has a large Polynesian connection.

I don't recall seeing anything in a New Zealand newspaper, and a search of the NZ Herald site and Stuff fails to turn up a story. The only New Zealand mention on Google comes from Massey News, which acknowledged his role establishing contemporary Maori visual art papers on the Palmerston North campus before his retirement in 1991.

I know the media culture in this country rates coverage of the art world about as low as it rates coverage of te ao Maori, but John was a significant contributor to this country on a number of levels, and their silence reflects badly on them.

John had a distinguished career as an educator, both at Hamilton Teachers College and at Massey, and competed many major public art commissions, including a traditionally carved waka in Taranaki Museum and a meeting house in the Wairarapa.

His explorations of Maori culture and identity within a cross cultural framework has helped many younger Maori artists as they try to fit traditional concepts and practices with modern materials an themes.

Also in the Guardian, Julie Adams captured a quote from John summing up his approach: " "That which transcends culture is the best art of all."

John Bevan Ford has transcended all. Haere, haere, haere.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Another (only fair) maiden

Update: Harawira maiden speech is at 3pm today. I'll check on delivery!

The first thing to remember is Hone Harawira is no intellectual. He has got where he is so far through bullying, an imposing physical presence and a limited range of treaty rhetoric.

Those who have followed him through numerous Waitangi Day protests will be amused by his maiden speech where he dressed down MPs for poor behaviour and childishness: "The point-scoring, the malicious statements made under protection of parliamentary privilege, the interruptions, the abuse, the chanting, and the sheer immaturity of parliamentary debate … (the Maori Party is) committed to raising the standard of debate within the house, and to trying to eliminate the poor behaviour that parliament has become notorious for."

Harawira also promised Maori Party MPs will use te reo Maori at every opportunity "to open our speeches, to preface our questions, and to make our points in the house."

I am reminded of a conversation with the late Matiu Rata when NZ First's "tight five" got into Parliament and started talking te reo Maori at every opportunity.

You don't go to Parliament to speak in a language none of the rest of them understand, said Rata.

Here's another option Hone. Learn how to speak their language, the language of rules and procedures, clauses and subclauses and schedules and regulations, of laws and lawmaking. That is your job, lawmaking. The recent intakes of Maori MPs have been pretty poor at the mechanics of the job. It's dry, it's boring, but it's extremely necessary.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Maidens, prepare to be savaged

Maiden speech time in Parliament, where the new MPs say who they are, what drives them, and perhaps what we can expect.

First up was Labour's Shane Jones, opening the Address and Reply debate.

If you were wanting a manifesto, it is not this speech. Jones chose to bury his strengths and his considerable experience in treaty matters below a bluster of feel good rhetoric, forcefully delivered. His Labour colleagues loved it.

He affirmed his Pakeha, Dalmation and tangata whenua roots, and in a slap at National's Don Brash, declared himself "downstream, upstream, full on mainstream!"

He said the Treaty of Waitangi is about relationships. "My own thoughts have changed over the years. The emphatic Treaty activist of the 1980’s became a Mäori economic advocate in the 1990’s. This decade however, we must move on beyond historical angst. The future summons us to a relationship, which transcends both Crown and tribe. To this end it is pleasing to see that all parliamentarians are committed to the resolution of historical grievances. I favour expeditiousness, to clear the path so our aspirations are not twisted by protracted disputes over acre, rood and perch."

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples brought to his speech the skills of more than three decades of performance.

His rhetoric was also familiar, if extremely well delivered. "It is common knowledge that Maori do not enjoy the same socioeconomic and educational benefits as non-Maori in this, their country of origin. It strikes me as somewhat amazing, that half the country and probably half this house, actually believe that Maori are the privileged group within our society. Cries of racial funding, gravy train, specials courses, are constant within these walls, and eagerly published by every arm of the media to promote a negative stereotype of Maori.
"Does privilege mean we Maori dominate certain illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, glue ear and others? That we die 10 years earlier than Pakeha? Or is our real privilege to be revealed by this country's disgusting incarceration figures?"
His solution is to accept the future of New Zealand is entwined with the future of Maori.
"For this nation to thrive economically, culturally and with a sense of social justice, Maori must be able to play a full role in all parts of society … While Maori have made great strides within kaupapa Maori initiatives, the reality of equality for Maori is still far off. While more Maori are in jobs, we must look at the quality of those jobs. Many Maori also have been isolated from their iwi base, while many face negative images of themselves daily in the media."
So is that the answer. Go back to the pa and don't read the paper? You'll have to do better than that, Pita.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Graceful gesture caps lifetime achievement

Filmmaker Don Selwyn received Te Waka Toi's Te Tohutiketike award Saturday for his outstanding contribution to the development of Maori arts.

