Donna Lynn Awatere Huata (sometimes written Awatere-Huata) is a former member of the New Zealand Parliament. She was expelled on 19 November 2004 after a long legal battle, and is currently facing charges of fraud. She was originally a member of the ACT New Zealand party, but became an independent after the charges were first made.
Donna Awatere Huata was born in the city of Rotorua in 1949, and was educated in Auckland. Her primary area of study was education, particularly educational psychology, but she has also undertaken study in opera singing and film production.
Awatere Huata initially worked as an educational psychologist for ten years, but later began to become involved in consultancy work related to biculturalism. She also was the producer for a Maori language film. In the 1970s and 1980s, she became involved in activism on behalf of certain Maori causes (such as the controversy over Bastion Point ) and in various feminist campaigns. She was active in the protests against a tour by the Springboks, the rugby team of South Africa (which was then under an apartheid government, and which followed a "whites only" sport policy).
Entry to parliament
Shortly before the 1996 elections, Awatere Huata joined the ACT New Zealand party. This surprised many commentators, as ACT was not generally associated with the sort of cause that Awatere Huata had previously supported. She was ranked in fourth place on ACT's party list, and stood as a candidate in the Maori electorate of Te Puku O Te Whenua. She was not successful in her electorate race, but entered parliament as a list MP. In the 1999 elections, she retained her fourth place ranking on the party's list, and consequently remained in parliament. In the 2002 elections, she was lowered to fifth place on the party's list, but nevertheless remained in parliament comfortably.
Allegations of fraud
In late 2002, the Dominion Post newspaper reported evidence that Awatere Huata had appropriated public money for her own use. The money in question belonged to the Pipi Foundation, a children's reading program. Awatere Huata strongly denied the accusations, but further investigation (much of it conducted by the Dominion Post) provided sufficient grounds for an official enquiry by the Serious Fraud Office . On 11 February, the ACT party expelled her from caucus, although not from the party itself.
The final report on Awatere Huata's dealings was not completed until November that year, however. Investigators claimed that the delay was caused by total lack of cooperation from Awatere Huata, which Awatere Huata denies. The report was highly critical of her, and she was charged (along with her husband) with multiple counts of fraud. She was also charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice.
During this time, Awatere Huata's membership of the ACT party had lapsed, something which Awatere Huata claims was accidental. When she reapplied for membership, however, ACT indicated that it would not accept her. ACT then informed the Speaker of the House of Representatives that Awatere Huata should no longer be considered a member of ACT. The Speaker concurred, and declared Awatere Huata an independent.
ACT shortly afterwards attempted to invoke the Electoral Integrity Act , which was designed to limit the ability of MPs to change parties. Under this law, MPs who change their allegiance in a way that "distorts the proportionality" of Parliament must vacate their seat. ACT contended that because Awatere Huata is no longer a member of the party, the party had less strength in parliament than its last election result awarded it, thereby undermining proportional representation. Awatere Huata, however, claimed that even if she was not a member of ACT, she still voted according to ACT policies, ensuring that the public still got the policies that they voted for. In a long battle, Awatere Huata sought a court injunction against the Electoral Integrity Act being invoked. The High Court initially refused an injunction, but was overruled by the Court of Appeal. Finally, on 18 November, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the original decision, allowing the law to be invoked. The following day, the Speaker declared Awatere-Huata's seat to be vacant. She was replaced in Parliament by Kenneth Wang, the next person on ACT's party list.
Awatere Huata still faces multiple charges of fraud, and has been committed for trial.