'Chief barking dog' Matthew Tukaki puts Māori issues front and centre

By Te Ao with MOANA

Matthew Tukaki doesn’t mince his words when asked whether he thinks it’s productive to call other people ‘idiots’.

“On some occasions, you've got to call it as you see it. If somebody is a conspiracy theorist running around like a conehead, throwing out all this nonsense, that has no facts, medical science, or science in general... I'm just predisposed to saying, look, you're an idiot and I'm going to block you.”

The self-described “chief barking dog” of Māori politics, Tukaki has never been afraid to ruffle a few feathers.

“I've been working on the international stage for a very long time.. and I guess I got used to a different style of getting work done and that can be grating for some people.”

Tukaki made a name for himself during his 20-year career in Australia, first as the head of the world’s biggest employment company, Drake International, and then as the Australian representative to the UN Global Compact. More recently, he was the chair of Suicide Prevention Australia. 

But Tukaki hasn’t always been such a high-flyer. 

“A lot of people don't know I was homeless in Sydney for nearly two months. I had nowhere to go. I must have been the only Māori around town that didn't have anywhere to go, and it was tough. It taught me a lot of different things. I'd never been homeless before in my life. I've been poor before, but I'd never been homeless … I just picked myself up and dusted myself off and got on with it.”

Tukaki managed to talk himself into a job in IT education, then talked himself up the ladder. Basically, he hasn’t stopped talking since.

Since his return to Aotearoa, Tukaki has been the frontman for the NZ Māori Council, and he’s been widely credited with the successful reform of the organisation.

Last month, he was appointed chair of the new Oranga Tamariki Ministerial Advisory Board. The all-Māori group will report to the Children's Minister Kelvin Davis.

Despite acknowledging the challenges that lie ahead, Tukaki is optimistic about reforming Oranga Tamariki, and he believes the time is ripe for change. 

“As chief barking dog, I would be surprised and shocked and bewildered if this government didn't take the opportunity right now to actually live that change and transform the organisation.”