Waitangi Tribunal looks at scope of its Oranga Tamariki inquiry

3:42 pm on 15 May 2020

The Waitangi Tribunal is weighing up what the scope of its inquiry into Oranga Tamariki should be, and how it can thoroughly investigate why Māori are disproportionately taken into state care, within a tight urgency timeframe.

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Photo: RNZ

It is the fifth inquiry into Oranga Tamariki to arise since the ministry tried to take a newborn baby from a Hawke's Bay mother last year.

Representatives of the claimants, including those representing the midwives at the centre of the Hawke's Bay case, have met with the tribunal today to discuss the inquiry's scope.

Among the main points of discussion are:

  • whether or not the inquiry should look into the role police and district health boards play in the removal of a child
  • the time frame the tribunal should focus on
  • the potential impact other inquiries before the tribunal might have in terms of cross-over evidence
  • who should be called to give evidence.

Judge Michael Doogan has proposed that the first phase of the inquiry focus on evidence by academics or researchers who could inform the tribunal about the systemic issues of Māori children being taken into state care.

He said the second phase of hearings could focus on personal and case study-type evidence.

Claimant representative Annette Sykes is also representing claimants who are presently giving testimony before the Royal Commission on the inquiry into state abuse.

She said there would be cross-over with the Oranga Tamariki inquiry.

"They will be grateful for any information or findings from this inquiry that can facilitate their understanding of institutional racism, which I think is also a key, significant issue here.

"While there are different terms of references I think there's going to be some cross-over ... I am very conscious I don't want witnesses repeating things over and over again before different inquires without recognising the personal harm to them that the repetition of evidence will give them.

"I don't want to retraumatise any witness in giving their experiences to establish state abuse that they have suffered and institutional racism that continues."

Janet Mason from Phoenix Law is representing a number of claimants, including kaumātua Des Ratima who was also at the centre of the Hawke's Bay case.

She urged the tribunal to consider looking into the role police and DHBs play when a child is taken into state care.

"If we are going to look at why the uplifts are occurring and why so many of them, you can't really do that without looking at the role of police and role of DHBs," she said.

"What I understand happens is reports of concerns are made from them to these agencies and that sets off a trail of events that inevitably leads to the removal of children.

"The levels of racism within state institutions against Māori is quite high, so when you put all of those things together you then build up a picture as to exactly why it is that these uplifts are occurring."

Other representatives of claimants stressed the importance of focusing on the intergenerational aspect of Māori children being removed by the state, and how the time frame of the inquiry must be able to encompass that.

Some think the inquiry should focus on uplifts occurring from 1989, when the Oranga Tamariki Act was established, to 2001. Others have suggested narrowing the time frame in order to fit in all of the evidence and hearings required within a workable time frame.

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