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Forget Tuku's undies

Forget Tuku's undies

By John Tamihere

A really big shadow hangs over Maori broadcasting, or at least the public perception of it. It's a shadow in the shape of those notoriously expensive underpants of Tuku Morgan, and everything negative that they represent.

Out of that unfortunate shadow, allegations of widespread misappropriation of money amidst a free-for-all of taxpayer funding for Maori, loose or non-existent financial controls, and jobs for the bros can easily be flung.

Suggestions that Maori are getting special treatment, while not being required to meet the same standards and scrutiny as the rest of the population, can be easily flung by politicians with an eye for easy point-scoring, whatever the reality might be.

Of course, Maori and non-Maori alike should be outraged if Maori were allowed to operate organisations and spend taxpayer money under any less rigorous standards than non-Maori. Such arrangements would clearly be to the detriment of both Maori and non-Maori.

The reality is, the Government is not tolerating anything less than total transparency and adherence to financial, legal and professional standards in Maori broadcasting, or in any other area involving taxpayer funding of Maori organisations. And as a Maori MP, I would regard it as an insult to be treated by any lesser standard than my non-Maori colleagues.

Maori broadcasting funding agency Te Mangai Paho is audited by the Audit Office, as is any other taxpayer-funded organisation. Yet it does not appear to be widely known that in its last audit, the Audit Office rated TMP's performance as "excellent" in four of the five financial and service performance measures, and "very good" in the fifth.

TMP is subject to the financial review process of the Maori Affairs Select Committee, and as former chairman of this committee I can state that we did not hesitate to take TMP to task wherever we took that the view that there were any shortcomings in its performance.

The Treasury report last week into the actions of TMP concerning its former employee, Tame Te Rangi, is further evidence that where concerns are raised, they will be properly investigated, and serious consequences will follow should allegations be proven.

Unlike in Tuku's day, when loose financial practices meant the public was left with the feeling that no one was ever really held to account, we now have systems to ensure controls are maintained, and the rare crooks are caught.

The report found there was not a problem with TMP's systems; the problem arose when individuals did not act according to those systems. And those individuals must now stand accountable. When there was a problem with Ross Arstrong, no one suggeste we should abolish TVNZ, so why should we abolish TMP because of a problem with one crook?

TMP chairman Toby Curtis has resigned, and further consequences may follow for other people in TMP. That is a matter for the TMP board and new chairman Wira Gardiner.

I would be the last person to cry "racist!" in response to allegations of genuine wrongdoing by Maori. Tame Te Rangi deserved to get booted out, and racism was nothing to do with it. But the furore surrounding TMP brought to the surface some pretty ugly undercurrents in public sentiment. We have to ask why the theme of "bloody Maoris on the take again" gains such easy traction.

Check out the ugly language from ACT on the subject: "moral pigsties", a "culture which allows whanau or mates to share the hidden spoils of office" and "sweepings of cronyism and corruption that masquerade as cultural entitlement." The current of hate that flows through those words will do more to divide our society than any programme supposedly favouring Maori above non-Maori.

Only once we have dealt with those issues can we move out of that shadow and look at the real issues: what direction Maori broadcasting must take, what role it must play and what contribution it must make.

First a bit of history: TMP was set up by a National Government in response to the Privy Council ruling that before the Crown could proceed with the sale of broadcasting assets, it must have regard to Maori in terms of radio frequencies and the establishment of a Maori television service.

So TMP is not a separatist organisation set up on the whim of a politically correct Lefty Government; it was established at the direction of the Privy Council. If Rodney Hide thinks he is a better legal mind than the combined intellectual might of the Privy Council, then Rodney's ego is even bigger than I had thought. So, as legally directed, the Crown must deliver Maori broadcasting services. What we must do is make sure we are delivering in the best way we can. As part of its Review of Centre, the Government is reviewing broadcasting, just as it is reviewing a range of other sectors.

The review will look at all options, including a stand-alone Maori broadcasting funding agency, funding of Maori programmes solely through New Zealand on Air, or a hybrid arrangement of both. I don't know what the outcome should be. What I do know is that we must get the best bang for our buck, whichever option delivers that, and that's why all the options are on the table.

There is a growing demand from both Maori and non-Maori for Maori-oriented programmes that are relevant and accessible. The international success of the film Whale Rider demonstrates how taking themes and ideas that are undeniably Maori and making them accessible to all has huge potential benefits for not only Maori, but for New Zealand as a whole. Hearing and seeing more of all aspects of Maori life through broadcasting is essential to create more off these opportunities for us all. We should forget Tuku and get on with it.

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