The dairy downturn may have opened the door for tribal giant Waikato-Tainui to broaden their investment portfolio and continue to build their empire.

They announced their annual result today, reporting a $123 million increase in the last financial year to $1.2 billion at a time when dairy struggled.


Tainui Group Holdings chairman Sir Henry van der Heyden said it was a "solid result" and any opportunity in the dairy sector would be looked at.


"When it comes to the agricultural sector today, we think that we're in a cycle, so what it does for us is actually create opportunity," said van der Heyden.


"Now, we haven't seen any changes in the short term around land values, but hey, we will look at opportunities when they come along." 


The tribe made headlines after hitting $1 billion in assets for its annual result last year, and has continued steadily.


Its commercial arms, Tainui Group Holdings and Waikato Tainui Fisheries, saw assets grow to $876m, up $53m.


A change in TGH's strategy saw them acquire investments in Go Bus, Waikato Milking Systems and Genesis Energy and van der Heyden said there was more to come.


"Ultimately, we do want to grow the tribal estate also. So more land, that's what the primary sector part of our strategy is all about."


Rahui Papa, chairman of Te Arataura, the tribe's executive said they were in it for long-term growth for the good of the region.


"Some people say we are empire building. Bloody oath we are," said Papa. "We want to build the empire of the Waikato region to be at its optimum again and we want to be part and parcel of it and to do that we have to be a player."


It's a sentiment that goes back a long way - when Maori do well, the country does well and Waikato-Tainui are happy to apply the same logic to their region.


"We're not in it to rape and pillage this region. We are in it to bolster Waikato-Tainui to be a key contributor to the Waikato region for and behalf of this nation."


Currently, 67 per cent of the TGH's assets are in property, 16 per cent in leases, 9 per cent in farms and fisheries, 6 per cent in Waikato Milking Systems and Go Bus, 1 per cent in shares and 1 per cent in cash. 


Waikato-Tainui chief executive Parekawhia McLean said those investments were expected to generate a return to feed the tribe's social strategy - a $22.3m disbursement last year to their 67,000 tribal members.


"What excites me about our annual results and reports is not so much the financial - that's great, it's been a solid performance by our commercial arm - it's been the people investment," said McLean.


Waikato-Tainui count BNZ, Wintec, CTC Aviation and among its partners to open doors to education and employment.


They want to see more tribal members enter science, technology and health fields and have worked with partnering organisations including a new relationship with Vodafone as well.


"We are now getting to the point where we have nailed what we think is some employment and apprenticeship opportunities [with Vodafone]," said McLean. 


"That's a really exciting opportunity for us . . . they are really keen on a relationship with us so that is in the pipeline."


Social initiatives included their education strategy, language strategy, a collective marae insurance initiative, housing and environmental projects.


Part of the social distribution was a $150,000 grant to each of their 66 marae for core facilities and topped up depending on the marae population.


"A real tangible for us is in November, Mangatoatoa Marae, after many, many years in terms of their rebuild - they are opening their restored, refurbished marae."


"They will tell you the $150,000 plus the top-up finally got them over the line. It went a long way to complete that project."


Tribal members who were once ashamed to be a part of tribal life were flocking back, said McLean.


"Wasn't so long ago, they didn't what to have anything to do with the iwi," she said. "They weren't even wearing our hats.


"That sense of pride in the tribe has come, as well, from a lot of the relationships that have been struck up between Waikato-Tainui and our partners."


Image: Te Arataura chairman Rahui Papa and Waikato-Tainui chief executive Parekawhia McLean.


ELTON SMALLMAN AND NARELLE HENSON

 - Stuff

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