30 Apr 2021

'Status quo cannot continue' - Children's Minister responds to Waitangi Tribunal finding on Oranga Tamariki

From Checkpoint, 5:07 pm on 30 April 2021

One of the key findings in the Waitangi Tribunal’s investigation into Oranga Tamariki has found the Crown “guilty of direct and sustained breaches of Māori Treaty rights”.

It condemns the state's harmful intrusion into the lives of whānau Māori and policy that has been dominated by efforts to assimilate Māori to Pākehā ways while praising the resilience of individual Māori and whānau in the face of systemic racism and deprivation.

The Waitangi Tribunal has urged the Crown to step back and allow Māori to reclaim their space.

Its key recommendation is the establishment of a Māori Transition Authority, with the goal of identifying and implementing the changes needed to eliminate state care of tamariki & pepi Māori. But it stopped short of recommending Oranga Tamariki be abolished.

The Waitangi Tribunal wants the Māori Transition Authority to have the power to recommend the transfer of statutory functions.

Children’s Minister Kelvin Davis thanked the people who had appeared before the Waitangi Tribunal and shared their experiences.

“It would have been traumatic outlining their personal stories. I wanted to become the Minister for Children so that we could change what's happening, so there is no more harm and trauma.

“And we’re starting to make the changes. Their contributions will contribute to the direction that Oranga Tamariki is taking.”

Davis said he has not ruled out an official apology to those harmed in state care, but it needs to be done at the right time and place.

“It needs to be genuine and, most importantly, changes need to be made because without genuine changes an apology is meaningless.

“I accept that governments for many decades have failed to uphold te Tiriti o Waitangi as it should have been. That’s why I asked for this job. Because I want it to be upheld, and I want to make a difference for our tamariki and I want full partnership as the Treaty promised.

“I've said from the outset when I became the minister that Oranga Tamariki needs to look at ways to devolve power, decision-making and resources to Māori.

“That aligns with what the Waitangi Tribunal report says,” Davis said. “It's the direction they’re heading in. We've already started to make changes. But we know there's a lot more that needs to be done.”

However, the report said any “piecemeal reform” of Oranga Tamariki, no matter how well-designed, would not work and would lead to failings for another generation of tamariki Māori.

Davis would not say when or how the recommended Māori transition authority would be set up, but said he would be taking time to form a detailed response to the report.

“How do we go from where we are now, where Oranga Tamariki is basically the power unto themselves, the dictators, how do we transition the decision-making and resources to Māori? That's what's really important and it can't be done quickly. It needs to be thought through very carefully… and done in partnership with Māori.

“The government cannot absolve itself of its responsibility to children, and there needs to be a true partnership. The government needs to work with Māori.”

Davis said even if the government did not take up the recommendations of the report, it was not continuing injustice for tamariki Māori.

“There are going to be changes but I need to read the report, consider it, and give a measured response. There are other bodies of work being done, and they all need to be pulled together.

“The general direction is what the Waitangi Tribunal is saying, but there's no way that I am saying we're going to uphold the status quo. Everybody knows the status quo cannot continue.”