Te Pāti Māori inquiry: Six govt agencies in the spotlight

Te Pāti Māori has strenuously denied claims that it improperly used people's personal information...
Te Pāti Māori has strenuously denied claims that it improperly used people's personal information collected during the census or Covid vaccine drives. Photo: RNZ
At least six government agencies are now the focus of an independent inquiry triggered by claims Te Pāti Māori misused census information.

Te Pāti Māori has strenuously denied the claims that it used peoples' personal information - collected during the census or Covid vaccine drives - in order to help its electioneering.

The Ministry of Social Development and StatsNZ are also accused of knowing about the potential breaches of privacy, but not acting on them.

Separately, the Labour Party had also complained to the Electoral Commission last year about text messages sent by a number Labour believed was managed by Waipareira Trust, of which John Tamihere is the chief executive.

The government has ordered the Public Service Commission to conduct an independent inquiry over whether relevant government agencies had safeguards in place to ensure people's personal information by third-party providers was protected.

The agencies being investigated include StatsNZ, the Ministry of Health, Health NZ, Te Puni Kokiri, Oranga Tamariki and the Ministry of Social Development.

'There must be independent oversight'

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon wants reassurance that government agencies were "responding and managing data in the appropriate way" and were "managing conflicts, real or perceived, in the right way".

"If there's gaps in the arc of knowledge that we need to have about the government's response across a number of agencies, than that can happen as well."

Luxon said the allegations were serious, and "go to the heart of trust and confidence in our democratic processes and institutions".

"It is critical that New Zealanders can trust that when their personal information is given to government agencies, it is held securely and used only for proper purposes."

He wanted the public to have confidence in the response to these allegations.

"There must be independent oversight of the whole picture of government agency activity.

"Agencies shouldn't be left to review these allegations themselves."

Te Pāti Māori Party president John Tamihere said the allegations were all part of what he calls a "continuing narrative of attack on all matters Māori".

But he has welcomed the latest inquiry, which was separate to those already being carried out by the police, StatsNZ and the Privacy Commissioner.

The Labour Party is also backing the move, with leader Chris Hipkins saying he was pleased the government had initiated the review.

But those who have been calling for an independent inquiry were not satisfied though, and believed it should be even more independent.

Allan Halse, who was representing those making the allegations, said he was disappointed.

"You're never going to get faith in the public service by getting the public service to investigate themselves."

Taxpayers Union spokesperson Jordan Williams said it was fine for the purpose of looking at government agencies, but did not "get to the bottom of the matter" as there were no powers "to compel witnesses or production of documents", or examine people "under oath."

The terms of reference and timing for the inquiry will be announced later this week, along with who will lead the review.