Housing delegation trip costs under fire

JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 05:00 21/10/2012

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Questions surround the funding of a 35-stong delegation to an indigenous housing conference in Canada this year.

The taxpayer paid more than $26,000 for Associate Housing Minister Tariana Turia and a senior private secretary to attend, while the Department of Building and Housing paid about $8000 to send one of its staff.

Turia said she had no idea how many others were paid for by the Government, and there was no official delegation. But she did use a ministerial credit card to pay for a $2000 dinner for the group, and one of those who attended said there was "absolutely" a delegation, and that it included a Waitangi Tribunal judge and his wife, and an Auckland District Health Board senior maternity expert.

Turia and her secretary stayed seven nights at Vancouver's Hyatt Hotel, where the World Indigenous Housing Conference was held in June. She took more than $1000 worth of gifts, bought on her ministerial card from Kakahu Taonga in Otaki, including four Tino Rangatiratanga flags, glass koru, and three small glass waka.

She gave a series of speeches, including one alongside Ngati Whatua chair and Whanau Ora supporter Naida Glavish.

"I heard her speak, and she spoke well," attendee Island Child Trust manager Danielle Bergin said. "She held the room, you could have heard a pin drop. She shared her passion for progress, frustrations at how we get there, and an overview of where we are today with housing tangata whenua here in Aotearoa."

Bergin said there was no sense of lavishness about the trip. "These people were really committed to contributing to the conference, as well as bringing away knowledge from other countries."

Ngati Whatua had sent at least six or seven people, she said.

But the expense involved has been labelled "seriously questionable" by NZ First leader Winston Peters. "What was the purpose, and where was the value? We don't have to travel abroad to know Maori need housing."

New Zealand had compared well for indigenous housing in the past, though there had been a recent deterioration, he said. The costs of the trip seemed high, and there was a strange lack of information about how the delegation was funded. "How would this help?" Peters said.

Turia said the conference was a chance to share housing experiences with other countries, and to hear the best ideas from around the world. While on the trip, she visited indigenous housing providers and met British Columbia's Social Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux, and Australia's Housing Minister Jenny Macklin.

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