Here’s my take, for what it’s worth, on the current upheavals in the Tainui tribe. I stress that I claim no expertise in this area and have no inside knowledge. However this doesn’t prevent me (or anyone else, for that matter) from reaching my own conclusions based on what I read and hear.
King Tuheitia is not up to the job. He lacks the mana, the dignity and, dare I say it, the integrity of his late mother, who would doubtless have been appalled at his use of the f-word when abusing members of his own tribe on the marae last Saturday.
I suspect the king isn’t very bright and leans heavily on advisers like Tainui chairman Tuku Morgan. I’m not sure that Morgan is terribly bright either, but you have to credit him with a degree of cunning and political nous, to say nothing of ambition. A former hack journalist and utterly undistinguished MP, Morgan has adroitly manoeuvred himself into a position of real influence and power not only within Tainui but in Maoridom at large. (People forget that Morgan was one of the so-called waka jumpers who quit New Zealand First for the Mauri Pacific Party, formed by his equally opportunistic brother-in-law Tau Henare. After Mauri Pacific was deservedly annihilated in the 1999 elections, Henare fled to National - and was disgracefully rewarded with the chairmanship of the Maori Affairs select committee - while Morgan set about building a power base within Maoridom. )
Tainui has a complex hierarchical structure and has been bedevilled for years by power struggles. These were documented in the New Zealand Herald yesterday in an article by Dr Rawiri Taonui, who described Morgan as the puppet master behind the throne.
Morgan is up to his eyeballs in the current furore because Tania Martin, the woman King Tuheitia summarily sacked as the head of the tribe’s representative body, was making waves over spending by the executive board which Morgan chairs.
A critical report written by Martin alleged that during the past seven months, board members had received $546,000 in fees and spent $314,000 on travel and $467,000 on legal fees. The report also claimed that a 10-day trip to Australia by Morgan and two Tainui staff cost the tribe $25,000.
Morgan and the king say the report is inaccurate, but Morgan does appear to have a taste for the good life; in 1997, as a director of Aotearoa Television, he spent $4000 of public money on clothes, including $89 on a pair of designer underpants.
Tania Martin’s dismissal has since been reversed. Her position was an elected one and it appears that the king and his inner circle have been forced to accept that her sacking was unconstitutional.
What we are witnessing in Tainui is a classic conflict between a privileged, hierarchical leadership that appears to resent being called to account – that much was obvious from the King’s abusive language last weekend – and a democratically elected representative body which, while still respectful toward the hereditary leadership, wants some answers. A bit like the old Tonga, really.
Is it anyone else’s business? Yes it is, because Tainui is numerically one of the biggest iwi and traditionally has had the ear of government. It is also one of the wealthiest tribes, thanks partly to the $170 million Treaty settlement of 1995, and is a major economic force within the Waikato region. It’s also represented (by Morgan, of course) on the powerful iwi leadership group which is helping shape government policy on such crucial issues as the foreshore and seabed and the ownership of minerals.
Given its influence in national affairs and its potential contribution to Maori economic wellbeing, what happens in Tainui is everyone’s business – though I imagine King Tuheitia and Tuku Morgan would forcefully argue otherwise.