Backlash after ’Māori nationalists’ labelled threat by Corrections group

Suicide Prevention Australia and National Māori Authority chairman Matthew Tukaki. - Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Indigenous leaders have called for consequences after a Department of Corrections working group on countering violent extremism identified "Māori nationalist groups" as a potential threat to the public.

The Countering Violent Extremism: Community Engagement Forum workgroup identified Māori nationalist groups as potential threats, alongside jihad, far right groups, and groups who undertook violent action.

Minutes from meetings revealed the workgroup's chair Ray van Beyen said "Māori nationalist groups" were a potential threat.

In a statement, Department of Corrections deputy national commissioner Andy Milne said "it had no information to suggest that there are any Māori nationalist groups in the corrections environment".

It also said that, the numbers of prisoners who posed a threat were "so small that no increased or decreased trend is evident".

Matthew Tukaki from the Māori Council has called the comment "Māori-bashing" and wanted someone held accountable.

"If you're going to make these sorts of comments, of these sorts of assertions over an entire race of people and the organisations that represent them, and you have been found wanting, you should not be a public servant, you should be fired."

That has been echoed by former Māori Party co-leader and Whanganui District Health Board member Tariana Turia. She said the comments were deliberately divisive.

"This person is speaking from a significant position of power and if this is untrue they definitely should be sacked."

She said that in all her years in politics, she had never heard of any Māori nationalist groups.

"I am absolutely appalled because at the end of the day none of us know if any of that is true.

"Those of us who are on the ground - and believe me I am on the ground - if we are not hearing that, where are they getting their information from?"

Mr Tukaki said it was another example of racism within the public service.

"This is a growing trend within the public service of trying to point the finger on Māori organisations as somehow being troublesome or trouble-making."

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis said he was "disappointed" by the comments and made his views clear to department staff.

However, he did not think Mr Beynen should be fired.

"I don't think somebody should be fired for making an ill-advised comment.

"I'm certain that it's not going to happen again - corrections know that's not the way that this government thinks."

"They do have a job in making sure that our communities are safe and if there are any organisations within prisons that they think may cause problems then they need to know how to address them but, certainly, using the terminology, the words and identifying Māori, was totally inappropriate."

He said he would be talking to corrections about the group's purpose.

In a statement corrections said: "We acknowledge the comment noted in these minutes was inappropriate and sincerely apologise for any unintended offence caused."

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