Te Mahurehure Marae in Point Chevalier was full of people from film, television and other arts who have benefited over the years from Don's expertise, inspiration and generosity.

That generosity and lifelong commitment to the kaupapa were illustrated by an act of supreme grace, when he took the $20,000 cheque he received with the award and handed it over to Brian Jones and Selwyn Muru, the trustees of a new Pei Te Hurinui Jones-Murupaenga Fellowship, which will assist the writing of plays and screenplays in Maori.

Don told of his introduction to theatre when a fellow teacher at South Wellington Intermediate got him to come along to a rehearsal for Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. "I agreed to come along as long as he came to one of my rugby practices," he said.

Peter Bland, who was supposed to play Oberon, king of the fairies, had not turned up, so the redoubtable Nola Miller asked Don to read the part. And despite his clumsy effort, she then insisted he take the role.

In the press release, Te Waka Toi chair Elizabeth Ellis said Selwyn was recognised not only for his direct contribution as an actor, producer and director in stage, television and film, but for his tireless work in training and mentoring young Maori in the industry.

“There are many Maori working in film and television who are there because of Don Selwyn’s relentless devotion to ensuring that we had a voice in those industries. He felt strongly that not only should Màori be represented in front of the cameras but they should also be influential behind the cameras, in the technical areas, and in the director chairs."

Between 1984 to 1990, 120 Maori and Pacific Island people went through Don's film and television training course, He Taonga I Tawhiti (Gifts From Afar).

When work scheme era ended, Don met his own challenge, setting up He Taonga Films with producer Ruth Kaupua Panapa. The company has made dramas and documentaries in Maori and English, with Don’t Go Past With Your Nose in the Air winning best foreign short film at the New York Festival in 1992 and the Barry Barclay-directed film on Moriori, The Feathers of Peace, willing the 2000 New Zealand Media Peace Award.

Even closer to his heart was Maori Merchant of Venice, the first feature film entirely in te reo Maori.

Don said when he grew up in Taumarunui, Pei Te Hurunui Jones told him he translated Shakespeare's plays into Maori "so Maori would realize what a great linguist Shakespeare was."

When we hear people speaking their own language, he said, "we know the pride of themselves is in themselves."

Looking at Don's achievements and his contribution to the Maori language revival is a reminder the language is not the end game, it is merely the vehicle for the expression and creation.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A man of principle

A major figure in the cultural and political life of Aotearoa New Zealand, Tama Poata, died Wednesday November 9.

Poata wrote the screenplay for Ngati, the Barry Barclay-directed film which, by using a near historical lens (the East Coast in the 1940s) was able to shine a light on the contemporary role of Maori in NZ society in an understated but powerful way.

Poata was raised in Tokomaru Bay but ended up in Wellington in the late 1960s after spells as a labourer on the South Island hydro schemes, driver and other jobs.

An active member of the Wellington Drivers Union and the Communist Party, Poata formed the Maori Organisation on Human Rights to address specifically Maori issues. It was responsible for two significant publications: Saana Murray's Te Karanga a Te Kotuku (1971), a poetic look at the issues which eventualy formed the basis for the Muriwhenua Claim, and a reprint of Aureretanga, the
 Groans of the Maoris, GW Rusden's 19th century exposition on the injustices meted out to Ngai Tahu and other tribes.

Human rights was the framework Poata chose to view the world. He protested the Vietnam War, Springbok tours and Maori land grievances, always with his own carefully thought-through perspective. It was Poata who came up with the name Halt All Racist Tours (HART) as the umbrella organization for anti-apartheid protests.

