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Q+A - Hurimoana Dennis: Apology From Paula Bennett Accepted


The chairman of Te Puea Marae in South Auckland, which is housing dozens of homeless families over winter, says he’s accepted Paula Bennett’s apology for someone in her office leaking details of a police investigation to him.

While he admits the leak took him by surprise, he says his focus is on finding the families at his Marae a home.

Speaking to Corin Dann on TV One’s Q+A programme, Mr Dennis said the minister had been very apologetic about what had happened.

“She explained to me what had happened, and that’s all there is to it, Corin. I’ve just got to get on with it and as best we can work with her office and any other agencies or groups who want to work with us to help.”

Mr Dennis said that families need to step up and help their family members struggling with a lack of housing, but that in the cases he came across, family members were also under pressure.

“We cannot let this thing go to sleep next week. If we do, shame on all of us, shame on the whole country. But at the same time … it’s the family who need to step up to help the families, but the problem is this – a lot of their families are stressed as well. A lot of their families are stretched as well. They’re doing the best they can with what little they have.”


Q + A
Episode 915
Interviewed by CORIN DANN

GREG The week took a strange twist when it was revealed that one of Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett's press secretaries had told a ONE News reporter that the chairman of Te Puea marae – the marae taking in homeless people – was under police investigation. Mrs Bennett denied being party to the leak. In fact, she said the staff member had assumed the information was already public. But she did apologise to Hurimoana Dennis. We asked Minister Paula Bennett for an interview this week. She declined. Political editor Corin Dann spoke to Mr Dennis and asked for his reaction.

HURIMOANA What I can say is that everybody at the marae continues to do what we’ve always set out to do, which is to help the people that come through our door and help the people that we’ve got there. 33 heads we have at the marae at the moment, so that’s our focus. It has to remain our focus, and we’ve given a commitment to them that we will help them through this challenging time.

CORIN So you were quite up front with the minister. You told her about what was your situation. I guess what people are wondering is are you surprised that one of her press secretaries then went and told the media and it blew up like this?

HURIMOANA Oh, look, absolutely. I mean, it caught me by left field, but at the end of the day, the conversations that I had with the minister were productive, and everything that I’d asked for were given. We now have her staff working at the back of our marae, helping our social workers do the business that we’ve all set out to do. So, look, it could’ve been better played out for sure, but at the end of the day, this topic is a sensitive one and something that we’re treating very sensitively at our marae to help these people, 33 of them, I might add, that we’ve got there right now at the marae, so that’s our focus to help them through this challenging time.

CORIN Do you think that she was trying to undermine the work you were doing or that the press secretary was by giving that information to the media? Do you think that was a smear?

HURIMOANA Look, you’d have to ask them, Corin. I don’t know. You’d have to ask them, and that’s up to them to say, but all I’m focused on now is making sure that the families that we have got are treated respectfully and that we can find them a warm home.

CORIN The press secretary said in her explanation that she felt the information about your situation was widely known. Is that right?

HURIMOANA Oh, look, that’s up to her. That’s up to her. You’d need to ask her about that, Corin. As I said, my focus has been on the 33 people that we have at our marae to get the business done and to make sure that we get them a warm home, and that needs to be the focus. It’s unfortunate that these events have happened, but that’s for the minister to explain, not for me.

CORIN Did you accept the apology from Paula Bennett?

HURIMOANA Oh, look, of course, and the minister was very apologetic about what had happened, and she explained to me what had happened, and that’s all there is to it, Corin. I’ve just got to get on with it and as best we can work with her office and any other agencies or groups who want to work with us to help.

CORIN And you accepted her assurances that this was a case of her press secretary going off on her own bat?

HURIMOANA Well, look, that’s just what she said and we just have to take it for being what it is.

CORIN All right, let’s look at the wider issues of what you’re dealing with. Has this issue, compared to, say, last winter, has it got a lot worse? What’s going on?

HURIMOANA Look, the words overcrowding, eviction, below the poverty line, bureaucracy and poor decision-making seem to be popping out all the time from the whanaus that we’ve had through our doors. They almost seem to be a precursor to ending up in your car. Overcrowding – we’ve got families who are living in situations that aren’t the best till it gets to the point where these families can no longer cope, and then they’re ending up in their cars outside the driveways on the front lawn because they need to access the toilet and so on and so forth. And then before you know it, that gets too much for the families to cope with and they end up in the car park, and that’s really sad. But at the end of the day, Corin, those five themes need to be the starting point to making this thing— bring it out of crisis mode and put it into manageable mode. Everyone needs to catch their breath. There has been created a tier of our community that’s sitting below the poverty line. We now need as a community to go back and pick them up and bring them forward to where everybody else is. You’ve got mums and dads and kids who would otherwise be sitting next to you at the movie theatres taking their kids to school, on the PTA, trust boards, sports coaches and all the rest of it who would normally be— they’re normal parents, but after 4 o’clock in the afternoon, they seem to go into crisis mode, looking around for a safe place to sleep. So some of them have been playing double Dutch, you know, going into work and trying to shower their kids while the other half are cooking breakfast. So, look, I’m amazed. I’ve met some awesome mums and dads and parents, but they’re all stressed, Corin.

CORIN I guess I’ll come back to that question, though. Because we’ve got so much focus on it now, does it feel like there’s just an increased focus on the issue, or is it getting worse? Are you seeing more and more families in these situations over the last few months?

HURIMOANA Oh, look, I think it’s a combination of all of those things, Corin. We cannot let this thing go to sleep next week. If we do, shame on all of us, shame on the whole country. But at the same time, in my opinion, the government can’t be the first port of call when it comes to trying to fix these issues. For me, it’s the family who need to step up to help the families, but the problem is this – a lot of their families are stressed as well. A lot of their families are stretched as well. They’re doing the best they can with what little they have.

CORIN Why shouldn’t it be the government? That is their responsibility as the state to provide basic homes and basic care, isn’t it?

HURIMOANA Oh, look, for sure, but from a kaupapa tikanga Maori perspective, whanau whanui, we have a responsibility to look after our own. But as I said before, Corin, a lot of our families are stressed as well. A lot of their families are stressed as well, overcrowded situations. All you need to do is look at the housing – the waiting list for houses. That’s where all the up-and-coming people are.

CORIN But I wonder whether the fact that you are doing it is embarrassing the government, that they should’ve been the ones doing it and that you’re having to step into the breach.

HURIMOANA Oh, look, for sure, and we have a good process in place on our marae that a lot of people from grass roots have put together simply because they know what needs to happen and they can feel the pain of a lot of these families.

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