The emergence of COVID-19 has shifted our landscape dramatically this year, and yet, despite everything the pandemic has thrown at us, we have persevered in the spirit of our tīpuna. It is the kotahitanga and manaakitanga hardwired within us that has us focused on supporting those most impacted and left in need by this global pandemic.
I want to acknowledge the huge part played by our Papatipu Rūnanga, who with mana and aroha, supported by the Office where needed, worked at the coalface with our people to meet many of the incredible challenges presented by COVID-19. We saw care and kai packages put together and distributed, whānau phone support and networks activated, personal protective equipment dispensed and so much more. Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu focused first on engaging with kaumātua and bringing forward Kaumātua Grants, and more recently on providing funding for those most in need in the form of the Ngāi Tahu Pakihi and Papatipu Pakihi Funds to support individuals and Papatipu Rūnanga businesses, as well as Pūtea Manaaki hardship grants to assist whānau in serious adverse situations with essential living costs.
As our focus broadens to recovery, the welfare of our whānau and Papatipu Rūnanga remains at the centre of all decision-making. Te Rūnanga has developed four guiding principles that are mentioned in this report. I know the overarching themes will resonate with you, just as they did with me: building tribal economies, developing our regions, leveraging our relationships with Crown entities to support and resource whānau needs, and targeting our resource at Ngāi Tahu whānau who need it most.
While we as an iwi have focused on doing what we can for our people through this once in a 100-year event, we have had to endure the inevitable challenges and severe impacts on some of our businesses. This scenario has, of course, played out throughout Aotearoa and the world. As a result of this, Ngāi Tahu Holdings has posted a net loss of $25.7 million for the financial year – an exceptional situation for our commercial arm, which has made us accustomed to enjoying only gains and growth.
Because of the impact on tourism and especially international tourism, Ngāi Tahu Tourism has been significantly impacted by the pandemic. Holdings made the prudent decision to reduce the value of our tourism assets, a major factor in the year-end result. The impact – while severe on our tourism businesses, which are heavily dependent on international manuhiri – has been mitigated by the approach taken by our leaders when forming our commercial company. Those leaders ensured our portfolio was diversified and had a range of activities and investments. This has meant some of our operations continue to perform well while others experience losses as a result of economic impacts and downturns that inevitably come.
The economic hit for Holdings has also impacted on the distribution for the Office of $60.4 million, down from $67.2 million last year. This means we have had to review what programmes and support we can provide in the coming years. We now have a greater focus on how we can target other funding at both the rūnanga and iwi levels, including collaborating with the Crown to achieve whānau outcomes. While this year’s budget is lower than what we are used to, it is important to remember it is still significant, and we will continue to deliver most of the support mechanisms and opportunities, especially through what we hope will be the recovery phase of this pandemic.
As a result of the reduced distribution and programme delivery, we have inevitably needed to review our kaimahi numbers.
Like most operations, staffing costs are the most significant for our iwi, and sadly when we are required to reduce our costs – especially in those operations unable to be delivered due to the pandemic – this includes reducing staff numbers. As a values-driven organisation, it has been a difficult process, however, it has been guided by our overarching priority, which is to deliver the best possible outcomes for Ngāi Tahu whānui.
With everything the pandemic has thrown at us, it is easy to forget some of the highlights from the past year. Hui-ā-Iwi in November in Murihiku was a wonderful chance to celebrate what it means to be Ngāi Tahu and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to meet and connect with so many of our whānau from far and wide. It was also an honour to speak at our annual Waitangi Day commemorations earlier this year on the beautiful Ōtākou Peninsula, and reflect on the immense progress we have made, but also the need to continue to honour our tīpuna and seek true partnership with the Crown.
Despite the pandemic – or perhaps because of it – our new strategic direction Haea Te Awa remains front of mind. COVID-19 has shown us the need, now more than ever, for strong and self-sufficient Papatipu Rūnanga and marae. Regional development continues to be a top priority, even with our financial constraints, and this push to empower and enable our regions is woven throughout all our workstreams, not just within Haea Te Awa. A limited budget does not mean we need to limit our vision for our regions. This is instead a time to be bold and disruptive in our thinking, and you can expect to see this theme come through strongly in the coming year.
Asserting our rangatiratanga over freshwater also remains a key priority for Ngāi Tahu and this year I have continued in my role as Co-Chair of Te Kura Taka Pini alongside Dr Te Maire Tau. We have progressed some important kaupapa, notably assisting Aukaha and Ōtākou to work through a difficult historical water issue, helping Hokonui whānau promote their interests in the Mataura River, and working with Poutini Ngāi Tahu and the Department of Conservation in a reconsideration of the Waitaha Hydro Scheme. Te Kura Taka Pini has also, on behalf of Te Rūnanga, led submissions on key legislation and policy, including the Essential Freshwater Package, the proposed changes to whitebait regulations and the Taumata Arowai – Water Services Regulator Bill. The crisis of wai māori has not gone away amid the pandemic, and we must ensure decision makers hear our voices.
It is hard to believe that more than a year has passed since we said farewell to our esteemed whānau member, friend, and colleague Tahu Pōtiki. I know I speak for many when I say how much his presence has been missed through these difficult months. I mihi to all those who are mourning loved ones, and I particularly wish to acknowledge those who have faced the added challenge of planning tangihanga under the pandemic alert level restrictions.
COVID-19 has had an immense impact on us all. I thank my fellow governors for their dedicated and unfailing guidance over this past year. I also want to acknowledge our Chief Executive Officer Arihia Bennett for her decisive leadership during this difficult time. Our wero now is to rebuild with a view to something better – to create a new landscape where our regions and our people are empowered to thrive. We have heard it said time and again – these are tough and uncertain times. To that, I say our people have seen more than our share of tough, uncertain times. We are resilient, we are steadfast and most importantly, we are adaptable. We have proved it yet again over the past few months and we will continue to do so as we rebuild. Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei.