14 Jun 2016

Minister apologises to Te Puea Marae chairman

10:31 pm on 14 June 2016

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett has apologised to Te Puea Marae chairman Hurimoana Dennis, who is also a senior police officer, after one of her staff leaked to a journalist that he was under police investigation.

The marae, in Mangere, opened its doors to the homeless last month.

It has also launched a support programme, Manaaki Tāngata, for those looking for help.

Earlier this afternoon, when asked whether she knew information about Mr Dennis had been passed on, Mrs Bennett said she had no knowledge of that.

She said she was aware of the investigation, but not the details, after Mr Dennis told her about it when they met in Auckland last week.

Mrs Bennett was asked if she knew one of her staff members had made an unsolicited call to a journalist.

"I wouldn't expect that to be happening," she said.

"I did have a conversation with [Mr Dennis], he freely told me about it but I don't know, it's not my business really."

It is understood Mr Dennis has been under investigation for about a year for helping a 16-year-old boy leave the country, after it was discovered the boy was having a relationship with a 15-year-old girl.

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett talking to reporters at Parliament about Te Puea Marae's Hurimoana Dennis

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett speaks to reporters at Parliament about the matter on Tuesday. Photo: RNZ / Demelza Leslie

In a statement issued later in the afternoon, Mrs Bennett said she had talked to the staff member involved and was told "they did discuss it with a reporter briefly at the conclusion of a phone call about a work matter".

Mrs Bennett said the staff member "assumed the information was in the public arena".

"My staff member very much regrets this error and has apologised to me and I accept their assurances it won't happen again.

"I have made it clear that it was not appropriate."

Mrs Bennett said she had called Mr Dennis to offer her apologies in person.

Labour housing spokesperson Phil Twyford had earlier called for the minister's resignation.

"If these allegations are true, it would mean that Paula Bennett is unfit to be a minister.

"If it's true that Paula Bennett's staff leaked the private information of a citizen, a police investigation of a citizen, then that staff member should resign as well."

Marae chairman 'just showed her all his cards'

Te Puea Marae spokesperson Moko Tini-Templeton spoke to Checkpoint with John Campbell on behalf of Mr Dennis, who was unable to comment on the basis of legal advice.

"Well, what I know is that when Huri met with Paula Bennett last Friday at the cafe, he spoke with her about being under investigation from the police," Ms Tini-Templeton said.

"And he told her that because he just wanted to be transparent, and so that she was aware of his role from his previous job.

"And also, too, because it's got nothing to do with Manaaki Tāngata. It's got nothing to do with the marae or money or any issues that have come under what we've been doing since he's been the spokesperson for Manaaki Tāngata, so he had nothing to hide."

Hurimoana Dennis

Hurimoana Dennis has been stood down as a police inspector, pending the outcome of the investigation. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Ms Tini-Templeton said all the marae whānau, including the trustees, kaumatua and the board, had known about the investigation for about a year.

The outcome of it was expected at the end of this month, she said.

"We still fully support Huri - in both roles actually - because he's still a valuable member of the police force when he was there, advocating for kaupapa Māori, for whanau Māori, for tikanga Māori, as well as his role here with the marae as a chairman."

Police said in a statement that Mr Dennis was stood down from his duties as an inspector on 21 September 2015, pending a police investigation.

They said they had no further comment on the investigation.

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