More than $5 million in taxpayer money was "wasted" paying for Maori family reunions under the Maori Party's controversial flagship Whanau Ora programme last year, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters claimed yesterday.
During Parliament's opening session, Mr Peters attacked the Maori Party and Whanau Ora, asking Prime Minister John Key whether he would have confidence in Maori Party co-leader and Whanau Ora Minister Tariana Turia "if he found out the minister is promoting public funding to be diverted from those in genuine need to those who are most certainly are not".
Mr Peters asked Mr Key whether it was appropriate that a person who owned a chain of businesses in the Wellington area should have family reunions paid for under Whanau Ora's Whanau Integration, Innovation and Engagement Fund. Mr Key said the question was best directed to Mrs Turia who, like colleagues Pita Sharples and Te Ururoa Flavell, was absent from the House yesterday.
Mr Peters later told reporters about $6 million had been awarded in about 200 Whanau Integration, Innovation and Engagement Fund grants last year, essentially to fund family reunions.
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A Whanau Ora information document last year said Wellington hairdresser Johni Rutene sought funds to "reconnect his 180-strong family with each other and their Wairarapa turangawaewae, strengthen their bonds and improve their overall whanau ora". He reportedly planned to hold six family hui which would "reflect the Rutene whanau approach to their own whanau ora. The Herald understands Mr Rutene's whanau received $6000 from the fund.
The grants were an example of money being "allocated for purposes which fall far short of helping Maori to make a full economic and social contribution to this country", Mr Peters said.
Mrs Turia yesterday defended the funding, saying: "It's a shame Mr Peters pulled one story out of a series of articles that show the many ways the fund has benefited whanau, such as addressing rheumatic fever, preventing family violence, and earthquake recovery".
A Whanau Ora fact sheet says $5.44 million was approved from the fund last year and the Herald understands the 211 applications covered requests for more than 2000 whanau.