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Ken Shirley Speech: Wananga - dual laws

Wananga - dual laws, dual standards

Speech by ACT MP Hon Ken Shirley: `Wananga - dual laws, dual standards', Tauranga Branch of the ACT Party, Sunday 20 February 2005

Last week in Parliament I revealed that Te Wananga O Aotearoa has over 350 staff cars. Each car is regularly valet groomed by Gazza's Groomers, a company that got the contract without a tender. This company is owned by the partner of a senior executive of the wananga. I have since been advised that, in addition, the wananga's fleet manager is the brother of the car groomer.

We are told that the chief executive's daughter sold the Mahi Ora learning programme to the wananga for $7 million and is now buying up dairy farms around the Waikato. We are also told that the wananga purchased the Cuban numeracy and literacy programme `Greenlight' from the chief executive's American fiancée for an undisclosed seven figure sum.

Articles appearing in the newspapers over the weekend reveal that the Wananga owns two hotels and a very expensive apartment in Gulf Harbour.

I want to make this point at the outset, ACT is not opposed to entrepreneurship. We champion those who, through hard work, innovation, enterprise and thrift create wealth and prosperity. We all benefit from such activity. What we utterly reject is taxpayers' hard-earned money being siphoned away from genuine and desirable social education programmes.

The Government's own representative on the wananga council, in an email leaked to me, describes the wananga as having a culture of executive extravagance that lacks accountability.

It is unacceptable for any cabal to abuse their positions of power living `high on the hog' at the taxpayers' expense.

When informed of these matters last week, the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard told Parliament that he had been concerned for a long time. He said he would make enquiries. So there is no need for us to worry - or is there?

The Minister also revealed that under the Labour Government the taxpayer subsidy to this wananga has gone from $4 million five years ago to $239 million last year - that is nearly quarter of billion dollars.

This is over half what the Government spends on the country's entire pre-school sector.

It's more money than the Government spends on any university in New Zealand.

How did it happen?

It is an example of how we now have two sets of laws: one for Maori and one for the rest of us.

It is an example of how the Treaty gravy train under Labour has become a whole railway network.

The enrolment practices for the wananga are suspect, particularly the practice of offering inducements.

The Close Up programme on Wednesday night sent an investigative journalist to inquire what inducements he would receive to enrol. What he was offered was a free course and a free laptop computer that he could keep when the shot-term course was completed.

Of course neither is free. You and me as taxpayers are paying for both the course and the laptop. ACT has been telling the Government in Parliament for years that this is going on.

The Minister of Education then tells Parliament that he is "concerned" and the giving of free computers and other inducements to enrol in courses is not allowed and he will issue firm instructions to stop it. The wananga carries on bribing students to enrol and the Labour Government continues to fund it.

The dubious nature of some tertiary institutions' enrolments is widely known. There was an example given in Parliament by two MPs who said that while waiting to order hamburgers in Rotorua they were approached and offered enrolment forms for a free course. Curious, the MPs filled out the forms. They were staggered to learn some time later that they were enrolled and had become members of a course they never attended. The institution then billed the Government.

This was a course where you learnt Maori by singing.

We have had the case of students being given golf clubs at the taxpayers' expense to enrol in a short-term course playing twilight golf. Good work if you can get it.

Trevor Mallard just told us that he was "concerned".

If Otago University was to grant its lecturers free staff cars, give its students free laptops, free clothing and accessories, was to start enrolling people in courses against their knowledge and bill the Government a quarter of a billion dollars a year there would be outrage. If the administrators of the university were to grant family members lucrative contracts, every investigative journalist in New Zealand would be on the case. There would be an uproar in Parliament. There would be a full judicial inquiry under a High Court judge and the Prime Minister would be, as she is with regard to the NCEA scholarship, stating that heads will roll.

Instead, we have the Minister telling us he is concerned and the Prime Minister nowhere to be seen.

Incidentally, NCEA scholarship exams cost around $3 million and involve around 4,000 students. Some 38,000 students are enrolled at the wananga. Thousands of young Maori have been conned into believing they are at a university. We have all been quite rightly outraged at the way this Government has treated the country's top scholars in the NCEA scholarship exam. What I find extraordinary is the lack of concern about the thousands of young Maori who are being ripped off by the wananga.

Last year the Leader of the Opposition Don Brash in his Orewa speech discovered what ACT has been saying consistently for nine years, that we have two sets of laws and two standards in this country. Unfortunately this year he has moved on to solo mothers and ACT finds itself again alone in Parliament making the case that there should be one law for all.

The history of the wanangas is worth relating. In this country there have always been private education providers. Indeed ACT favours competitive private provision over state monopoly. The growth of post secondary school learning has seen an explosion in the number of private tertiary educational institutions. Not surprisingly a number of Maori organisations have set up tertiary institutions aimed at providing education for the large number of Maori leaving school. That is commendable, and is supported by ACT.

The way that successive governments have given assistance to the private educational providers is to offer a subsidy for education places in approved courses. They are called EFTs (equivalent full-time students).

In the 1990s three Maori education providers, Te Wananga O Aotearoa and two others, decided that they were Maori "universities" and that they ought to receive funding on the same basis as the country's universities. Accordingly they filed a Treaty claim to the Waitangi Tribunal.

