Is funding a $2m plastic waka as part of the Rugby World Cup a good use of taxpayer money?
The $2 million cost of a giant waka-shaped events centre on Auckland's waterfront is a fraction of the cost being spent to host the Rugby World Cup, Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples says.
Dr Sharples is defending the spending on the waka pavillion, which will be used to showcase Maori culture, arts, businesses and enterprise.
Ngati Whatua o Orakei is getting $1.8m of Government funding to create a pavilion in the shape of a giant waka as part of Auckland's world cup celebrations.
The waka, 60-metres long and almost 15-metres high, is a joint venture between the hapu and the Government, with support from the Auckland City Council.
The hapu is contributing $100,000 to the project, which has an estimated cost of $1,988,000, and would own it after it was built.
Sharples said it was a "sad indictment" that Auckland's waterfront had no major Maori presence, and the waka would help address that.
It was also a small fraction of the hundreds of millions being spent to stage the tournament, and a fifth of the $10m cost of the large white cloud that is the centrepiece of the "Party Central" zone.
He aslo rejected criticism from Labour MP Shane Jones, who has branded the project a "blow up" waka.
"Shane Jones thinks it's a plastic boat ... It is a chance to showcase New Zealand and show to the world what a beautiful place we are."
JONES ATTACKS 'BLOW-UP WAKA'
Earlier today Jones said the ''blow-up waka'' risked exposing Maori to ridicule and smacked of last-minute desperation to get them involved in the tournament's celebrations.
Jones, who is contesting Maori Party co-leader and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples' Tamaki Makaurau seat this year, said the only thing Maori wanted to see from the world cup was All Blacks Piri Weepu and Hosea Gear holding the trophy aloft.
''This is about $2 million for an 18-day project, so in my estimation it works out about 180-odd K a day for a blow-up waka and, really, in my view, from a plastic party. It's a joke,'' he told Radio New Zealand.
''So, the best way we're going to promote Maori in the context of the world cup is a last-minute panic-stricken stunt where this waka, whether it's made out of plastic or it's inflatable, is actually going to be either sold or have to be wrecked, but it's ridiculous to think that you're going to be able to take it to China and India.
"No, I think it's a very shallow, costly idea which should have actually gone out to tender. If you want to get Maori in the world cup, the best way to do it is to work with the young people, not actually come up with an inflatable stunt.
''We're living in austere times. I just think it's an absurd idea, and a type of indulgence that ... runs the risk of reducing Maori themselves to having a plastic identity through this plastic party in the middle of the World Cup. It's not good.''
VERY BEST OF MAORI ARTS
But Sharples said a business plan would be drawn up to identify ways to generate revenue from the waka and offset the cost.
"The waka will provide the cultural heart of the entertainment programme on Auckland's waterfront. We will showcase the very best of Maori arts, culture, business and enterprise, right in the heart of the Rugby World Cup capital.
"The haka is inextricably identified with All Black rugby, and Maori culture is a uniquely recognisable characteristic of New Zealand. This programme builds on our distinctive brand to promote New Zealand as a top visitor destination, and a place to do business," Sharples said.
He said construction would start soon and the "world's best" Maori arts and cultural programme was being assembled for the waka.
The Ministry of Culture and Heritage and Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet were underwriting the performance programme.
"The total outlay for the project is almost $2 million. A business plan will identify ways to raise revenue and likely income, so the net cost is not certain at this stage," Sharples said.
He said the waka would be portable and would provide "lasting benefits" for Auckland and New Zealand.
The spending has also drawn criticism from ACT leader Rodney Hide, who said it flew in the face of the Government's austerity drive.
"Here we have a government that's borrowing $300 million-plus now a week and made a very clear statement that there are all these things that are nice to have, and that we need to focus on the necessities.
"The idea that we'd give away $1.9 million to have a waka that the people of New Zealand won't even own is appalling," he told Radio New Zealand.
The Greens criticised the decision to award the project to the hapu without allowing other iwi and hapu a chance to tender.