He was one of the leaders of the 1975 Land March, was arrested at Raglan, and was again on the front lines at Bastion Point. By that stage he had his own land, a gorse-covered farm at Makara west of Wellington, which he broke in with the help of running some of the early work schemes.

His film career started when he shifted from beign a set builder on NZ's first television soap, Pukemanu, to getting a small role. His film work includes Wild Horses, Utu, Among the Cinders and Never Say Die.

I first encountered Poata in 1981. Suspicious of the domination of the Wellington Springbok protest movement by the Maoist Workers Communist League (aka Weasels), the punks, anarchists, Trots and similar untameable types chose to park themselves in Brown Squad, led by Poata with able assistance from Te Nia and Barney Pikari. It was an instructive period, not least for Poata's rejection of some of the thinking coming from the Auckland movement, that there should be some dual protest against racism in South Africa and Aotearoa. No, said Poata, the kaupapa is supporting the struggles of those in South Africa, and that should never be forgotten.

His ability to see Maori issues from an internationalist perspective was extremely valuable, and took some time to be picked up by others.

Tame Poata, truly a man of principle. You will be greatly missed.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Crown could crumble against Kingmaker's kin

Michael Cullen will have a major headache in his new role as tertiary education minister as he tries to clean up the mess made by Trevor Mallard and his minions in their attempts to bully Te Wananga o Aotearoa into submission to Crown authority.

Sending lieutenant colonel Wira Gardiner in to subdue the descendants of Rewi Maniapoto was not a good idea, and Gardiner's usual tactic of upending everything is now coming under fire from the kumara pits.

Gardiner and Mallard's other factotum on the wananga board, Brian Roche, seem set on a course of putting the wananga into receivership. Part of this process seems to be selective leaks about alleged mismanagement by the previous executive ahead of an Audit Office report. (I am not accusing Gardiner of leaking - the practice does not seem to be part of his arsenal - but the divisions created in the organisation do seem to be making it porous.)

Tying the Government's hands is the Waitangi Tribunal hearing November 30 to December 2. The brief the tribunal set itself is very informative as to the minefield the Crown has got itself into.

"The inquiry will concentrate on issues concerning the revised charter, student profile, and future direction of TWOA. Key questions will include the role of the Crown and the claimants in determining the future direction of TWOA; the Treaty responsibilities that the Crown has to the claimants; and the question of what a wananga is."

The Crown tried to argue those matters are the province of the wananga board, which did not join the Aotearoa Institute in lodging the claim. The claimants argued that since Gardiner pressured most of the iwi representatives to step aside, the Crown has three members on the reduced five member board and so calls the shots.

Indeed, wananga supporters now claim Gardiner's board is ultra vires or has no legal standing, because the changes imposed on it were outside the scope of its constitution, which requires a board of between 12 and 20 members.

Those members who stepped aside did so because of Gardiner's message no further funding would come from Government unless they did so. As it was the Government still hasn't paid over the suspensory loan the wananga argued it was owed under the settlement to the earlier Wananaga Claim.

The claimants want the hearing held in Hamilton rather than Wellington. However, most venues in the city are booked, and the tribunal doesn't want to go near one which is available - the wananga-owned Glenview International Hotel and Conference Centre.

Glenview was subject of a Sunday Star Times story, which a report commissioned by Roche show renovation costs on the complex, bought in 2003 for $5.12m, blew out from $2.8m to $11.2m. It blamed management for failing to properly budget and manage the remodeling. The wananga's reasons for the investment were not canvassed.

Meanwhile, in a speech to the Institutes of Technology and Polytechs of NZ Conference November 3, Cullen said the market-ideology reforms of the 1990s led "to the pursuit of ‘cash cow’ opportunities and an atmosphere that encouraged high-growth strategies for their own sake."

He said such high growth strategies "will not cut much ice" in future. "Specifically, no certificate or diploma level qualification can grow by more than 200 EFTS in any twelve-month period unless this has been approved in advance."