The claim was nonsense. None of the three institutions were universities. In this country there are very stringent requirements that an educational institution must meet in order to be able to describe itself as a university. This has not stopped wananga calling itself a university in its advertisements.

If you were to set up an educational institution and advertise in the media that you were a university you would quickly find yourself in very deep legal difficulties. The Serious Fraud Office, the Commerce Commission, the Ministry of Education and the Companies Registrar would all be taking you to court. The wananga has been calling itself a university for over six years and so far has not suffered any legal penalty. The Minister of Education Trevor Mallard says he is concerned but the Government goes on funding the wananga. It even funds the fraudulent advertisements.

Every year there are frivolous and outrageous claims made to the Waitangi Tribunal. Apologists for the Treaty industry say that claims such as Maori being exempted from dog licenses cannot be prevented from being filed, but they say they are never heard by the Tribunal.

Te Wananga O Aotearoa is proof that outrageous Treaty claims are not only heard by the Tribunal but are also successful. The Waitangi Tribunal ignored the fact that the Wänanga was being treated in exactly the same way as every other private tertiary provider and ruled that it was a Treaty claim and that the Wänanga under the Treaty of Waitangi was entitled to extra capital funding - over and above the formula applicable to everyone - to enable them to grow.

Waitangi Tribunal decisions are not binding on the Government. Both National and Labour indicated that they would not accept the Waitangi Tribunal's decision.

Despite Trevor Mallard's amazing statement to Parliament that he was concerned about the Wänanga even before he became Minister of Education, on 6 November 2001 he announced a $40 million capital funding injection for the organisation, and in a joint statement with Parekura Horomia said "we regard today's settlement as an important investment in continued high quality education at Te Wänanga O Aotearoa."

Since that date the wänanga has not just had a blank cheque, it has been given the taxpayers' chequebook.

The wananga's bill to the taxpayer has gone from $4 million a year in 1999 to $239 million this year. This is the fastest growth for any educational institution in the history of New Zealand. The number of students has gone from just under 1,000 to 38,000.

I was a little surprised to hear the acting CEO of the Tertiary Education Commission, Nick Kerr, tell us this week that government has a policy for managing the growth of tertiary institutions with a special variation for wananga. I wonder why, given the Minister's concerns.

The Government knows that putting thousands of young people, and not so young, on education courses is the reason Labour can claim to have solved unemployment. When we add up the extra people on the sickness benefit and the number attending the wänanga we find where many of the unemployed have gone.

John Tamihere even boasted recently that WINZ staff had referred `large numbers' of people to one of the wananga's courses.

The Government also says that every course is approved by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority - the same authority that has made such a botch of the country's scholarships.

It is the same authority that would have us believe that 30 of the 50 students who sat Maori for NCEA are so outstanding that they should be awarded a scholarship and yet only nine of the 1,000 students who sat in biology are of scholarship standard.

In the nearly 100 year history of the scholarship exam there has never been a subject where over 60% of the students who sat the exam received a scholarship. Surely we aren't so politically correct that this aspect of the NCEA has not been reported by the media. Even Bill English has failed to mention this glaring anomaly in his criticisms of NCEA.

But we needn't worry because the Minister of Finance Dr Cullen told the Parliamentary Expenditure Committee on Wednesday that the Government was "concerned" that the Qualifications Authority doesn't appear to turn down many courses.

Te Wänanga O Aotearoa is an example of how much political power in New Zealand is now being exercised by a small elite within Maoridom.

The wänanga has real political power. A small cabal of influential Tainui families run most things. Nepotism is rife. This Maori aristocracy is well connected and exerts great influence within the Labour Party.

It is not hard to see why Trevor Mallard is extremely reluctant to move against the wänanga. The Labour Party needed Nanaia Mahuta's vote for the Foreshore and Seabed legislation. Labour's six Maori MPs are being challenged by the Maori Party. The Maori Party in Parliament is staunchly defending the wänanga. Who knows what funding trade-offs the Government made in their desperation over the foreshore and seabed debacle.

Pita Sharples, the co-leader of the Maori Party, criticised ACT for raising the wananga issues, stating that we should accept lower standards of accountability from Maori. We reject that. It is both patronising and a recipe for failure.

Why haven't we heard more from National? When ACT first raised this issue in Parliament no other party wanted to touch it. It seems the National Party has decided to move on from the issue of dual laws and standards in New Zealand.

While Don Brash did raise the issues of the Treaty industry in his first Orewa speech, National never had the answers.

ACT has applied our typically rigorous analysis to the Treaty issue. We know the answer to the wänanga issue. It is to apply the law of the land even-handedly without fear or favour.

What ACT is going to do is to continue to expose the Labour's double standards and to force the Government and the supervisory agencies like the Office of the Auditor General to do their duty.

Since I made my revelations in Parliament my office has been inundated with fresh allegations. They come from present and former students, present and former staff members, their families, contractors, service providers, land agents, businessmen and accountants. If the allegations are correct this is a major scandal with tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers' dollars being siphoned off.

Let me give Mr Mallard some very good advice: In Cabinet tomorrow the Government would be well advised to appoint a High Court judge to hold a public inquiry into how the wänanga has managed to receive quarter of a billion of taxpayers' dollars in the last year. The Minister must empower the judge to find out where the money has gone. Just telling us that he is "concerned" will no longer cut it .

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