17 Jun 2020

Royal Commission into abuse appoints fifth Commissioner

3:01 pm on 17 June 2020

The Royal Commission investigating abuse in care has appointed its fifth Commissioner, following the shock resignation of its chair last year.

Last day of the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care.  Attendees and witnesses tied ribbons at the nearby St Patrick and St Joseph Cathedral.

Ribbons were tied to the fence at the St Patrick and St Joseph Cathedral in Auckland at the end of the first Abuse in Care Royal Commission hearings last year. Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

Lawyer Julia Steenson, who is of Ngāti Whātua and Waikato/Tainui descent, will take up the position this week.

She fills the role vacated by Judge Coral Shaw, who replaced Sir Anand Satyanand as chair when he left the high-level inquiry last year.

Steenson is a member of the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Trust Board and is chair of health charity, Kia Puawai Limited.

She has previously worked as General Counsel for Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, where she presented on Intellectual Property at the World Indigenous People Conference in Toronto.

Steenson has also worked across the finance and education sectors.

"I am excited to be joining this significant Kaupapa and look forward to contributing to constructive outcomes," Steenson said.

Julia Steenson.

Julia Steenson. Photo: Supplied

The abuse the inquiry is investigating can never happen again, Steenson said.

"We're really responsible as a generation to ensure things are not repeated. So, I'm in a privileged position to contribute and so I see it as my obligation to Aotearoa to serve where I can," Steenson said.

Inquiry chair Judge Coral Shaw said, given the over-representation of Māori in current and historic abuse statistics, Steenson's expertise will be an asset to the inquiry's work.

"To ensure our recommendations are sound, we must fully understand the specific burden for Māori who have been in care, including the impacts on their whānau through the generations. Ms Steenson will give great strength to this work," Judge Shaw said.

The appointment follows a turbulent year for the inquiry. It's been criticised for it's operating and for appointing a gang member into a key role, as well as Sir Anand's resignation and revelations members of the survivor advisory group had been unknowingly exposed to a child sex offender at meetings.

More recently, it quietly suspended meetings of the group of survivors set up to advise it.

Steenson assured abuse survivors they can "absolutely" trust her.

Cabinet has also signed off on the appointment of a sixth commissioner and the role will be filled after the general election in September.

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