Radio New Zealand interpreted that as " a clear swipe at the Maori tertiary provider Te Wananga o Aotearoa". Radio NZ should remember it was not the wananga but Christchurch Polytechnic which claimed funding for thousands of students based on a CD of computing resource material it handed out, and it was Hawkes Bay Polytechnic who counted as students people who sang along to a radio programme (not incidentally a bad idea, but perhaps too generously funded☺)

Cullen claimed the Government wanted innovation and leadership to flourish in the sector, and that tertiary education is absolutely crucial to the task of building workforce productivity.

That is where the attacks on the wananga don't make sense. The wananga's greatest growth happened WHILE the Crown had representatives on its board. Former ministers Mallard and Steve Maharey were happy to see the wananga sucking the oxygen away from the private training establishments, but less comfortable when it came to a turf war with unis and polytechnics.

Rather than assist the wananga with development of pedagogy and ensure it had sufficient capital to manage growth, the ministers stood back until they thought they could move in and execute a coup. Learn from history, guys.

Whatever the wananaga's deficiencies, it has succeeded in getting a large number of older Maori and working class Pakeha engaged with education again, which has had a profound effect on the country's ability to create more than 250,000 jobs. It has taken on the task of salvage education which was ignored as a systemic problem since a previous Labour administration "sacrificed" a generation of NZers to theories of monetarism and economic rationalism.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Green voice silenced

I must acknowledge the death of Rod Donald, Green Party co-leader and champion of ensuring power remained at a community level, rather than being appropriated by corporations or governments.

I had a little to do with Rod when I was investigating the corrupt entry of a NZ First MP to Parliament, and subsequently made a submission on the reporting practices which allow NZ politicians to disguise the source of their funds - a situation other parties are happy to go along with for fear their cash would dry up if donors were identified.

Rod is more than anyone else associated with the introduction of Mixed Member Proportional voting (apart from the well-funded then-Telecom chairman Peter Shirtcliffe, who fronted the campaign to retain first past the post). I favoured the single transferable vote method, which unfortunately did not make the final ballot, as I was concerned MMP gave too much power to parties. Since Rod's party did not have some of the authoritarian aspects of other parties/political cults, he may have had a different view of the threat.

I last saw Rod just before the election, speaking at a Green meeting in Auckland. He showed a willingness to tackle difficult issues many other MPs either don't understand or shy away from, like the current account deficit and the huge distortion to the economy created by the continuation of the Bolger/Birch accommodation supplement.

His big campaign for this term was going to be buy New Zealand. When someone like Jim Anderton floats that kind of idea, it comes across as old style protectionism. When Rod Donald floated it, is seemed an extension of the principles by which he lived his life - that every action has a consequence, and you must be aware of those consequences. That is why he could promote local initiatives while also reaching out around the world through Trade Aid to create direct channels for communities in developing countries to sell their products at a reasonable return to themselves, without the ticket being clipped by predatory middlemen and corporates.

His contribution to NZ life and politics was huge. We'll miss you, mate.

Green Party bio

Friday, November 04, 2005

Jon Stokes scores C in computing test

Interesting reporting in the NZ Herald on a failed software project at Te Wananga o Aotearoa, based on a leaked report prepared for acting chief financial officer John Mote.

According to Jon Stokes, Te Wananga o Aotearoa spent more than $2.5 million on developing software that was "out-of-date before it was implemented" and has never been used.

It sounds bad, but the story doesn't actually tell us enough to be of any use, apart to add to the general impression that wananga chief executive Rongo Wetere was not up to scratch.

Calling software "out of date" is not particularly informative. Software is not like that container of yoghurt you forgot about in the back of the fridge. Many organisations happily rumble along on software they installed 5, 10, 20 years ago.

Putting on my IT reporter's hat, here is what I could get out of the story.

The system was being developed by a company called InfoQuest, based in Malaysia.

InfoQuest is run by Ganesin Supayah. (I checked the Companies Office record for InfoQuest NZ, and there is someone of that name with a Malaysian address listed as shareholder. The only reference to that name comes up on Google in a list of gongs given out in the state of Agong.)

The software was supposed to be for human resource management and online learning, ie, two completely different systems.

The online computing content was described as "generally poor" and not meeting NZ Qualifications Authority unit standards. I assume the use "computing" in that sentence is redundant.

