Turia personifies Whanau Ora problem

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 05:00 02/12/2012
tdn Tariana Turia stand
Tariana Turia

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OPINION: I wouldn't have picked Republican United States president Ronald Reagan as an inspiration for Tariana Turia, but she seems to hold with his wisdom that "explaining is losing".

How else can you fathom her failure to defend her pet project, Whanau Ora?

In the past few months a series of mini-scandals and criticisms have been levelled at the social welfare fund, largely thanks to digging by Winston Peters.

Most damning has been the conviction of Mongrel Mob member Korrey Teeati Cook for supplying drugs he bought with a $20,000 Whanau Ora grant. At first, Turia insisted there was no proof - until Cook was jailed this month, which she dismissed as a one-off.

Peters revealed last week that an immigrant with a history of family violence, child neglect and drug abuse got help from the fund for his residency application. He has also uncovered a $60,000 grant to a rugby club to research "whanau connectedness", and highlighted a $3000 grant to a hairdresser to hold two family hui.

Around $5.5 million was paid out last year - $164m has been allocated over four years. The grandiloquent NZ First leader wickedly calls Whanau Ora a "bro-ocracy", a "touchy-feely slush fund" and "a circus with no accountability". Yet, when called on to defend her policy baby, Turia rarely fronts up.

When Cook - who was already on bail for violence offences - was jailed for four years, she failed to turn up to a Taranaki event where reporters were waiting for her to explain the misuse of funds. A quick search reveals this is not unusual - she didn't show up to deliver at least 18 speeches this year, relying on someone else to read them out.

One ministerial aide this past week told me this behaviour was "extraordinary".

The Maori Party co-leader is disdainful of non-Maori media. Instead of countering criticism, she attacked reporters for not covering Whanau Ora's "good news" stories.

Two things, Tari: selling your flagship policy is not our job, it's yours. And a little more transparency about what you are spending taxpayers' money on wouldn't go amiss.

It was recently revealed that a quarter of applicants who received Whanau Ora cash were from Te Tai Hauauru - Turia's electorate. It has only 8 per cent of the Maori population. Turia says she is "more than satisfied with the accountability of the spend".

The taxpayer cannot be. If she wants us to believe in her pet policy - which undeniably has its merits - she must lead by example. Whanau Ora needs more accountability and that must start with the minister.

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- Sunday Star Times

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