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John Tamihere and Paula Bennett's war of words over trust

Monday 11 Feb 2013 5:02 p.m.

A spat's broken out between former Labour MP John Tamihere and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett over a $1.4-million government contract.

At the centre of the dispute are vulnerable children from at-risk families.

Desiree Ngatai knows the importance of some well timed support for a young family. Hers is one of 270 on the books of the Waipareira Family Start programme, funded by the Government to the tune of more than $1.4 million.

“There's Maoris out there that don't know where to go, what to do. I didn't. I came here from Hastings. I didn't know Auckland,” says Ms Ngatai.

The Waipareira Trust did, but was one of the worst performing Family Start providers in the country and had its contract ripped up.

It fought in court, and lost.

Now its chief executive, Mr Tahimere, is fighting again – accusing the Social Development Ministry of failing those same families by refusing to work with his trust.

“I don't want these people to be the meat in the sandwich. Since November we've been wanting them to transition. At the end of the day, we've not got the resources to support them. You have so look after them,” he says.

However, Ms Bennett says Mr Tamihere has been “playing games”.

“He has fought them the whole way and he could have been doing a transition period instead. He has been playing games and this is where we have ended up,” she says.

Families who were in the programme are now in limbo.

“They've got big social issues, and without people connected to them, services connected to them, they will fall through the gaps,” says Waipareira Family Start leader Susan Hughes.

Mr Tamihere says he'll hold Ms Bennett responsible if any children are harmed, but the minister says it’s Mr Tamihere who needs to take responsibility.

“Perhaps John Tamihere should stand up and take personal responsibility for kids that quite frankly have been hurt under his watch while that programme was supposed to be working,” she says.

But it doesn't finish there. Mr Tamihere is taking the case to the Court of Appeal and is threatening to go all the way to the Supreme Court if he has to.

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