Donna Awatere Huata secures top job as Māori Climate Commissioner
Published: September 18, 2018
Disgraced former MP Donna Awatere Huata has secured a top job advising Māori on climate change. Awatere Huata was on Monday appointed Māori Climate Commissioner by the Sir Mark Solomon-led Māori Carbon Foundation, a private carbon trading business which plants forests on communal Māori land.
The foundation's board includes former Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully and former National Party president Michelle Boag.
Her role would include providing advice and Māori-focused research, which would assist with New Zealand meeting its target under the Paris climate agreement.
Awatere Huata said she would focus on three main "pou": representing the interests of landowners, bringing Māori worldview into the climate change discussion, and sharing conversations with indigenous peoples around the world.
"The colonists left us marginal land, which just happens to be perfect for carbon farming and regenerating native trees. But there are some policy issues around incentives. We need to get stability in the market, and ensure emitters pay for their carbon use."
The Māori relationship with the environment was "increasingly important" in a world where profits were deemed more important than the wellbeing of the planet, she said.
"The relationship stems from whakapapa. It is about kaitiakitanga, and utu, the balance with nature and the land. It is no coincidence many of the Māori treaty claims are in relation to the environment."
Awatere Huata entered Parliament in 1996 with the ACT party, but was expelled in 2003 when fraud allegations emerged, prompting a long legal battle about whether she could stay on as an independent MP.
Awatere Huata was found guilty of fraud in 2005 and was sentenced to two years and nine months in jail.
She and her husband Wi Huata were found to have taken $80,000 from a state-funded trust she founded to improve literacy among underprivileged Māori children.
A biography provided by the foundation said Awatere Huata had "experienced first-hand our criminal justice system and the stupidity of the prisonisation of the Māori population".
Awatere Huata said she had "moved on".
"I asserted my innocence all of the way through. It was a most difficult period of my life for me and my family. Fortunately, time heals, and we have moved on."
Sir Mark said the commissioner would operate independently of the foundation, the Crown and other public or private agencies.
As there was no-public funding involved Sir Mark said there was "no issue" regarding her previous convictions.
"Donna is a long-time advocate for the Treaty of Waitangi, a campaigner against racism and a former Member of Parliament," Sir Mark said.
"The foundation is commercial, but with [Climate Change Minister] James Shaw setting up a Climate Change Commission, we wanted to make sure there was a Māori voice on these issues."
Before her political career, she was a high-profile activist and a founding member of the group Nga Tamatoa, which promoted Māori rights and fought racial discrimination.
In 1982 her activism on behalf of Māori women was recognised with the United Nations Mid Decade for Women Award.
Since being released from jail, she has held several roles including deputy chair administration for the New Zealand Māori Council.
In 2014 she represented the council in presenting the Māori claim for water to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Michael Neilson Māori Affairs reporter, NZ Herald