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Tana ‘likely’ knew about allegations of worker exploitation – investigation

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Darleen Tana ‘likely’ knew about allegations of worker exploitation at her husband’s business and did not disclose them to the Green Party, an investigation has found.

RNZ has seen the full executive summary of barrister Rachel Burt’s report into what Tana knew about the allegations of unpaid wages and visa breaches at E Cycles NZ, what she did about them and what steps she took to inform the Greens.

Tana resigned from the Greens after an investigation into the allegations, with the Green Party calling a caucus meeting on Saturday, unanimously demanding she resign from Parliament.

Burt said the investigation took longer than anticipated due to a broadened scope, the late arrival of extensive evidence from a complainant and the “lengthy and often unclear” evidence from Tana and her husband Christian Hoff-Neilsen.

“The owner of the business did not provide a coherent or consistent verbal account and his evidence both oral and documentary tended to obfuscate rather than elucidate,” Burt wrote of Hoff-Neilsen.

“The respondent’s evidence shifted over the investigation with different explanations as to why that was so, requiring significant cross referencing to earlier accounts and documentation to come to findings,” Burt wrote of Tana.

The report found Tana was effectively a co-founder of E Cycles NZ and while her day-to-day operational involvement reduced in mid-2019, she continued to support and assist the business, at times extensively, for the following three years.

Burt spoke to former employee Charles ‘Chuck’ Simpson for her report and wrote he had been a credible witness while, contrastingly, Tana and Hoff-Nielson were not.

“Christian set out responses to me that were plainly wrong and not corroborated by evidence. Throughout our interview he also changed or adjusted his answers and so lacked consistency of account, meaning I found him unreliable.

“Darleen’s credibility was significantly compromised too, because she initially told me she had nothing to do with Green Wheels Blenheim Limited and it was purely Christian’s business and quite separate from E Cycles.

“When I asked her if she had been a director she responded, no. However, eventually when I noted the Companies Office data, she conceded she had been a director, but it was only for a short time, and she was not operationally involved.”

Burt wrote Tana was clearly operationally involved in the business when the breaches of employment standards or conditions took place, adding Tana had been named in the personal grievance letter Simpson filed in January 2019 seeking unpaid wages and compensation.

None of this was raised with the Green Party when Tana was a candidate in 2020 or 2023, the report states.

Burt’s report found it “more likely than not” Tana was also aware of a second personal grievance claim, filed by former employee Nick Scott, for lost wages and compensation in August 2021.

Tana did not raise this with the Green Party either.

The investigation also found it “more likely than not” Tana was aware of potential breaches of employment standards regarding another former employee who did not have a correct visa during several months’ worth of work at E Cycles NZ.

“The visa he had… related to being a seasonal fruit picker. As the WhatsApp messages show, Darleen requested a copy of the visa on 30 November 2021, and acknowledged receipt of it.

“Darleen was well versed in immigration applications and requirements and so on the evidence I have it appears she would have seen the visa was not suitable for E Cycles work.”

Burt wrote it was apparent Tana was aware this former employee was concerned about pay irregularities, late payments and potential breaches of employment standards relating to him.

Her report notes the former employee later made a police complaint after Tana approached him at his new place of work and told him to stop saying negative things about E Cycles NZ.

“[The employee] claimed Darleen was threatening and said she would take defamation proceedings.”

None of this was disclosed to the Green Party by Tana, Burt said.

Burt’s report also covers a fourth employee – Santiago Latour Palma – who claimed Tana had overseen an unpaid work trial in September 2022 and arranged to pay him under the table for it as he did not have a valid visa.

His legal representative raised a grievance in February 2024 and a copy was sent to Darleen at her parliamentary address; an email that sparked discussions between Tana and her Green Party colleagues.

Burt wrote Tana’s evidence in connection with this case was “particularly inconsistent and often shown to be factually incorrect.”

“While initially in her meetings with the former Chief of Staff and Marama Davidson [‘Marama’] in February 2024 she denied any involvement or awareness, in the meeting on 14 March 2024 with her Party colleagues, she then admitted Santiago did talk to her but said there was nothing she could do and so referred the matter to Christian.

“However, when she met with me, she told me she was stressed at the 14 March meeting, because of Chlöe’s interrogation and her emotional response, and so she became confused. Darleen told me the truth was that Santiago never raised any of his concerns with her.”

Burt wrote this explanation was contradicted by a draft letter prepared by Tana’s lawyers that stated Santiago had raised his concerns with her and she had referred the matter to her husband.

The lawyer said Tana had signed her Green Party Candidate Code by this point but did not bring any of these issues to the party’s attention.

Tana could not be reached for comment on Tuesday night but has previously said in a statement she does not believe natural justice has been followed in this process.

“I want to make it clear that I do not accept the findings of the report and believe that it substantially misrepresents the level of my involvement in my husband’s business.

“This was an investigation into what I knew and should have disclosed to my party leadership. I am therefore deeply concerned by the party’s summary of the findings.

