The Leadership Of Richard Prebble
Richard Prebble and Donna Awatere Huata - Scandal No.1
There were tears in the ACT parliamentary offices this week. Richard Prebble, the one time Labour Minister and self-proclaimed ‘saviour’ of NZ Rail was saddling up and heading into the sunset.
Hankies were evidently needed as saline infused moisture cascaded over Barkers(tm) Jerseys and the odd-working style suit(tm). It would have been emotional.
And tears probably flowed in these same rooms just prior to the 1999 general election too. But back then the saline infused moisture would have been tears of rage rather than maudlin sadness at the passing of a long serving statesperson.
In late 1999 NZ First defector Tuariki Delamere had managed to get himself removed from his post as Immigration Minister through pushing through an exception to immigration policy.
The exception to policy concerned substantially lowering the amount of money an overseas investor needed to invest in New Zealand to gain residency. No doubt this move would have caused apoplexy from his old New Zealand First chums residing across the benches in Opposition.
It also caused apoplexy to the Prime Minister of the time - Jenny Shipley - who had specifically instructed Delamere not to go ahead with pushing through this policy exception.
The ripples from this immigration depth charge also spread to the ACT party when it was discovered on 25 November 1999 (two days before the General Election) that Donna Awatere- Huata’s husband Wi Huata, was one of the principal movers behind the deal involving the foreign investors (and residency seekers).
Act Leader, Richard Prebble had an election to fight and the party renowned for it's perk busting power and mud slinging ability did not need one of its MPs smelling like she'd slipped in a cow pat over this cash for residency fiasco.
Riding close to 10% prior to the election, the fallout from Tuariki Delamere's actions undoubtedly cost Act dearly in the 1999 election. Prior to the election Prebble talked some tough talk, making certain the public knew he would brook no improper shenanigan's among his MPs.
Prebble even invoked the spectre of a QC to investigate should there be a whiff of impropriety attached to the affair. The invocation of the QC was said prior to the election. Not after the election
As a former cabinet Minister and occasional parliamentary pedant, when it comes to rules and regulations Prebble was ready to deal out Dirty Harry style parliamentary justice if need be.
“If one of my MPs was asking a Minister to break the Cabinet rules I would throw the book at them," he was reported to say.
Fortunately the book dodging skills of Ms Awatere-Huata would not be needed on this occasion. After an exhaustive inquiry which concluded on 30 November 1999 Ms Awatere-Huata was ‘cleared’.
Over the course of maybe a day, but possibly some minutes, whilst removing his doo-dackies from the Beehive, following electoral defeat, Rt Hon Wyatt Creech had apparently investigated the matter.
It turned out that phone calls had been made to the Minister’s office on behalf of her husband after Donna Awatere-Huata was aware that Wi Huata was asking for an exception to immigration policy.
Because Wi Huata’s cellphone was not working. Wi Huata was in fact in an orchard. An orchard on his property that he shared with Donna. Wi could not call the Minister’s office because he was not in the house and his cellphone was not working. Donna Awatere- Huata was in the house and the landline was working.
Presumably bellowing at the top of his lungs whilst pruning his fruit he attracted his wife’s attention. Maybe using a mixture of loud yelling and expressive body gestures he intimated what he wanted. He wanted his wife to ring and discuss only matters of process relating to a letter.
He did not want his wife to act as an MP on his behalf. He wanted his wife to ring regarding the process of a letter. A letter requesting the Minister make an exception to immigration policy. A letter involving 21 Chinese investors being able to gain residency for investing $400,000 instead of a million dollars. So long as they invested in Maori land.
As pointed out these phone calls needed to be made because of fruit pruning and cellular phone difficulties. And Donna Awatere-Huata did not use her position as an MP to lobby on her husbands behalf. Wyatt Creech discovered this in his inquiry. An exhaustive inquiry. Indeed an inquiry that may have lasted at least a few hours.
And Richard Prebble considered his MP had been vindicated. There was now no need for a QC to investigate. (See press release below.)
More recently, for the last year and a half Donna Awatere Huata and her husband have helped embarrass the ACT party through events surrounding the use of money meant for the Pipi Foundation. Money that should have been spent helping children to read. Richard Prebble and ACT have now gone to the High Court and the Court of Appeal to try and get rid of Ms Awatere-Huata.
And what became of Delamere?
Former Immigration Minister Tuariki Delamere became involved in the Immigration consultancy business after leaving Parliament - like a large number of his predecessors - but ran foul of the rules again mid 2003.
Delamere then came under fire from then Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel for running what she called a 'scam'. Mr Delamere's scheme involved migrants paying themselves rather than setting up legitimate businesses according to Dalziel. It is understood Mr Delamere's business has since folded.
Meanwhile former Deputy Prime Minister (and briefly Immigration Minister) Wyatt Creech retains an interest in immigration matters, having gone into the immigration consultancy business with Pansy Wong’s husband, Sammy Wong, and former Prime Minister Rt Hon Jenny Shipley.
Delamere Documents Released
30 November 1999
Act leader Hon Richard Prebble released today the documents he had received from the Deputy Prime Minister and acting Minister of Immigration, the Rt Hon Wyatt Creech regarding the exceptions to immigration policy proposed by the former Minister of Immigration Mr Tuariki Delamere that led to his being dismissed.
“I wrote to the Prime Minister asking for all of the documents under the Official Information Act and also inquiring as to whether there was any action by ACT MP Donna Awatere Huata that should cause me any concern.
“The Minister has written back stating: ‘Let me say that on the surface I see no problem with a citizen approaching a Minister to seek an exception to policy. Prima facie that appears to be the extent of Mr Huata’s involvement. As to Mrs Awatere Huata, it appears that the extent of her involvement was two phone calls to the former Minister of Immigration’s office inquiring on behalf of her husband’s submission. Again as you will realise inquiring on behalf of a submission is expected by members of Parliament. In this case my inquiries show that Mrs Awatere Huata identified herself and her interest to the officials concerned and sought information as to the process of this submission, rather than directly lobbying for its approval.’
This is consistent with Donna’s statement that the application was her husband’s. The extent of the phone call was to ask on behalf of her husband when a letter he was expecting from the Minister was likely to arrive. As the Parliamentary Secretary records there was no discussion over the content of the letter.
“I am satisfied that there can be no criticism of the actions of either my MP or her spouse.”
“On reading through these documents I have reached the view that Mr Delamere’s actions were taken solely by him. Indeed, I think it was a pre-election stunt to try and give himself publicity. The Prime Minister was clearly justified in dismissing him,” said Hon Richard Prebble
- Kevin List is a Scoop staff writer. A Second Look is an occasional column which endeavours to look a little deeper into the background of current events.