Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Maori TV: Labour MP makes favouritism claims

Richard Jefferies, left, and Paora Maxwell have been shortlisted for the chief executive role.
Richard Jefferies, left, and Paora Maxwell have been shortlisted for the chief executive role.

Labour MP Claire Curran claimed in Parliament today that the chairwoman of the Maori Television Service, Georgina te Heuheu, favoured a friend of hers, Paora Maxwell, in getting him shortlisted for the job of chief executive of MTS.

But Finance Minister Bill English said he had been assured by Mrs te Heuheu that proper procedure had been followed.

Under parliamentary privilege, Ms Curran said Mr Maxwell had not been considered suitable for the job by the recruitment company engaged by the board and had not been included on the shortlist "but this decision was overturned by his close friend and board chair, Georgina te Heuheu".

She said Mr Maxwell had left his job at TVNZ - where he was head of Maori and Pacific programmes - without a reference and ''under a cloud of financial and staff mismanagement".

She said the head of TVNZ, Kevin Kendrick, had offered to brief the MTS board but it had not been taken up.

She also claimed that Mr Maxwell had been "in long term debt to Te Mangai Paho, which is the major programming funder for Maori Television from money owed from his own production company, Te Aratai Productions".

She asked Mr English, who is a shareholding Minister of the Maori Television Service, if it would be appropriate for the board to appoint a chief executive who was in long term debt to the station's programme funder.

Mr English said he did not know Mr Maxwell or his circumstances.

"What I do know is that a strength of the New Zealand Government system is that there is no political interference in the appointment of people to positions in that public sector.

"Unfortunately the Opposition has seen fit to attack the process. The chairman has assured me that proper procedure has been followed. If there was any evidence to the contrary, then I suppose we would look at it.

"But I don't think that character assassination on someone who can't do anything about it is the way to deal with public sector appointments."

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell objected to the attack on Mr Maxwell and questioned what protections members of the public had.

"What protections do individual New Zealanders have in going through an appointment process when their past employment history is put in front of New Zealand society for all to see, and yet they are applying for a job, have not even been appointed to any position at the moment and yet parliamentarians are able to follow this line of questioning which, for me, is way out of order."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters defended the Opposition's right to raise such matters citing the first chief executive appointed to head MTS, Canadian John Davy, who claimed to have qualifications which turned out not to exist.

"It may be embarrassing for some members of Parliament but this is a transparent process and these questions are entirely proper and if the member is wrong then she will have to live with that and the public opprobrium will come but if she has got the facts, she should be allowed to put them."

Mr Maxwell and Richard Jefferies are the two finalists for the chief executive role to replace Jim Mather who will take the top job at the tertiary education institution Te Wananga o Aotearoa next month.

The board of Maori Television Service is made up of three Government appointments and four from the electoral college Te Putahi Paoho, chaired by broadcaster Willie Jackson.
Under Parliament's rules, members of the public who believe they have been defamed may ask the Speaker for a response to be tabled in Parliament.

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