“The report does not say that migrant exploitation has occurred, let alone that I am responsible for it in any capacity.

“I have only had a short time to consider this report, and am taking some time to consider it before making any further comment.”

RNZ

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NZ First Minister Casey Costello orders 50% cut to excise tax on heated tobacco products

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Associate Health Minister Casey Costello has cut the excise tax on Heated Tobacco Products (HTPs), as she aims to make them more attractive as an alternative to smoking.

Costello, who is also Customs Minister, has cut the excise rate on HTPs by 50 percent effective from 1 July – a move silently dropped on the Customs website.

Costello refused to be interviewed by RNZ but a spokesman said she had made the move to reduce the cost of the products to encourage smokers to switch to safer alternatives.

But Janet Hoek, a Professor of Public Health at the University of Otago, told RNZ that the move seemed weighted in favour of the tobacco industry.

“Certainly that is something that tobacco companies would have been keen to see happen,” Hoek said. “This is not advice that is coming from the Ministry (of Health). It certainly seems to be advice that is suiting tobacco industry interests.”

Tobacco giant Philip Morris owns a leading brand in the HTP market, the IQOS, where sticks of tobacco are inserted into a device and heated, rather than burned.

Philip Morris has lobbied for a cut to the excise tax on HTPs, telling the Tax Working Group in 2018 that the government should “establish a tax rate for heated tobacco products significantly below the tax rate” for tobacco.

In a statement to RNZ Costello said that vaping had been a successful quit-smoking tool and she wanted to see whether HTPs would also be a useful cessation device.

“Vaping does not work for everyone and some attempting to quit have tried several times. HTPs have a similar risk profile to vapes and they are currently legally available, so we are testing what impact halving excise on those products makes.”

HEETS are tobacco sticks or refills that are heated in an electronic device, rather than burned like a traditional cigarette.

There is no evidence that Heated Tobacco Products help people to quit smoking, the Ministry of Health says. Photo: 123RF

Documents released by the Ministry of Health show Costello also asked for advice on liberalising the regulation of HTPs but it was opposed to the idea.

“There is no evidence to support their use as a quit smoking tool,” ministry officials told her. “We do not recommend liberalising the way HTPs are promoted. This would likely compound existing concerns about youth uptake and addiction to nicotine products.

rnz

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26-year-old charged after man found dead in car outside vape store

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Police in Auckland have arrested a man in relation to the homicide investigation launched in Mount Wellington at the weekend.

Officers were called to Penrose Road in Mount Wellington about 10.40pm on Saturday after reports of a gun being fired outside a business.

On arrival they found a man dead in a car.

Police have named the man as 22-year-old Texas Jack Doctor.

They say a 26-year-old man has been arrested, charged with accessory after the fact to murder.

He is expected to appear in Auckland District Court Wednesday.

VIA RNZ

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Police pay deal: Commissioner’s advice to cut super payments ‘foolish’

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Police officers are accusing the police commissioner of “robbing our future”, after a leaked email suggested staff reduce their superannuation contribution to save cash after a disappointing pay offer.

The email to police staff from Police Commissioner Andrew Coster suggested officers forgo their contribution to the police superannuation scheme to compensate for the government’s final pay offer not keeping up with the cost of living.

An officer with nearly 20 years’ experience says cops were feeling “unappreciated and despondent”.

The Police Association and the government have been arguing over pay rates for more than a year.

Independent arbitrator Vicki Campbell was appointed in April to decide which of each party’s final offers would be adopted after no agreement was reached in negotiations.

On Monday, she found in favour of the government’s latest offer, which included a $1500 lump sum payment, a flat $5000 pay increase for officers, plus another 4 percent increase in July and the same in 2025.

There would also be a 5.25 percent increase in allowances backdated to last November.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the officer said backdating the allowances to November instead of July – when the previous pay agreement had expired – was one of the biggest bones of contention among officers.

“It’s always months down the track after after the contract expires before we get a resolution. We’ve been sold short and have we just set a dangerous precedent that we won’t get our back pay from when our contract actually ends?” they said.

Another officer, who RNZ agreed not to name, said members of the Police Association had welcomed the arrival of the new government’s Minister of Police – former officer Mark Mitchell – but he was not “walking the walk”.

“I was optimistic given what Mark Mitchell was saying that it would be a better environment for police. He’s good at talking it up but he’s not supporting the staff who are supposed to deliver on his big promises. He’s just talked shit,” the officer said.

Mitchell has defended the deal saying it was the best the government could do. He told Checkpoint on Tuesday officers would be paid overtime for the first time ever.

The officer RNZ spoke to said his family was struggling and he had hoped negotiations would bring some significant relief.

“We live from pay day to pay day. What they’ve done doesn’t give us anything like inflation or most interest rates costs.

“I don’t understand how that’s okay when you have a review for this date, the police stall negotiations, and then somehow move the date back,” he said.

In a leaked email sent to police staff following the decision Coster said the delays to negotiations were compounded by the timing of the election and the change of government.

rnz

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