"Difficulties in co-ordinating development because of language and time zone barriers were also seen as problematic." Hey, outsourcing sucks.

Almost $1 million was spent developing the Human Resource Management System software

The report said the wananga would have to make a "significant commitment" of resources to bring the human resource software up to a usable standard, a cost that must be balanced against spending about $55,000 to buy a complete HR package from a local vendor.

That is the point where I really got concerned about the competence of the people writing this report. Human resources in a polytechnic context, with lots of tutors on fixed time contracts, is complex. The wananga has multiple campuses around the country, which makes it even more difficult. Such systems are not trivial.

The wananga went from a few hundred students in Te Awamutu to being the largest tertiary education provider in the country in a few short years. I would very much doubt it was able to develop adequate IT systems to cope.

Let us not forget that Auckland University, which is far wealthier than the wananga, has spent more $60 million on a student management and HR system. AUT spends millions every year building and maintaining its own systems.

This is not a defence of the wananga. I'm just saying this story actually tells us a lot less than it purports to.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

A worn out welcome

In what seems to be an endorsement of National's campaign against "political correctness", Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples says he will ask the Maori affairs select committee to inquire into all cultural practices endorsed and adopted across the state sector.

"Questions have been asked by tangata whenua as to whether the use of tikanga across the state sector is for the benefit of the state more than for the benefit of the people. The Maori Party has brought a strong and distinctive Maori voice into Parliament. As part of this, we believe the consideration of how the State uses and applies tikanga is an appropriate issue for us to give priority to."

Sharples is a cultural conservative who would prefer Maori culture to remain in Maori settings such as marae. He is a creative and innovative practitioner within that culture, but his history is of cultural revival rather than creating a new and blended culture.

He has shown a preference for kaupapa Maori education models, setting up alternatives to the mainstream system rather than challenging the mainstream to be more responsive to the needs of Maori students. It is good the option is there, but it is not there for the bulk of Maori families, so cannot be left to stand alone.

Before the Maori Party fuels National's desire for a witch hunt, perhaps it should consider the history of tikanga within the public service, and whether that is the major issue vis a vis Maori.

Before the state sector reforms of the 1980s, the only places you were likely to find a Maori environment in the public service were the Maori Affairs Department, the Environment Ministry's Maruwhenua unit, the Waitangi Tribunal (small as it was in those days), the Maori units of the state-owned broadcasters and a very small unit of the Education Department.

Then came NZ Maori Council vs Attorney General, which articulated for the first time some of the obligations the government had towards Maori. The public sector responded with Maori advisory units being set up all over Wellington, staffed often by middle aged Maori men, ex-teachers or police or military, who were native speakers and had the cultural stuff down pat, even if they were useless at developing policy, advocacy or managing staff.

The result was a lot of form rather than substance.

Part of the problem is that while it was bringing in a lot of middle-level management and Maori graduates, the public service did not have any system of structured career development for Maori staff. The Maori and Pacific Island cadet scheme had been a victim of Stan Roger's reforms, and the core of institutional experience built up at Maori Affairs was dispersed with the axing of that department. There was also an over-reliance on consultants, often of extremely dubious quality, rather than building up internal capacity.

Looking around the public sector, I do not see the numbers of quality Maori in senior management positions I would expect if there had been a real commitment to equity and establishing a public sector which can meet the needs of Aotearoa going into the future.

That is not to say the Maori units have not done some good work, and the sector as a whole is more cognisant to Maori needs than it was in the past, even if many of its assumptions are flawed and its delivery mechanisms clumsy.

Getting back to the question of tikanga. Maybe the full powhiri is not always appropriate, but remember the alternative? People turn up on the job with no welcome, no orientation, no formal process in any culture to make sure they are known, that they meet their fellow workers, that they become quickly productive.

Part of the process we have gone through as a society, including attacks on "separatism", "cultural safety" and "political correctness", is to become aware that institutions and situations are never culturally neutral. Introducing an element of tikanga Maori into the life of an organisation highlights the fact that the alternative is just as much an imposition of a cultural norm which may not always be appropriate.

The state sector can be bilcultural, it can be multicultural when appropriate. What it should not do is return to being monocultural, creating an environment only Pakeha feel works for them.