In a year unlike anything we had ever experienced, and challenges we could have never predicted, I particularly want to acknowledge the resilience of our people and especially those whānau who have lost loved ones during this time, facing the added difficulty of planning tangihanga under alert level restrictions brought on by COVID-19.
As an iwi we have focused on supporting those most in need and impacted by the pandemic, alongside Crown and regional support agencies, while remaining focused on recovery and rebuilding. This has resulted in our re-emergence from an extremely challenging period dealing with the first impacts of COVID-19 last year to a strong financial turnaround for this financial year.
This year has seen some significant milestones for the iwi that I am pleased to share. In late 2020 we reached 70,000 registered members, a cause for much celebration and another significant step in our growth. A few months later the Whai Rawa team celebrated its own milestone, reaching 30,000 members in February.
Also in February, our Tahu FM turned 30! Tahu FM has been a long-time champion of te reo Māori and of Ngāi Tahutanga. It was wonderful to join the Tahu team early in the year to celebrate – hari huritau ki a Tahu FM!
The Ngāi Tahu Regional Investment Fund was launched in late April. With a goal of ‘lighting 18 fires’, this is te ahi kā and tino rangatiratanga in action for our Papatipu Rūnanga. The fund’s application process is comprehensively supported by the new Regional Investment team who are well underway, with five rūnanga-led projects already being supported by the fund at the time of writing.
Ngāi Tahu Holdings (NTH) posted a net profit of $240 million for the financial year, the largest in our history. This is an extraordinary outcome, particularly considering the dire economic outlook of the last year, and the wider predictions in the wake of the pandemic.
Several factors led to this outstanding result, including a reduction in costs across our operations following last year’s change process, and the significant revaluations of our property portfolio. In addition, we sold assets not aligned to our long-term vision such as GoBus. While necessary, these decisions were neither easy, nor made lightly.
The turnaround from NTH highlights the importance of having clear direction from our governors to improve sustainability across the business portfolio and to factor in economic resilience.
While the NTH performance far exceeded the forecast, we are continuing with our long-term plan which includes a reduced distribution to the Office this year of $55.9 million. This will ensure that this year’s return to profit is carefully managed so that we continue to deliver on key initiatives that benefit whānau, while growing our offerings sustainably for this and future generations.
As with everything we do, these steps were taken with whānau front of mind. I would like to acknowledge the mahi of NTH Chair Mark Tume, Chief Executive Mike Pohio, and the NTH Board for their decisive action in navigating what has been, and continues to be, a challenging landscape.
Looking ahead to next year we will see a transition within NTH leadership, as Mark Tume concludes his term as Chair and moves into a short-term director role. Mike Pohio will end his interim Chief Executive term and take up the role of Chair. We are delighted to have appointed Craig Ellison as the interim Chief Executive for a period of 10 months. This allows us to continue our robust and thorough search for a permanent Chief Executive. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Mark for his strong and considered leadership as Chair, and Mike for his time as interim Chief Executive. Together they have helped steer us through one of the most disruptive and challenging years in our post-settlement history. I am grateful that we will continue to benefit from their expertise in their new roles.
We continue to focus on leveraging existing relationships with the Crown and building partnerships that support the work we are doing across the Office. In some instances, these relationships have been tested, most notably with the Department of Conservation (DOC). In the last year we were forced to instigate legal proceedings in relation to two separate breaches of our Treaty partnership, under section 4 of the Conservation Act and the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, and under the Ngāi Tahu Treaty Settlement. The first breach took place in late 2020 in relation to appointments to the West Coast Conservation Board without consultation. The second was the announcement of intentions to progress stewardship land reclassification in May 2021, a process that bypassed us completely.
Legal action is costly and time consuming. It is not a preferred path, but when our rangatiratanga is challenged and compromised we will take the necessary steps to uphold our mana. I am pleased to report that we have been working with DOC to address these and other ongoing issues, and we are making good progress on a Treaty partnership framework that we believe will set out a new and equal way of working together. As a result of this we have paused our legal action in the hope of resolving these issues and moving forward.
Recently I have been reflecting a great deal on our intergenerational focus. Just a couple of months ago I was overjoyed to see my first mokopuna, twin girls, welcomed into the world. In becoming a taua, I further focused my appreciation for our whakataukī and its meaning. For me it is about ensuring we are not only creating a better future for the generations that follow us, but that we are also leaving our environment healthy and thriving for our mokopuna and tamariki. It is critical that we balance our financial obligation to grow the pūtea with our commitments as kaitiaki of our whenua, awa, and moana.
In late 2018 we launched the Ngāi Tahu climate change strategy, He Rautaki Mō Te Huringa o Te Āhuarangi. The strategy set out our aspirations as well as what we saw as the key focus areas for the iwi, namely mahinga kai, marae resilience, and ensuring our investments are sustainable and align with our values. While our focus shifted temporarily last year towards our pandemic response, we know this kaupapa is of critical importance as we look ahead. We are now moving into the implementation phase of our strategy. All our business units, alongside the Office, have fed into the plan with reduction targets for emissions by 2030. As we know from the latest research, the next 10 years are crucial if we are to slow the impacts of global warming. We know we need to be driving harder to ensure we are walking the talk, and as we roll out the plan you will start to see the evidence of these changes throughout our operations.
As always, I want to thank and acknowledge our kaumātua for their guidance and advice. We are grateful for the generational wisdom that you hold and share gladly when needed.
In closing, I mihi to my fellow governors for their wise counsel and strategic leadership, and to our CEO and all our kaimahi across the Group, for your mahi despite the disruption and uncertainty caused by COVID-19 over the year. All of you contribute every day, in some way, to bringing our vision to life – mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei.