Public inquiry needed on the Manurewa Marae allegations

Dr Bryce Wilkinson
Insights Newsletter
7 June, 2024

Last weekend, deeply disturbing allegations emerged that the privacy of New Zealanders’ census data was grossly violated in the lead-up to the 2023 general election.  

Media reports include allegations that confidential personal information collected during the 2023 census on behalf of Statistics New Zealand was illicitly copied for private benefit.  

To make the potential violation of trust worse, it is alleged that the information might have been used to facilitate the political campaign of an associated person.  

The candidate associated with the allegations was subsequently elected to parliament by a narrow majority. 

The media also report claims of inducements being offered to some, but not all, to fill in the census forms and to register on the Māori electoral roll.  

Most concerningly, one report claims that Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry of Social Development were warned at the time of these wrongdoings “but did not respond”. Why on earth not? Is New Zealand now a corrupt country? 

The whistleblowers’ claims are that hundreds of census forms were photocopied and retained by marae staff, with personal details entered into a database and sent to the Waipareira Trust, headed by Te Pāti Māori president John Tamihere.  

This information was then allegedly used to target voters in the Tāmaki Makaurau electorate, where the Te Pāti Māori candidate narrowly won by just 42 votes. 

Whistleblowers also allege that voters were offered $100 supermarket vouchers, wellness packs or food parcels to induce them to complete census forms and enrolment forms to switch to the Māori roll.  

This week, those accused are variously denying wrong-doing, not responding, or counter-attacking with irrelevant claims.  

Statistics New Zealand is appointing an investigator. His terms of reference should include assessing whether Stats NZ was informed at the time. The Privacy Commissioner is looking into the allegations, too.  The police may be. The Labour Party has laid a complaint with the Electoral Commission. 

Currently, these events have raised questions about the will of the responsible government agencies to guard the integrity of the population censuses, the commissioning of social work, and general election processes. 

To be warned of the alleged goings on and not to act would represent an appalling dereliction of duty. So did the whistleblowers warn them at the time, or not? And did they respond as they should have, or not? 

A public inquiry is needed if suspicion, doubt and anger are not to fester. 

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