Tamaki back in Maori Women's Welfare League election
Destiny Church co-founder Hannah Tamaki is back in the running for presidency of the non-sectarian Maori Women's Welfare League.
"Ultimately it is a matter for the voters within the League as to whether they are prepared to accept a person whose religious convictions are as strong as Mrs Tamaki’s," a judge has said.
A High Court judge has given his decision this afternoon on Tamaki's case to be able to stand for president of the league at the next annual general meeting.
The league had left her off the ballot papers it has already sent out and said it would suspend branches it believes are affiliated to the church, and investigate the way they were set up and their membership.
At the court hearing on Wednesday the league's lawyer said a "very fishy smell" surrounded the setting up of 10 branches on the same day, at the same time, at the Destiny Church Auckland headquarters.
Each branch had just over the number of members needed to have maximum votes in the presidential election.
Justice Stephen Kos has found there are serious questions about the way the 10 new branches have been set up but says three longer-established branches the league also says are church affiliates, should be able to vote in the coming election.
In his decision the judge said the evidence gave him "considerable disquiet regarding their legitimacy".
He called "remarkable" the way the 10 branches had been set up, apparently without a geographical link between the Auckland-based branches and its membership.
He could not even see any evidence that most of the people named as members had even consented to membership of the league.
But the position was very different for three branches that the league had been prepared to accept in the past.
They were entitled to have their status respected until the league's independent investigation is completed.
"If the investigation's outcome is adverse to the branches in some manner, there will then be time for questions about the legitimacy of the investigation on the one hand, and what may be done about its findings on the other.
"But that time is not now," Justice Kos said.
Tamaki, the wife of Destiny Church Bishop Brian Tamaki, has been a member of the league since February 2009 and became president of one of its branches last October.
Justice Kos' ruling means she will join seven others vying for presidency of the league.
The judge found she met all five criteria for standing for president.
Her church links did not exclude her.
A person with strong faith was entitled to stand so long as their beliefs were disclosed to members.
Tamaki has said if made president she would resign from her church job.
This year is the 60th anniversary of the league's founding.
"But 2011 has not proved an occasion for celebration of the League's many achievements. Instead bitter faction fighting has broken out," Justice Kos said.
The league's consitution says it is principally concerned with "promoting through study, discussion and action the wellbeing of Māori and the people of New Zealand generally".
"It shall be non-sectarian, non-profitable and it should be non-party political, in that it shall not seek to influence the views of its members regarding any candidate for public office or any political party."
Its membership of about 2850 as at the end of May was swelled by 900 when the 10 new branches were formed.
New voting papers now have to be prepared for the coming annual general election.
The judge has not decided who is liable for costs in the court case, but he noted that Tamaki was "not without responsibility for the situation that has befallen the League, given her direct participation in the establishment of the 10 new branches".
Hannah Tamaki said in a statement released this afternoon that she welcomes the decision.
"I now look forward to being involved in a fair democratic process of election alongside the other wonderful nominees."
She said she was pleased that Taumata, Wahine Toa and Rangatahi Toa - the three established branches of the League - would be allowed to vote.
Tamaki said she only took legal action against the League as a last resort.
"I wish to make it clear that this litigation against certain actions of the Maori Women's Welfare League was not taken lightly and was pursued only after all other avenues were exhausted," she said.